Fiat Doblo Cargo van review
With a big range and big capacities the Fiat Doblo Cargo is a serious contender in the small van segment
With two International Van of the Year awards safely stowed in its trophy cabinet, Fiat’s Doblo Cargo is a compact van that sometimes doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
The original, slightly odd-looking, Doblo Cargo arrived in 2000 and claimed the International Van of the Year crown after a facelift improved matters in 2006. The second generation model took its bow in 2010 alongside its Vauxhall Combo sister vehicle and the Doblo was again named International Van of the Year in 2011.
Now Fiat hopes that this newly-revised Doblo Cargo can build on the 8.9% share of the UK small van market it secured in 2014. To do so, it’ll need to put one over on the likes of the Citroen Berlingo, Ford Transit Connect, Renault Kangoo and the Volkswagen Caddy.
The latest styling gives the Fiat Doblo Cargo a smarter, more planted look with a wider grille topped by revised headlamps and a sculpted bonnet. The bumper below is chunkier than it was for added protection and to contribute to the Doblo’s purposeful visuals with more long horizontal lines.
Of more importance to operators will be improvements to the Doblo’s refinement, gear change and engine response that further boost an impressive dynamic package built on the van’s advanced independent rear suspension. Traction+ versions add an electronic differential to help get you out of slippery situations and the Doblo Cargo Ecojet models feature a package of improvements to boost economy by up to 15%. Basic trim levels run from the base model through SX to the fully-loaded Technico models.
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You can have a 1.4-litre petrol engine to power your Doblo or a choice of four Multijet II diesels. The 1.3-litre unit props up the range with 90bhp, then there’s the 1.6-litre Multijet with 105bhp - or 90bhp if you opt for the Comfort-Matic auto. At the top of the range, the 2.0-litre Multijet kicks out 135bhp to help the Doblo achieve its excellent one-tonne maximum payload.
Fiat’s Doblo Cargo has one of the widest ranges of load volume and carrying capacity in the compact van market. There are short- and long-wheelbase versions of low- and high-roof models, Combi variants with a second row of seating and the Work-Up pick-up. Basically, you're spoiled for choice.
MPG and Running Costs
The 1.4-litre petrol engine option is the entry-point the Doblo Cargo range but the vast majority of buyers will take one of the Multijet common-rail diesels.
From a fuel economy point of view these units do well, with the 1.3-litre Multijet turning in a 56.5mpg showing on the combined cycle. Of course, you can improve that with the addition of Fiat’s stop-start system (Start&Stop), which boosts economy to 58.9mpg and ultimately, the full EcoJet pack.
The EcoJet add-ons include Start&Stop but also an aerodynamics pack, low-rolling resistance tyres, low viscosity oil, an intelligent alternator and a variable displacement oil pump. The result is economy of 64.2mpg with emissions of 115g/km, making the Doblo 1.3 Multijet EcoJet one of the greenest vans in the class. Fiat reckons that the £450 cost of the EcoJet pack can be recouped in fuel savings within 1.5 years by owners covering 20,000 miles per year.
Step up to the 1.6-litre MultiJet diesel and the optional Comfort-Matic six-speed automated manual gearbox can give you an impressive 57.6mpg and 130g/km. That’s better than the 105bhp manual version’s 54.3mpg but remember that the auto does only have 90bhp to call upon.
Fiat still has some work to do before the van's residual values stack up to its rivals. It’s up against rivals from Volkswagen and Mercedes in this sector so that’s going to be a tough ask. At least the list prices are competitive.
The top of the range is a 2.0-litre MultiJet delivering 135bhp. It predictably gets the worst economy returns of the diesel Doblo Cargos, but 47.9mpg and 154g/km isn’t bad considering the extra shove it offers.
Load Space and Practicality
Compact vans don’t usually offer the kind of sprawling model ranges we’re used to seeing in the larger panel van sector but the Fiat Doblo gets close. Unusually for this area of the market, the van comes not only in short and ‘MAXI’ long wheelbase guises but also with two roof heights.
There are the usual passenger-carrying Combi crew van versions too but Fiat also offers a proper platform cab ready to take all kinds of load-carrying modifications and a factory-built pick-up called the Work-Up.
The biggest Doblo Cargo van is the XL model that combines the long wheelbase with the high roof to produce a load volume of 5.0m3. Combined with the maximum payload of 1,005kg, that gives the van the kind of carrying capacity normally associated with the small panel van segment above. There are rival compact vans that come close to matching the Doblo for load volume or payload but none can offer both on the Doblo’s level.
To give you access to this large and usefully square load bay, Doblo vans are available with a single sliding side door or with two side doors. You can also choose between twin asymmetric rear doors, with or without glazing, or a lift-up tailgate.
The Fiat offers a host of load-carrying accessories, including roof bars and carriers, tow bars and interior storage add-ons. There’s even a removable torch in the load area and the latest vans have specially-designed door handles that can be operated with the lightest of touches.
