Will a new engine elevate this under-appreciated Italian-badged Japanese double cab?

Although the Fullback with the Mitsubishi Triton-sourced 2,5 D-iD engine was launched only about a year ago, Fiat has decided to quietly slip the new 2,4-litre turbodiesel version into its range here in South Africa.

Before we get to that new engine, though, a quick recap on this Japanese-Italian’s abilities, ones that we tested back in 2016. It is, of course, a rebadge of the latest-generation Mitsubishi Triton, which is a double-cab we rated very highly in our 2017 double-cab shootout. In that test, we noted that the Triton felt a lot nimbler than its rivals and the same would apply to the Fullback. That shouldn’t be surprising given that it does weigh some 280 kg less than the equivalent Ford Ranger and is 170 kg lighter than the Toyota Hilux (the overall dimensions of these bakkies are, however, similar).

From behind the wheel, the driving position commands a good view over most traffic and the leather-upholstered seats are both supportive and comfortable. Rear-seat legroom, as in most modern double cabs, is more generous than older designs and reflects this type of vehicle’s increasing popularity as leisure-lifestyle family transport. To that end, the Fullback features auto locking/unlocking, electric driver’s seat adjustment, rear-view camera, touchscreen and steering wheel audio controls plus cruise control. The tiller is also adjustable for both rake and reach.

There are a few niggles with the cabin, however: the driver’s seat needs a lower setting; the sound system works only with the key in the ignition; and, while a rear-view camera is installed, there are no parking sensors. One other missed trick is the lack of a darkened section on the windscreen between the two sunvisors that would reduce glare from the sun.

We noticed a few calibration anomalies over our two-week test: on filling up with the fuel gauge of the 75-litre tank reading half, the tank took 45 litres, meaning that significantly more than half a tank had been consumed. The cabin’s climate control temperature calibration also seemed out and for a comfortable room temperature feel of, say 21 °C, you would have to set the dial to 24 or 25. The speedometer was also rather optimistic, indicating 120 km/h when the true speed was 114 km/h.

On to that new engine, then. Just as in the Triton, the 2,4 D-iD is noticeably smoother and punchier than the old 2,5 with minimal turbo lag, good mid-range torque and fairly quiet operation. Mated to a somewhat old-school five-speed auto transmission it may be, but you never feel as if it’s short of ratios and there is little in the way of slip. Smoothness is evident throughout the rev range, with the exception of a slight roughness at around 2 500 r/min.

Final drive choices are made via a rotary switch and your options are rear-wheel drive; all-wheel drive in high range; and all-wheel drive with low range.

Acceleration for the Fullback was 0,22 seconds quicker to 100 km/h than the Triton, with similar small improvements in the overtaking times. This could be down to a slightly reduced mass between the two cousins (38 kg), but it does nevertheless beat the acceleration times set by all the double-cab participants in the aforementioned double cab shootout. Braking times, on the other hand, were disappointing compared with those posted by the 2,5-litre Fullback. It averaged a 100-0 km/h time of 3,17 seconds, whereas this new model posted 3,30. This, however, could be down to different tyres.

The steering is weighty but precise and direct, with adequate feel for a vehicle of this ilk. The ride is somewhat firmer than the more cosseting approach of the Amarok and Ranger, but it is certainly as good as the rest and soaks up bumps adequately.

Its load-carrying abilities are equally impressive. We filled the bay and hitched a trailer, all of which only served to settle the rear and improve the ride without affecting stability much. The payload is 950 kg but the towing capacity is not listed. By comparison, the Triton double cab has a braked towing rating of just 1 500 kg which seems lower than what it should be capable of. Ground clearance is declared as 205 mm, but we measured 225 mm unladen. Accessories are available from the Mopar stable and our test unit had a rubberised load bay and came fitted with a Mopar towbar. Both of these we would consider must-haves.



TEST SUMMARY

The Fullback is an excellent combination of lifestyle transport and straightforward workhorse with more than enough creature comforts. It may miss out on a few modern features that its competitors have, but then again, many owners prefer their bakkies without bing-bong warnings for unfastened seat belts or keyless go with push-button starting.

Like the Triton, the Fullback offers a strong package with nimble handling for a big double cab and now, with this new 2,4-litre unit, an even better engine/gearbox combination. Yes, resale values remain a concern, but with this new addition to a Fullback range that expands from three to five derivatives, both it and the Triton deserve a much larger slice of the double-cab sales pie.

*From the December 2017 issue of CAR magazine