Do a van’s looks matter? If yes, then you’d probably already have given Fiat’s Doblo Cargo a miss because pretty it wasn’t.
Now it’s been facelifted the Italian’s appearance is much smarter although contented owners of the earlier, uglier version will tell you that you should never judge a book by its cover because, quite simply, it was one of the largest, most practical light vans in the business, a design so good Vauxhall rebadges it and sells it as the Combo.
Now here lies the rub; while Fiat (or to more exact Fiat Professional which looks after the commercials) has revamped its Doblo, Vauxhall is sticking with the 2014 model and is unlikely to facelift it as the next Combo will be Peugeot/Citroen-based instead.
Apart from looks the refreshed 2015 Doblo boasts a host of other improvements such as more efficient, cleaner engines with new dedicated Ecojet derivatives. Costing £500 extra, they feature Start-Stop, special engine oil and tyres plus better aerodynamics.
Four trim levels are available: Standard, Ecojet, SX and Tecnico as well as a quart of diesels (a 1.3, two 1.6-litres and a 2-litre) and a single 1.4-litre petrol unit. Apart from a choice of body lengths and heights, there’s also the option of crew cabs, a platform cab for specialist bodies, a useful pick-up called Work Up and a ‘virtual 4x4’ option called Traction+ for an additional £295; all told there’s some 1000 Doblo derivatives, says Fiat.
Our regular 105bhp 1.6-litre diesel Maxi test van is all you need in a light van. It’s extremely roomy (massive with that ungainly high roof added), very comfortable and has enough power to cope with heavy loads – the standard six-speed gearbox helping here. If the standard payload is insufficient you can opt for a heavy duty option (£165) and better front brakes (£75).
Apart from rivalry from Vauxhall, Fiat also offers a slightly larger van range called Scudo and as you’d expect there’s some cross-over, which can confuse buyers as the largest Doblo is bigger than the smallest Scudo. Fiat Professional says the chief differences between them are related to their internal dimensions as Scudo provides a bit more in terms of internal length, (+84mm), but Doblo has a higher roof height, (+100mm), and wider space, (+114mm). What may sway it is passenger space because Doblò has only two seats whereas Scudo is available with three.
Unless we needed that extra seat we’d go for the Doblo due to it being a more modern design, plus it drives much better, due in part to its clever rear suspension design that’s light and compact, endowing the van with excellent handling and a car-like ride that’s probably the best in its class.
Because Vauxhall is ending its alliance with Fiat, the interior is unchanged but there was little wrong with it anyway. A new option is power folding door mirrors, a handy feature on a big van for £120. Internal roof bars cost £220, air conditioning £595 and the near essential parking sensors cheap at £185.
Will Vauxhall’s termination of its partnership with Fiat be something it will ultimately rue? We think it may.