Fiat Professional has given Doblo Cargo a makeover, with a re-styled exterior including a re-sculpted bonnet, new headlamps and a new grille and front bumper and some useful technical upgrades.
Among them is giving the 1.3- and 1.6-litre MultiJet diesels the ability to deliver more torque lower down the rev band. Doblo Cargo is shrinking its carbon footprint too, with EcoJet versions of both engines on offer with Start&Stop, low-rolling-resistance tyres and a new aerodynamic pack among other measures.
Working together they reduce CO2 emissions to as low as 115kg/km and enable the driver to achieve fuel economy levels of up to 64mpg according to official test figures.
The revamped Doblo Cargo is the first Fiat model to bear the Fiat Professional logo and prospective purchasers cannot complain about a lack of choice.
The line-up embraces two roof heights and two wheelbase lengths offering load area volumes of 3.4m3 4.0m3, 4.2m3 and 5.0m3. Gross payload capacities range from 750kg to 1005kg.
Four trim levels are up for grabs - Standard, EcoJet, SX and Tecnico - and buyers can select from four different diesels.
The 1.3-litre generates 90hp, the 1.6-litre pumps out 105hp falling to 90hp if you specify the Comfort-Matic automated manual box while the 2.0-litre is good for 135hp. A 95hp 1.4-litre petrol lump completes the engine portfolio.
Mention should also be made of the handy little Work Up dropside pick-up and the availability of a platform cab and a crew van.
Useful options include Traction+, already available in Fiorino and Ducato but a new feature for Doblo Cargo. It helps drivers keep going through mud, snow and sand without the need for a full-blown 4x4 system.
We decided to sample the long-wheelbase high-roof Cargo XL; the biggest beast in the Doblo Cargo jungle with a 5.0cu/m cargo box.
Pretty it isn't. Giving the van an overall height of 2125mm, the clumsy-looking roof extension looks as though it has been tacked on as an aftermarket afterthought.
Looks aren't everything though. Spend a few days with it and you discover that XL is one of the most useful and practical vans that money can buy; and one that could prompt some traditionally-minded buyers of short-wheelbase panel vans such as Ford's Transit and Volkswagen's Transporter to re-think their purchasing policy.
Rear access to the load bay is through twin, near-full-height, doors that can be swung through 90 degrees. The easy-to-release stays allow them to be pushed through 180 degrees if required.
Concealing a wide, high aperture that makes for easy loading with a low bed height as a consequence of front-wheel-drive making the task even less onerous, the doors are asymmetric. The narrower of the two is positioned on the offside as is usual on right-hand-drive vehicles
Sliding doors on each side of the cargo box provide alternative access points.
Loads can be secured to half-a-dozen floor-mounted tie-down rings. Above the cab and accessible solely from the load area you will find a compartment that sits just behind a small door and could be used to stow lashing straps.
If anything does come adrift then the full-height steel bulkhead should stop it from finishing up in the cab.
A tailored cover defends the cargo bed against scratches and small dents with the rest of the load bay requiring timbering out for proper protection against damage.
Good to see that all the doors are equipped with big external handles that can still be pulled even if you happen to be wearing chunky rigger gloves. The rear door handle seems a little flimsy however and we cannot help but worry that it might just break under arduous use.
Tipping the scales at a gross weight of 2460kg, Doblo Cargo XL can tackle a 1005kg gross payload and is able to tow a braked trailer grossing at 1300kg.
Precious few vans offer a 5.0cu/m cargo bay on a Doblo-Cargo-sized platform. As indicated earlier, operators who need this amount of space may conclude that they have to go up a size and start edging into the panel van sector.
Fiat of course offers the bigger Scudo in short-wheelbase standard-roof guise with a 5.0cu/m load area at the bottom end of a line-up that extends to 7.0cu/m.
With up to 1200kg to play with you can achieve more gross payload capacity with the 5.0cu/m Scudo than you can with Doblo Cargo XL. The load bay is 101mm lower and 114mm narrower than XL's but offers 15mm more clearance between the rear wheel boxes and is 84mm longer.
Remember that Scudo shares the same basic design as Peugeot's Expert and Citroen's Dispatch.
Cab and equipment
There's certainly no lack of storage space in XL SX's roomy cab. Facilities include bins in the doors, a lidded and lockable glove box with a shelf just above it and a full-width shelf atop the windscreen.
In addition there is a shelf in front of the gear lever and four trays on top of the dashboard. You will find a pair of cup-holders between the seats along with a 12v power point (there's another one in the rear), an aux-in socket and buttons to switch off the ASR (Anti Slip Regulation) and Start&Stop systems.
