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Fiat Qubo 1.3 Dynamique

We’ve fallen for the Qubo, but its compromised rear access and bulky back seats are proof that larger van bodies make a better people carrier base. Can’t stretch to the Roomster? Don’t overlook cheaper versions of Fiat’s newcomer.

So is it hip to be square? The Qubo’s name is a nod towards the boxy shape of the Fiat, which is the latest in a long line of van-bodied people carriers. While most are larger than the new Qubo, all of these models require a certain mindset from potential buyers – you must be comfortable with the styling.

A straw poll of the Auto Express office gave the looks the thumbs-up. It appears boisterous rather than bulbous and, thanks to the success of the 500, the Fiat badge brings plenty of small car kudos. However, when it’s lined up next to the Roomster, it’s clear anyone choosing the Italian model had better be ready to stand out. Embrace the commercial origins and you’ll enjoy the Qubo’s utilitarian features – the upright door handles and visible sliding rear door runners add character.

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Climb into the driver’s seat and the advantages of the van body are immediately apparent. You sit high and upright with a great view ahead, and also benefit from huge door mirrors. However, while the dashboard is smartly designed, it doesn’t feel nearly as upmarket as the Skoda’s. The rotary heating controls seem cheap, as does the flimsy plastic glovebox. What’s more, there’s a lot of exposed metal in the cabin.

Where the Qubo should score all its points is in the rear... but this is a bit of a disappointment. While the sliding doors are brilliant, the opening they leave is too small. Once inside, the basic trim doesn’t even provide a door armrest for passengers, although there is plenty of space for adults to sit three abreast.

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While the Skoda has a three-seat layout, the Fiat gets a conventional 60/40 split. This is no problem until you want to maximise the Qubo’s capacity and take the chairs out – the weight of the larger bench section means this is a back-breaking two-person job. Still, even in five-seat form the 330-litre luggage compartment is generous.

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Buyers have the choice of a dated 1.4-litre petrol powerplant or the 1.3-litre diesel engine fitted to our test car. The latter delivers leisurely pace at best – 0-60mph took an epic 17.1 seconds – but around town the four-cylinder is punchy enough. Only at higher speeds does it feel lethargic.

The Qubo sits on the Grande Punto platform, yet hasn’t inherited its agility. The steering is responsive and the brakes strong; from 70mph, the Fiat stopped in 51.4 metres – over three metres sooner than the Skoda. But the Qubo drives like a van, with its tall body rolling in corners.

Still, the price list does provide some compensation for the dynamic shortfalls. The line-up starts from only £9,750, while the range-topping diesel model is yours for £12,350. So, this is another characterful small Fiat; the question is whether the Qubo is practical enough to triumph here?

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Chart position: 2WHY: Van body and Grande Punto underpinnings should make Qubo a versatility champ.

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