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Multi-country partnerships are quite the "in thing" these days. Mostly they work, sometimes not. We won't go into all the partnerships here, but instead mention merely one: Lamborghini. What's not to love about German engineering coupled with lashings of Italian style?

What we have in the case of the Fullback is not quite as exotic as Lamborghini engineering, but the concept certainly ticks most boxes. Take a tried-and-tested, mechanically solid Japanese chassis, engine and gearbox and then swish some Montegrappa or Visconti pens and pencils around the drawing board until you come up with a dash of individual styling.

Then, for good measure, dip some of the trim into a bath of heavy chrome. Why? Don't really know, but it adds an American touch reminiscent of heavyweight pickups so is not at all out of place. The name was chosen for the Fullback in a rugby team being the last line of defence and the first to get back on the attack. This should resonate positively in rugby-mad South Africa.

The result is styling that is pretty neat, both front and rear. My personal preference would be to change the characteristic Triton upsweep over the rear doors, but this was also left untouched. Chromework on our test unit was added to the side-mirrors, side strip, roll-over bar and on the meaty steel rear bumper.

Closely related to the Triton

The Fiat Fullback double-cab is manufactured in Thailand. It is basically a Mitsubishi Triton with some revamped styling and a deep red badge. Everyone has their own favourites when it comes to double-cabs, be it the Toyota, Isuzu, or more lately Ford, but we can't discount Mitsubishi with its decades of incredible Dakar experience just because it's lagging behind in the facelift and upgrade stakes. To market the vehicle in Europe, Fiat sponsors Fullbacks to the FIA Motorcross World Championships as an official partner. They can also be seen at the Giro d'Italia cycle tour.

So what do we have here under the snappy Italian suit? Old school reliability is the keyword. The 2,5-litre turbodiesel in 100 kW output (for the 4x2 models) and 131 kW output (for 4x4 models) is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. Features are sufficient for a bakkie and include an electrically adjusted driver's seat, electric windows and side-mirrors, leather upholstery that feels better than the vinyl-like offerings of some manufacturers, a USB port, a touch-screen for audio, and steering wheel controls with cruise control. A full-function fuel and trip computer is standard. And overhead grab handles are supplied for all doors except the driver's.

Our test vehicles had manual air-conditioning and a lever-operated transfer case for the four-wheel-drive and low-range, but higher-spec levels (not planned for SA import at this stage) include dual climate control and a console-mounted rotary knob for the four wheel-drive selection. Although the Fullbacks we drove in Turin did not have a rear diff lock, South Africa will receive this as standard. Ground clearance is 205 mm and approach and departure angles are 30 and 25 degrees respectively.

Inside, the thing that impressed was the amount of space in the rear. The whole reason for choosing a double-cab over a single-cab is for family use. This means that rear seat space is crucially important. Not being the latest in oversized (and almost impossible to park) designs, this level of comfort will be appreciated by larger families.

The wheel size is also very fitting for our country. No oversized bling that will battle on the rough and cost a fortune when you inevitably get sliced-up by rocks. The 16-inchers are fitted with 205R16C tyres, while higher-specced vehicle feature 17-inch with 245/65R17 rubber. The ride was very good on smooth roads and acceptable on the rough roads we experienced when making our way through a forest route. The diesel engine was quiet enough and NVH was satisfactory. On small corrugations, the Fullback was slightly jittery, but this is to be expected with a leaf spring rear suspension.

Mopar accessories are on the cards

Steering is hydraulically assisted, but the gear shift quality is somewhat vague, probably worsened by the fact that we were driving left hand-drive models. A good point is that the steering wheel is adjustable for both reach and rake. Not token movements like some bakkies, either; this one has decent travel. Mopar will provide a full range of accessories, including canopies, in different styles (with or without windows), hard load bay covers, load bay protection covers, roll-over bars, tow bars, roof racks and the like. A 12V outlet is fitted to the load bay for running appliances such as a fridge.

For South Africa, a 4x2 double-cab with the 100 kW engine will be on offer plus a 4x4 with the 131 kW engine. We expect the fuel consumption index to be around 10 L/100 km as a worst case scenario. In fact, we drove a Mitsubishi Triton 4x4 double-cab for a full 20 000 km test back in 2013/2014 and recorded an overall fuel consumption figure of 10,24 L/100 km. That model still had the previous generation 3,2-litre Di-D engine so this suggests that the long-term figure for the 2,5-litre should be consistently less than 10L/100 km.

In summary, apart from not having ultra-modern gadgetry that many serious off-roaders eschew anyway, the Fullback will fit in well to the South African market where we use our bakkies for everything: on poor roads, to haul heavy loads, whizz around the corner to the shop, and also to go to work every day.

The Fiat Fullback double-cab fills the bakkie gap in the South African Fiat Professional range that includes vans and busses such as Fiorino, Doblo, Ducato and the Ducato chassis cab. Further details of pricing, spec levels and servicing will be announced at the local launch, which should take place in June 2016. With other double-cabs about to enter the market as well, including the likes of Peugeot and Mercedes, we are in for some interesting comparisons.


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