All work and play

All work and play

Let’s not mess about with cheesy sports analogies, Fiat Professional is serious about its intent for the Fullback to be a versatile work and play vehicle – and one that will drive the resurgence of the brand’s light commercial vehicle (LCV) lineage in South Africa, writes GAVIN MYERS

The local bakkie market is currently in the throes of a generation change, with new models from a variety of brands having recently been launched, or nearing their introduction. The latest to hit the local market is the Fiat Professional Fullback.

While you may remember the Strada three-quarter tonner that was introduced to South Africa in 2005, the Fullback is Fiat’s first one-tonne pickup. The company describes it as “a Work Hero designed to meet the real needs of professional customers and to face the requirements of daily life”. The model line-up at launch comprises of three models: the Double Cab 4×4 LX, Double Cab 4×2 SX and Single Cab 4×2 STD.

So what’s in the mix, then? Robust construction, reliability and versatility are the foundation values on which the Fullback has been developed. It’s underpinned by a ladder-frame chassis designed for a high degree of strength, while the rear leaf-spring suspension adds the necessary ruggedness to carry a 1 000-kg payload and a three-tonne towing capacity.

All models carry more than a full tonne payload.The single cab boasts a payload of 1 160 kg, but it is its load bed length of 2 265 mm that really impresses; not that the double-cab versions could be considered short, measuring 1 520 mm. The load beds of all models measure 1 470 mm between the wheel arches and 475 mm in depth.

The Fullback is an imposing size, with overall length of 5,2 m, width of 1,8 m and height of 1,7 m. The three-metre wheelbase balances the proportions, while some distinctive design features add a bit of individuality and Italian flair.

You’ll obviously notice the distinctive front end with its butch, blunt grille and swept-back headlights. Then there is the cutline above the bold front wheel arches, which carries on along the sides of the load bin … The result is a profile that is devoid of the heavy blandness that can so often plague such vehicles.

Double-cab models ride on stylish 17-inch rims wrapped in 245/65 rubber, while the worker-bee single cab has fit-for-purpose 16-inch steel wheels with 205-wide commercial tyres.

Providing the firepower to the two double-cab models is a 2,5-litre, direct-injection common-rail diesel engine. Available in two states of tune, the 4×4 LX model gets the full-fat 131 kW and 400 Nm of torque, while the 4×2 SX is tuned to 100 kW and 324 Nm. The single-cab model is currently only available with a 2,4-litre petrol engine that produces 97 kW and 202 Nm torque.

Like the rest of the vehicle, the Fullback’s interior looks good and feels tough.Currently all models drive through a five-speed manual gearbox, although an auto is on the cards for diesel models. Both double-cab models feature electronic rear diff locks.

What else do they feature? Well, aimed squarely at the vocational market the single cab’s STD trim level offers electric windows, air-conditioning, central locking, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and a rubberised load bay. The 4×2 SX double cab adds driver and passenger airbags, comfy leather upholstery, cruise control, a touch-screen audio system with steering-wheel-mounted controls and a tow bar.

The top-spec, 4×4 LX double cab further offers buyers bi-xenon headlamps, electronic climate control, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, and a rear-view camera.

Across the range, all cabs are tastefully appointed with contrasting black and grey upper and lower trim that creates a spacious feel. The single cab is in fact spacious enough for three, while the double cabs comfortably carry five with good leg and head room in the rear.

Of course, by now, you want to know what it’s like to drive. Unfortunately, we were only able to get behind the wheel of the 100 kW, 4×2 double cab on launch. This motor pulls smoothly in a quiet and refined manner. The steering is light and visibility is good.

Like the rest of the vehicle, the Fullback’s interior looks good and feels tough.While bakkies traditionally sprung at the rear on leaf springs will always have a bit of “toughness” to their ride, the Fullback’s ride quality is actually quite good. Indeed, Fiat has paid special attention to keeping noise and vibration down to a minimum.

Price wise, the single cab retails for R232 900, while the two double cabs are positioned at
R402 900 and R468 900 respectively. The range is backed by a three-year/100 000 km warranty and a five-year/100 000 km service plan.

With these price and equipment levels, Fiat Professional is clear, and serious, about positioning the Fullback as a tough, well-rounded work-and-play vehicle. No easy task in bakkie-obsessed South Africa, it must be said … However, the Fullback brings some fresh appeal to the bakkie market, which will, no doubt, grow as the range expands with more options. We can’t wait to get our hands on more models for an in-depth evaluation sometime soon.

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