Start&Stop is a £225 option; all prices quoted here exclude VAT.
Looking for somewhere to stash your tablet computer? Not a problem; pull up part of the passenger seat's cushion and you will find a shallow compartment that is just the place to conceal it from the greedy eyes of the unhealthily curious.
With plenty of head and shoulder room, the driver's seat is a comfortable place to work in. Both it and the steering column are height-adjustable and the seat features an adjustable lumbar support plus a fold-down nearside armrest.
Perhaps the dashboard might have benefited from some re-styling at the same time as the exterior was revisited but that it not to suggest that it is badly-designed or unattractive. That's far from the case and we especially like the heating and ventilation system's chunky, easy-to-use, controls.
A driver's airbag, electric windows and electrically-adjustable and heated exterior mirrors - the latter feature a wide-angle lower section - are included in the deal. However you will pay another £120 if you want the mirrors to be power-foldable; a new feature.
Manual air-conditioning will set you back a further £595.
Included in the package is a radio/CD player with MP3 compatibility and remote controls on the steering wheel.
A comprehensive package of electronic safety devices is fitted; some mandatory, some not.
As well as ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and the aforementioned ASR, the line-up embraces Electronic Stability Control, Hydraulic Brake Assist and Hill-Holder, which makes hill starts easier to execute.
Front fog lights are fitted as is remote central locking.
Married to a six-speed gearbox, our XL's 1.6-litre 105hp four-cylinder Euro 5+ turbo diesel comes with common rail fuel injection. Top power makes its presence felt at 4000rpm while maximum torque of 290Nm bites at 1500rpm.
By comparison the aforementioned Scudo can be ordered with a 1.6-litre diesel at 90hp or a 2.0-litre diesel at either 128hp or 163hp.
Chassis and steering
The rear suspension is one of Doblo Cargo's most interesting features, employing as it does a clever and somewhat unusual bi-link independent set-up that is both compact and light-in-weight. Independent suspension with MacPherson-type struts is installed at the front.
Steel 16ins wheels are fitted shod in our case with Continental Vanco Contact 2 195/60 R16C tyres; the spare wheel is a full-size one incidentally. Power-assisted steering gives the 3.1m-wheelbase van a 12.5m kerb-to-kerb turning circle.
Doblo Cargo XL's handling is a real revelation. For such an ungainly-looking van its on-the-road behaviour is frankly superb.
Push it hard through a bend and it just hangs on in there with no wobbling or rolling around.
The suspension has a nice, taut feel to it which aids the handling without wrecking what is without doubt an outstanding ride. There is no denying that the bi-link rear set-up works, and works well.
In addition we can only applaud the quality of the gear change; one of the best we've ever encountered.
Nipping from one cog to the next is as easy and drama-free as flicking a switch thanks to the short throw of the gear stick. The light clutch action helps too.
The smooth gear change allows you to get the best out of the 1.6-litre diesel. It delivers ample performance in virtually all circumstances although anybody who regularly runs heavily-laden in hilly terrain might just want to sample the 2.0-litre and the extra horses it can deliver.
Perhaps the steering could stand to be a little bit tighter. Perhaps the cab might benefit from a touch more sound insulation even though the bulkhead is sound-proofed and Fiat says that in cab-noise levels are down by 3dB compared with the previous model.
Perhaps there might be a case for saying that the engine can sound irritatingly-harsh under acceleration. Perhaps the A-pillars could be slightly slimmer to give the driver a clearer view of oncoming traffic when emerging from a side road.
But to be honest all that is just nit-picking. When it comes to sheer driveability Doblo Cargo sets new standards and is the benchmark all rival manufacturers now need to aim at.
Buying and running
For such a tall van Doblo Cargo XL is surprisingly fuel-efficient.
Fiat Professional quotes a combined diesel consumption figure of 49.6mpg with Start&Stop. We were certainly achieving that and possibly doing a little better.
XL comes with a three-year/120,000-mile warranty with no mileage limit in the first two years. Roadside assistance is provided for the entire three years.
An eight-year anti-perforation corrosion warranty plus a three-year paintwork warranty deliver further protection.
Service intervals are set at 21,000 miles.
Good to see that side rubbing strips are fitted to protect XL against minor scrapes. Good too to see that a conventional spare wheel is provided rather than a tyre inflator/sealer.
A highly-practical van with ample carrying capacity for a vehicle of its size, Doblo Cargo loses out on looks, but wins out handsomely as a workhorse.