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As the first major new entrant to the leisure-bakkie segment since the Amarok, does the Fullback have the chops to defeat our Top 12 Best Buys champ?

It's a big year for bakkies. We've experienced the new – and very good – Toyota Hilux; Volkswagen has shown its revised Amarok, replete with segment-leading V6 turbodiesel power; Nissan looks set to introduce the all-new Navara sooner rather than later ... and now an unlikely player has joined the market. Based on our impressions of the new Fiat Professional Fullback from the international launch in Italy, the newcomer possesses the raw talent to ask tough questions about the established participants. And it needs to assert itself; hot on the Italian bakkie's heels are the Renault Alaskan and Mercedes-Benz GLT, both based on the Navara that's been garnering rave reviews overseas. Bakkie buyers have never had it this good.

Of course, one of those established contenders is also the formidable Ford Ranger. A smash hit ever since its market introduction five years ago, the big bakkie from Silverton has perennially challenged the Hilux's status as sales leader in the segment. Regular CAR readers will know it's also been our Top 12 Best Buys choice as the best leisure double-cab for five consecutive years. We haven't exactly made it easy for the Italian bakkie by staging this comparative test…

Tested here is the Fullback's flagship LX derivative, which tops a simple three-model range that also features a cheaper, less-powerful double-cab, as well as a petrol-powered single-cab workhorse. Under the LX's bonnet beats the venerable Mitsubishi 2,5-litre turbodiesel, introduced a few years ago in the Pajero Sport and Triton ranges. Ah, the Triton… Those in the know will be aware the Fullback is a nuts-and-bolts copy of the latest-generation Triton that isn't yet available in South Africa.

Fiat can only win with this arrangement: it's saved valuable money and time versus what it would have spent on a bespoke vehicle; and because the brand isn't associated with this segment that draws some of the most doggedly brand-loyal buyers of any sector, the fact that it's a well-respected Triton underneath and is built on the same production line should allay concerns about ruggedness and resale.

Outside

"Handsome" was the most commonly used adjective when the CAR testers were asked to comment on the Fullback's appearance. Chrome-bejewelled front- and rear-ends are complemented with neat matte-silver trim along the fore and aft bumpers, stylish 17-inch wheels wrapped in generous rubber with an intricate tread pattern, and standard-fitment xenon headlamps that provide an excellent spread of light. A range of accessories is available from the Mopar catalogue, including a roof box, tonneau cover and side skirts. Ground clearance of 205 mm is sufficient, although hardly class-leading.

In mid-range XLS spec, the Ford Ranger appears somewhat bland by comparison. Dull grey accents in the grille do little to lift the frontal aspect, and the 16-inch alloys wheels look malnourished in the massive wheelarches. However, compared with the Fullback's fussy Triton-signature upsweep in the rear doors and generous use of silver accents, the Ranger's simpler appliqués should see it age better. It also has more generous ground clearance.

Inside

Owners of newer bakkies such as the Ranger, Hilux and Amarok are in for a slight jolt when jumping aboard the Fullback. Feeling distinctly old school in its use of material textures and the shallowness of the dashboard, Fiat's bakkie also has small instruments and a hardy supplementary shift lever for the low-range transfer case. That said, the interior feels rock-solid and the leather-trimmed seating is comfortable in the front. The driver's seat is electrically adjustable and the steering column has rake-and-reach adjustment. Hop into the back and the amount of space is surprising. Boasting more leg- and headroom than the already-accommodating Ranger, the Fullback's rear bench is slightly less upright and should prove more comfortable on those long drives to your holiday destination.

It's better specified than the Ford, too. The LX has a comprehensive (though fussy) infotainment system with USB and Bluetooth, cruise and climate control, and a reverse-view camera, the lens of which sits proud of the tailgate where it could be knocked when loading/offloading the vehicle (the Ranger's optional item is integrated into the Ford badge). The quality of the camera's feed is also poor.

