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Road Test Review: Fiat Fullback Cross

A Fiat pick-up truck. What a thing, eh? Now, this may seem like 2-tonnes of utilitarian blasphemy to those Italian car lovers who like to revel in the undeniably lustrous design heritage and fashion-forward character of the brand. But, actually, the Fiat Fullback makes a lot of sense. After all, Fiat has a long and honourable heritage in commercial vehicles, and the pick-up truck has been having something of a renaissance recently, as brands like Mercedes chip in with luxurious offerings for those who have to carry a lot of stuff, but like to do so in comfort while looking good. This is exactly what Fiat is aiming for with the Fullback.

So it seems only reasonable that our time starts in a timber yard. Mind the splinters…

Here, the Fullback looks entirely at home, sitting stoically amongst fragrant stacks of wood. In fact, it looks familiar. A bit like when you see someone you went to school with, 20 years after you last saw them. That’s because, underneath the Fiat design and badging, this is actually a Mitsubishi L200.

Hardly a bad thing given the reputation the L200 has for hearty reliability and utilitarian goodness. Fiat’s take on it is a bit more upmarket – particularly if you go for this Fullback Cross version, which is the full-on, everything included, even more butch-looking version.

The black ‘sports bar’ for the load bed, the posh alloys, the wheelarch extensions and even a bespoke grille design all set the Cross apart from a mere ordinary Fullback, as do posh touches like the soft-opening tailgate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, the Fullback isn’t just Fiat’s first pick-up for many decades, it’s also the company’s first full-size 4×4. And it’s quite proper, in that regard. The Cross even gets a locking diff to go with the switchable four-wheel drive system that’s standard on every Fullback, while ground clearance of some 205mm is up there with plenty of rather serious SUV off-roaders.

The whole point of planting it in the middle of a yard of high-vis blokes and their forklifts was to see what The Trade make of the Fullback. Turns out that The Trade likes it. Once we’d persuaded them to stop running away from the Enzari camera crew, all the good men and women of Pennyhill Timber were rather impressed.

Despite the annoying beeping emitted by the 7.0-inch touchscreen when you poke it, everyone found it easy to prod the infotainment system into doing what they wanted. Similarly, getting comfy was easy enough in the squishy, heated leather seats, and even with a 6’ 4” lumberjack in the driver’s seat, another burly guy managed to settle himself in the back seats of the double-cab with fair comfort.

There were some raised eyebrows over the size of the bed. And actually, a Nissan Navara has a broader bay, but for all that the Fiat’s 1.52m bed is up there as one of the longest in the class, and it’ll take a full tonne of gubbins. If that’s not enough, hitch a braked trailer to it and you can pull another 3.1-tonnes along behind. Horse fanatics rejoice, now you can drive over a ploughed field, load your tack into the bed and tow your horse along behind without breaking a sweat.

And look good while you’re doing it, if our builders and chippies’ opinions are anything to go by. This, it seems, is one area where the Fullback Cross justifies costs that are marginally higher than those of the L200 and Ford Ranger. Sure, it’s hardly got the visual chic of a Fiat 500, but then you wouldn’t get many oak sleepers in a 500, either, and by pick-up truck standards the Fullback Cross has a certain bluff appeal to it that seems to be a key thing picked up on by the tool-laden audience in Pennyhill’s yard.

On the road…

Many cups of coffee and a sausage sarnie later, I mooch on to our next, rather less utility-oriented destination. The first thing to note is that the Fullback is very easy to drive. Light steering, good visibility, masses of torque from the 2.4-litre diesel, so you don’t need to row through the six-speed manual (a five-speed auto is optional) to get the best from it – you can rumble around at very low revs no problem. Which is good, as it gets noisy if you rev it.

Snick it out of rear-wheel drive mode and into four-wheel drive and it does tighten itself up a bit as I swing around Surrey’s lumpy country roads, but even so, the Fullback’s defining character is one of a laid-back cruiser. It’s an instant, elbow-on-the-sill, turn the music up kind of truck. And what other kind of truck would you want, really?

On top of that, I am mighty pleased that the Fullback has a reversing camera and a great turning circle. It’s a remarkably wieldy thing for such a huge vehicle, which is a massive bonus given that it’ll spend much of its time being manoeuvred around awkward yards and car parks.

Yet there is a problem here, which is obvious every time we lurch and thump over bumps and troughs in the road. Because the Fullback Cross is not a terribly composed thing. Sure, no pick-up will deliver limousine comfort. Plus, there’s a big caveat here that our truck bed was empty; Loading it up could give the Fullback magic carpet-like comfort. As it is, the restless bobbing and occasional harsh thunk is a tad wearing, it has to be said. This, and a warranty that only lasts three years (although the 120,000 mile coverage offered in that period is very good) are our biggest beefs with the Fullback.

Our day spent hanging around a busy timber yard and loping around Surrey comes to a happy end at a quaint coffee shop with an excellent latte, where I get to sit and stare a bit more at the Fullback. I do wish it had a different name, since every time I say Fullback I can’t help but think of a disabled guy living in a Parisian cathedral.

But despite the Fiat’s lumpy name, I like its happy mix of comfort, style and utility. The Japanese engineering underneath will only be a good thing for anyone after a hard-wearing pick-up, and otherwise the Fiat ticks all the practical boxes that are critical for a pick-up, it looks good in a timber yard or outside a flower-decked village café, it’s got an interior that treads a fine line between durable-feeling and swish-looking. It’s even got the costs sorted, with decent business contract hire rates on offer – running from under £200 for a basic Fullback up to around £350 per month for the Cross – if you’re not paying the flat rate light commercial vehicle BIK rates.

So maybe it’s not the model that Fiat would choose for Milan fashion week, or a Gucci special edition. You think someone in reflective gear and a hard hat cares? Nope, me neither. As well they shouldn’t. Because Fiat’s made a properly good pick-up that’s as good for coffee shops as it is for the yard, and you can’t ask for more than that.

Vicky Parrott

https://youtu.be/nR50faOVWhM//

Specs:

OTR: £26,495 (excl. VAT)

Power: 180ps at 3500rpm

Torque: 317lb ft at 2500rpm

0-62mph 11.8sec

CO2: 186g/km

Economy: 39.8mpg

1.52m long bed

Load capacity: 1000kg

Tow capacity (unbraked – braked): 750kg – 3100kg

Min. turning circle – 11.8m

 

 

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