To men of a certain age, the mere mention of ‘Turin’ and ‘fullback’ might conjure up memories of Stuart Pearce missing that penalty against Germany in Italia ’90. Fast-forward 26 years (yes, it really is that long), and Fiat chose its Mirafiori plant in Turin as the base at which to launch its new Fullback pick-up.
‘Versatile in any situation, robust and reliable’ is how Fiat would like you to think of the Fullback – a little like Stuart Pearce, then. Although fans of the Azzurri would much rather reference the great Paolo Maldini, one of the greatest fullbacks the world has ever seen.
But enough footballing chat, because the Fiat Fullback is meant for serious business – the final piece in the Fiat Professional jigsaw. It sits alongside familiar names such as the Ducato, Fiorino and Doblo, and sees Fiat entering the lucrative medium-size pick-up segment for the first time.
And lucrative it is. In 2015 alone, some 40,000 units were registered in the UK, a jump of 20% compared to the previous year. Across the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and Africa), the figure extends to 650,000 vehicles a year.
Incredibly, the medium-size pick-up accounts for a whopping 62% of the commercial vehicle segment in the Middle East and Africa, and 6% in Europe. The likes of the Toyota Hilux, Mitsubishi L200 and Nissan Navara are almost household names.
A Mitsubishi L200 in all but name
So you can hardly blame Fiat for wanting a slice of the pick-up pie. Little wonder the Italian giant spent billions on research and development and many years perfecting the Fullback prior to its launch. Only it didn’t. Instead, it turned to something Mitsubishi made earlier.
That’s right. In case it had escaped your notice, the Fiat Fullback is little more than a badge-engineered Mitsubishi L200. The recipe is simple: take one highly successful pick-up, sprinkle on a few Fiat badges, invite the world’s press to Turin and, hey presto – your own ready-made Fullback.
All of which means we could, as one motoring journalist intended to do, copy and paste a review of the Mitsubishi L200 and present it as our Fiat Fullback first drive. That’s because the Fiat is mechanically identical to the Mitsubishi: the same chassis, the same 2.4-litre diesel engine, the same performance and economy figures.
Even the styling is, to all intents and purposes, the same, although Fiat’s corporate face presents a more rugged and tasteful look. Compare and contrast with the all-too-blingy look of the L200 Barbarian. Sorry, Mitsubishi, but we think the Fullback’s styling is more in keeping with the tough and rugged nature of the pick-up.
Doing lifestyle things at the weekend
The Fullback highlights just how far the pick-up has travelled in recent years. What was once a vehicle built for tradesmen and farmers is now expected to serve as a ‘work hero’ (Fiat’s term, not ours), able to work tirelessly Monday to Friday, before doing more lifestyle type things at the weekend.
Lifestyle things like sticking a motocross bike in the back of your pick-up, or the slightly less exciting trip to the tip. Try finding a crossover that offers seating for five, a 1,045kg payload and — in the case of the 180hp version of the 2.4-litre Fullback — the potential to tow up to 3,100kg in weight.
Remember what we were saying about being versatile in any situation?
OK, so you’ll have to make one or two compromises to live the pick-up dream. To drive, the Fullback is a world away from pick-ups of old, but the rear leaf springs take you back to a different age.
The result is a somewhat bouncy ride, although this is less noticeable when you’re carrying a full load. To demonstrate this, Fiat loaded our test car with a Euro pallet of salt, which served to settle the ride and provide more traction at the rear.
Perfect for delivering salt to the top of a mountain
In normal conditions, you’ll leave the Fullback in two-wheel drive, which essentially transforms your pick-up into a tail-happy, rear-wheel drive toy. Even with our shipment of salt, the traction control light flickered as we made our way up a series of tight and steep mountain bends.
We also found the Fullback ran out of puff rather quickly, forcing us to change down to first to pull away from yet another switchback. Real-world conditions – if you happen to live on the edge of the Italian Alps and find yourself delivering salt to somebody at the top of a mountain.
In everyday circumstances, the Fullback is remarkably composed and far more refined than you’d think. The initial diesel clatter soon settles to a smooth idle and only becomes noisy once you reach the upper reaches of the rev range. It’s forgivable, because it’s accompanied by the thrust of 317lb ft of torque.
Off-the-line pace is impressive, and there’s enough mid-range pull to encourage you to tackle overtaking manoeuvres without consulting your life insurance policy. The steering and gearchange are far more car-like than pick-ups of old. Put simply: driving a Fullback doesn’t feel like a workout.
As good off-road as an Opel Agila
Given the nature of the beast, there’s a good chance a medium-size pick-up will spend some time off-road; certainly more than you’d expect of a crossover or SUV. The entry-level 150hp Fullback SX features an on-demand four-wheel drive system with three electrically-selected settings: 2H, 4H and 4L, while the LX has four electrically-controlled settings: 2H, 4H plus 4HLc and 4LLC with a locking central differential.