Reliability and Safety
At launch, a major chink in the Fiat Doblo’s armour was that ESC stability control didn’t make the standard equipment list. That’s no longer the case as all models now get ESC as well as ABS with EBD, Brake Assist, a hill holder system and a driver’s airbag.
It isn’t the most extensive standard safety kit list in the sector but passenger and side airbags can be added from the options list along with tyre pressure monitoring. On the security front, the Doblo doesn’t get an alarm or deadlocks as standard, which is a bit of an oversight.
With service intervals set at 21,000 miles, Fiat is showing confidence in its engines. The Doblo is covered under a three-year/120,000-mile warranty and comes with three years of AA cover to keep things moving.
Driving and Performance
One of the key selling points for the Doblo Cargo is its rear suspension system. This is an advanced fully independent set-up that’s been adapted to cope with the heavy load-carrying demands of a commercial vehicle. It delivers tangible benefits from a driving perspective with the Fiat offering a very smooth ride and good handling, particularly at low speeds.
We drove the Doblo with a 250kg load on board and found the long-wheelbase models more composed with better ride comfort and a planted feel in the corners that the standard-length vans can’t quite match.
Across the range, the steering is light but not particularly precise. It’s good for urban driving but more weight and sharpness would be preferable for B-road and motorway trips. Even in the tall high-roof models there’s very little body roll so you can corner with confidence, making it even more of a shame that the steering lets the side down a little.
In the engine department, the 1.3-litre Multijet unit is as small a diesel as you’ll find in a compact van but that shouldn’t put you off unduly. Fiat has worked to improve refinement across the Doblo’s diesel engine line-up and the 90bhp 1.3 is fine for urban work. Keep the revs in check and it is reasonably hushed but it does become harsh-sounding at the top end.
If you’re going to be covering big distances, the 1.6-litre Multijet is better. With 105bhp and 290Nm of torque at 1,500rpm (90Nm up on the 1.3) it feels stronger and less stressed when extended. The 6-speed manual gearbox fitted to this model is better than the 5-speed item on the 1.3-litre vans too – lighter and less notchy. Although neither manual ‘box is up with the compact van sector’s best, the Comfort-Matic auto offered on a 90bhp version of the 1.6-litre engine is more competitive.
The 2.0-litre diesel at the top of the range has 135bhp and 320Nm of torque. This is the one to choose if you plan on towing or making the most of the Doblo’s 1,005kg payload potential.
Cab and Interior
In the cab, there's overhead storage above the windscreen, door pockets and the seat base on the passenger seat flips up to reveal a very small space to store documents inside. However, rivals offer better cab interiors for object, phone and paperwork storage.
The basic Doblo Cargo can be a pretty sparse place to spend the day, despite funky seat trims, dash colours and some decent quality materials. Build quality isn’t the sturdiest in the class with the likes of Ford’s Transit Connect and the VW Caddy achieving a more solid feel.
The instrument cluster looks attractive enough but the dials themselves and the digits printed on them are quite small and hard to read at a glance. It’s a similar story with the radio where small buttons hamper an attractive design. Fiat could also have improved the impression of quality but simply upgrading the cheap feeling plastic on key touch points like the steering wheel and gear knob would have helped.
Pay an additional £600 to move up to an SX trim and you get bulkhead soundproofing, a height-adjustable steering wheel, a passenger seat undertray for storage, electric windows and mirrors, high-performance loudspeakers and a radio/CD/MP3 player.
Above the SX and isthe range-topping Tecnico model, which is about as well-equipped as vans in this sector get, with reverse parking sensors, air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. Even at this level there’s no built-in touchscreen but you do get a powered mounting for a TomTom sat-nav built into the dash top and the nav unit to go in it.
Fiat Doblo Cargo: van dimensions
|Short low-roof van||1,845mm||1,832mm||4,390mm|
|Long high-roof van||2,100mm||1,832mm||4,390mm|
|Long low-roof van||1,880mm||1,832mm||4,740mm|
|XL long high-roof van||2,125mm||1,832mm||4,740mm|
|Short low-roof Combi||1,845mm||1,832mm||4,390mm|
|Long low-roof Combi||1,880mm||1,832mm||4,740mm|
|XL long high-roof Combi||2,125mm||1,832mm||4,740mm|
Load area dimensions
|Short low-roof van||1,305mm||1,714mm||1,820mm||3.4m3|
|Long high-roof van||1,550mm||1,714mm||1,820mm||4.0m3|
|Long low-roof van||1,305mm||1,714mm||2,170mm||4.2m3|
|XL long high-roof van||1,550mm||1,714mm||2,170mm||5.0m3|
|Short low-roof Combi||1,250mm||1,261mm||950mm||0.79m3|
|Long low-roof Combi||1,250mm||1,261mm||1,300mm||1.05m3|
|XL long high-roof Combi||1,950mm||1,261mm||1,300mm||1.1m3|
- Power: 90bhp – 135bhp
- Weight (GVW): 1,990kgkg – 2,505kg
- Payload: 750kg – 1,000kg
- Loading height (approx, unladen): 545mm – 890mm