We had mixed feelings about the interior of this Ranger. It lacks the more expensive versions' full infotainment system, instead employing a small screen with mediocre graphics quality. More concerning is the quality issues we detected on this vehicle. There were uneven gaps between the surrounds for the central air vents and the dash top, and the interior rattled. Granted, its mileage was higher than the Fullback's, and we didn't have a record of its use before arriving at the CAR office, but a rugged bakkie should feel better screwed together after just 10 000 km.

Beyond reproach, however, are the front seats, which are very comfortable, the quality of the cloth trim and the ease with which the various cabin functions can be controlled. At speed, the Ranger's interior is also better insulated. Wind noise is low, road noise even less of a bugbear and the engine fades into the background. In the Fiat, the 2,5-litre is always audible and wind noise is higher. In terms of load bays, the Ranger's is slightly wider, longer and deeper. Both have six sturdy hooks, while the Fullback has a protective moulding as standard.

Under the bonnets

Despite being a rowdy powerplant, the Fullback's 2,5-litre impressed all who piloted the vehicle. Developing 131 kW at 4 000 r/min and a class-competitive 400 N.m at 2 000 r/min, it's a free-revving unit that propels the relatively light bakkie with real gusto. Overtaking punch is a match for the 2,8-litre unit in the Hilux and shades the Ranger. A sixth gear, however, would have been welcome in order to drop engine revs at a cruising speed and stack the ratios closer together. On an excursion to the Atlantis sand dunes north of Cape Town (watch the video here), the Fullback's comparatively high first gear saw testers having to use more revs than desirable to get the vehicle off the line and prevent it bogging down.

The Ranger, meanwhile, elicited no such concerns. Its close-ratio transmission and availability of torque from 1 500 through to 2 500 r/min meant few revs were needed to get it moving. That's just as well, however, as it's a heavy bakkie that needs all the help it can get to tread lightly on soft sand. That weight penalty is immediately evident on-road, too, where performance is merely average compared with the Fullback and positively pedestrian above 100 km/h. Overtaking manoeuvres require more careful planning and longer stretches of clear road to execute.

On the open road

Here the Ranger starts cementing an advantage. From the light shifts of its slick six-speed gearbox, to the moderately weighted steering and comfortable ride, it firmly favours leisure pursuits. Except perhaps for the Amarok, no other bakkie is this refined and untaxing to drive. As long as you don't push it… Up the pace and body control deteriorates, the steering kicks back if bumps are encountered mid-corner and the heavy body heaves to and fro. A big concern in a bakkie, though? Not really.

Jump into the Fullback straight after the Ranger and it feels like a hot hatch by comparison (A hot double-cab? Now there's a novel idea). The steering is weightier and more direct, as is the transmission's action, and the bakkie feels more eager to change direction. Conversely, that means the ride errs towards the firmer, more fidgety side of the spectrum. It never quite settles and there's a slight but constant vertical disturbance at cruising speeds. That said, it's no worse than the new Hilux and an improvement on the previous-generation Triton that's still on sale in South Africa.

Bakkies tend to disappoint in our 10-stop emergency-braking test, but that wasn't the case here. Both vehicles stopped in commendably short distances and times. On our standardised 100 km fuel route, the Fullback recorded an excellent 8,9 L/100 km and the Ranger an even more parsimonious 8,0 L/100 km.

What's included

As mentioned, in terms of luxury and convenience features, the Fullback knocks the Ranger into touch. However, it's the Ford that's more generous in its offering of safety features, boasting six airbags to the Fiat's disappointing two (though the Italian has Isofix thrown in). Both vehicles use ABS with EBD and EBA, as well as ESC (switchable in the Ranger), while the Ford offers the convenience of shifting between drive modes with a knob on the facia versus the Fiat's stiff second gear lever. The Italian bakkie offers 10 000 km extra on its five-year service plan, while the Ranger counters with a more generous warranty and longer service intervals (every 20 000 km).
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.