Helpfully, Fiat included an off-road section as part of our test route – a muddy track through an Italian forest. The ruts and camber changes made it slightly trickier to navigate than a New Forest car park, but when we point out we were met by an Opel Agila and two-wheel drive Fiat Panda emerging from the opposite direction, you’ll appreciate that it was hardly a huge test of the Fullback’s off-road abilities.
But given Mitsubishi’s off-road heritage, you can rest assured that the Fullback will be no slouch when the going gets tough.
Who needs a Nissan Qashqai anyway?
Overall, although more car-like than pick-ups of old, the Fullback errs more on the side of commercial than it does lifestyle. It’s not as easy to drive as a crossover and it leans through corners in much the same way an SUV would have done 20 years ago. But the commanding driving position at least puts you on a par with the Qashqais and Evoques of the world.
Just don’t expect your Fullback to feel like an Evoque on the inside. Fans of soft-touch plastics are likely to be disappointed, but some piano black surfaces and brushed-aluminium detailing help to lift an otherwise sombre interior. The touchscreen infotainment system is Straight Outta L200 and suffers from the same usability issues. It’s not the most intuitive system on the market.
On the plus side, the steering adjusts for reach and rake, while the leather seats on our LX test car were both comfortable and supportive. Being critical, we’d have liked more in the way of storage compartments, as this is one area where the Fullback/L200 lags behind the Isuzu D-Max. On the plus side, the Fullback trounces the D-Max in terms of perceived quality.
In the rear, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Some passengers will revel in the ‘theatre’ seating, which provides a commanding view over those in the front, but conversely it does provide a feeling of being perched on the car. Headroom won’t be an issue for even the tallest of passengers, but some adults might find their knees are pressed against the back of the front seats.
Lights, camera, action
The entry-level Fullback SX offers a generous level of standard equipment, but we’d recommend upgrading to the LX, not least because of the reversing camera. Parking a pick-up can be a game of chance, especially if you’re carrying a load or have fitted an aftermarket canopy to the back. A camera will reduce your reliance on a tow bar acting like a rudimentary parking sensor.
The LX will also feel the more car-like of the two trim levels, something you might be thankful of if you intend to use your pick-up for family duties. Heated leather seats, keyless go, climate control, bi-xenon headlights, additional body styling, privacy glass and 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system will ensure you’re living the SUV dream. Almost.
Your important car-like figures for the Fullback LX are: 173g/km CO2 for the 180hp manual, increasing to 189g/km for the automatic; 42.8mpg combined (manual), 39.2mpg combined (automatic); £22,995 plus VAT and OTR charges (manual) and £24,395 plus VAT and OTR charges (automatic).
Your important commercial vehicle figures for the Fullback LX are: length 5,285mm; width 1,815mm; height 1,780mm; kerb weight 1,875kg; towing (unbraked) 3,100kg; payload 1,045kg; off-road angles: approach 30°, departure 22°, ground clearance 205mm.
Fiat Fullback: Early verdict
The Fiat Fullback is about as Italian as that Hawaiian pizza you ordered from the takeaway on Friday night. But does it matter? The fact that it’s a Mitsubishi L200 should at least provide some reassurance to prospective customers.
To our eyes at least, the Fullback looks slightly more appealing than the L200 and some well-chosen Mopar accessories should enhance the look even further. This double cab pick-up is a realistic alternative to a me-too crossover or SUV and could even offer as much as 42.8mpg on a combined cycle.
Given the specification, practicality and near car-like dynamics, the prices, on paper at least, look like a bargain. If a Fullback fits your lifestyle, you’ll find much to like here. Mitsubishi’s entry-level L200 4Life might be cheaper than the Fiat’s entry-level Fullback SX, but the superior LX is good value when pitched alongside the Warrior and bling-tastic Barbarian.
What a shame that Fiat has wimped out when it comes to naming its trim levels. Against the hard-as-nails Warrior, Barbarian, Invincible, Blade and Huntsman, SX and LX just sound a bit lukewarm. May we suggest the Fullback Stuart Pearce or Fullback Julian Dicks? Then again…
We’d like to say the Fullback will be available in all good Fiat dealers, but it won’t. Not for now, at least. Fiat told us the Fullback will be available via Fiat Professional dealers, so don’t expect to see it sat alongside the Panda, 500 and Punto in the showroom. Instead, find it alongside the likes of the Doblo, Ducato, Fiorino and Talento. If this world sounds alien to you, eating a Ginsters pasty, reading the Sun and tuning into Talksport should provide some adequate training.
- It’s a Mitsubishi L200 with Fiat badges
- Generous standard specification
- Practicality and space
- It’s a Mitsubishi L200 with Fiat badges
- Dated infotainment system
- Ride quality when not carrying a load
2016 Fiat Fullback LX manual: specification
Price: £22,995 plus VAT and OTR charges
Engine: 2.4-litre turbo diesel
Gearbox: six-speed manual
Torque: 317lb ft
0-62mph: 10.4 seconds
Top speed: 111mph
Fuel economy: 42.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 173g/km