Manufacturer Specifications

Standard - standard Optional - optional
  • Leather upholstery: Standard
  • Seats quantity: 5
  • Air conditioning: Standard
  • Climate control automatic air conditioning: Standard
  • Cup bottle holders: front + rear
  • Front armrests: Standard
  • Heated ventilated seats: driver heated
  • Antilock braking system (ABS): Standard
  • Electronic brake distribution (EBD): Standard
  • Brake assist (BAS/EBA): Standard
  • Driver airbag: Standard
  • Front passenger airbag: Standard
  • Airbag quantity: 2
  • ISOFIX child seat mountings: outer rear
  • Alloy wheelsrims: Standard
  • Power steering: Standard
  • Multifunction steering wheel controls: Standard
  • Cruise control: Standard
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Standard
  • USB port: Standard
  • Powersocket 12V: front
  • Central locking: remote
  • Remote central locking: Standard
  • Electric windows: front + rear
  • Electric adjust mirrors: Standard
  • Electric seat adjustment: driver
  • Daytime driving running lights: LED
  • Light sensor auto on off lights: Standard
  • Xenon headlights: Standard
  • Frontfog lamps lights: Standard
  • Highlevel 3rd brakelight: Standard
  • Park distance control PDC: rear camera
  • Camera for park distance control: rear
  • Towbar trailer hitch: Standard
  • Metallic pearl escent paint: Optional
  • Fuel Type: diesel
  • Fuel range average: 974 km
  • Driven wheels: all
  • Driven wheels quantity: 4
  • All wheel drive: part-time
  • Gearratios quantity: 5
  • Lowrange: Standard
  • Gearshift: manual
  • Transmission type: manual
  • Diff lock: rear
  • Front tyres: 245/65 R17
  • Reartyres: 245/65 R17
  • Spare wheel size full: Standard
  • Length: 5345 mm
  • Width excl mirrors incl mirrors: 1815 mm
  • Height: 1780 mm
  • Wheel base: 3000 mm
  • Ground clearance minimum maximum: 205 mm
  • Turning circle wheels body: 11.8 m
  • Approach angle: 30.0
  • Break over ramp angle: 24.0
  • Roll over / tilt angle / lateral inclination / slope: 45.0
  • Departure angle: 22.0
  • Unladen/tare/kerb weight: 1835 kg
  • Load carrying capacity / payload: 1000
  • Gross weight (GVM): 2870 kg
  • Towing capacity - unbraked: 750
  • Fuel tank capacity (incl reserve): 75l
  • Fuel consumption average: 7.7 l/100km
  • CO2 emissions average: 206g/km
  • Emission control phase Euro EU level: Euro 2
  • Power maximum: 131 kW
  • Power maximum total: 131 kW
  • Power peak revs: 4000 r/min
  • Power to weight ratio: 71.4 kW/ton
  • Torque maximum: 400 Nm
  • Torque peak revs: 2000 r/min
  • Torque maximum total: 400 Nm
  • Torque to weight ratio: 218 Nm/ton
  • Acceleration 0-100 kmh: n/as
  • Maximum top speed: 167 km/h
  • Engine position/ location: front
  • Engine capacity: 2477 cc
  • Engine size: 2.5l
  • enginedetailshort: 2.5TD
  • Engine + detail: 2.5 turbo diesel
  • Cylinder layout: inline
  • Cylinders: 4
  • Cylinder layout + quantity: i4
  • Valves per cylinder: 4
  • Valves quantity: 16
  • Turbocharger: Standard
  • Warranty time (years): 3
  • Warranty distance (km): 100000 km
  • Service plan: Standard
  • Service plan time (years): 5
  • Service plan time (distance): 100000 km
  • Service interval (distance): 10000 km
  • Brand: Fiat
  • Status: c
  • Segment: LCV
  • MMcode: 20019700
  • MMVariant: FULLBACK 2.5 Di-D 4X4 131KW P/U D/C
  • MMintrodat: 2016-06-20
  • Introdate: 2016-06-21
  • DuoportarecordID: FiatFull1d2

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Fiat FULLBACK 2.5 Di-D 4X4 131KW P/U D/C 2.5Di-D double cab 4x4 for sale in from one of Carmag.co.za's apporoved car dealerships
Used FULLBACK 2.5 Di-D 4X4 131KW P/U D/C 2.5Di-D double cab 4x4 availbale from the following auto dealer:
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