What Car? says...
The Fiat Doblo Cargo is, to many eyes, a peculiar-looking thing. Since its launch 20-odd years ago, it has lurked in the shadows of the small-van segment, being bought by fleets and the occasional tradesperson.
Fiat has revised the Doblo Cargo several times, and its popularity has grown, but it stills struggles to break on to the shortlists of many buyers keenly eyeing up the class leaders. They include the Citroën Berlingo, Ford Transit Connect, Peugeot Partner, Volkswagen Caddy.
That’s a shame, because on paper the current Doblo Cargo is an accomplished van with a smart appearance, modern Euro 6-compliant engines and relatively sophisticated suspension.
So, what are those engine options? Well, there's a 1.3-litre diesel with a choice of two power outputs, starting from 79bhp. That pattern is repeated with the more powerful 1.6-litre diesel that is also available in two states of tune, the most powerful of which hammers out a respectable 118bhp.
Fiat offers you a variety of body configurations as well. Naturally, there’s the entry-level short-wheelbase panel van and the long-wheelbase Maxi Cargo version, which you can order with a high roof if you wish.
That’s not all, though. There's also the crew cab version capable of transporting up to five people, the dropside flat-bed model, called the Work-Up, and finally the Luton box van.
Keep on reading and we’ll run you through the details of what the Fiat Doblo Cargo is like to drive in its various guises, how it feels from behind the wheel, how big it is, and how much it’ll cost you to run. We'll also compare it with other choices you might be considering in the small van category, and whether it's one of the best small vans on the market.
If you do decide to buy a Doblo Cargo – or any make or model of vehicle that suits your needs – remember that you could save thousands of pounds by checking out the best prices using the free What Car? New Car Buying service, including many great deals on new Fiats.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The Fiat Doblo Cargo engines all provide plenty of low-end shove that builds usefully from around 1500rpm. That said, when it comes to out-and-out pace, we’d definitely recommend the 94bhp 1.3 Multijet 2 95 over the entry-level 79bhp version. It has that bit of the extra oomph you need, especially if you’ve got the van loaded up.
Even that’s not lightning fast, though, so if you fancy something quicker, there’s the 104bhp 1.6 Multijet 2 105, or the very talented 1.6 Multijet 2 120. The 120 has 118bhp and is plenty fast enough, whether you’re nipping away from the traffic lights or cruising down the motorway.
The engines are relatively quiet, too. You know you’re powered by diesel because you hear some grumble here and there when you really put your foot down, but there's nothing that makes you wince.
Generally, they hum away in the background, especially with the six-speed gearbox (standard with the 1.6 Multijet 2). It lowers the revs at 70mph compared with the five-speed manual that comes with the 1.3 engines.
All versions offer a smooth gearchange, decisive clutch bite and progressive brakes. The levels of wind and road noise aren’t particularly high relative to the competition, either.
Driven side by side with the Ford Transit Connect and Volkswagen Caddy, the Doblo Cargo is no second-rate choice when it comes to ride and handling. It has a unique rear suspension set-up for a small van, with a multi-link rear axle that gives improved ride comfort and road holding.
It works, too. The Doblo Cargo does a very good job of cushioning you over speed bumps and feels very comfortable on the general ups and downs of A-roads and motorways. Sharp ridges and large potholes still jolt a bit, but not as harshly as some of the competition in the small van category.
The handling is just as accomplished. The steering is weighted nicely and it’s accurate, if not quite as quick to respond as the Ford Transit Connect’s. There’s also more body lean than you’d find in rivals, but there’s a good reserve of grip that leaves you full of confidence to press on when required.
Around town, the minimum 11.2m turning circle (it’s 12.5m for the long wheelbase) is about par for the course and roughly matches the Transit Connect’s.
The interior layout, fit and finish
While the Fiat Doblo Cargo is very handy dynamically, its interior isn’t an asset. Firstly, there’s the driving position. It’s fine if you happen to have particularly short legs and long arms, but for the rest of us, it’s awkward.
Sure, there’s seat-height adjustment and a reach and rake adjustable steering wheel, but the wheel doesn’t move far enough towards you and the pedals are too near, so you end up in a compromised stance, with bent legs and arms stretched.
The Ford Transit Connect and Volkswagen Caddy are much better able to suit the majority of drivers. On the plus side, the Doblo Cargo’s driver’s seat is available with lumbar adjustment and a fold-down armrest, and the seat cushioning delivers decent long-distance support.
Visibility is acceptable, with windscreen pillars that are fairly wide but not ridiculously so, and the door mirrors are better than the Transit Connect’s at highlighting what’s lurking in your blind-spots. The rear visibility will depend on whether you choose to have rear windows or not. Rear parking sensors are available and come as standard on higher trims including Sportivo, but you cannot get a rear-view camera.
There’s no option to add a modern touchscreen infotainment system. Even the plushest versions have little more than an FM radio, CD player and the ability to connect your phone via Bluetooth and USB for chatting and music streaming.
However, it is one of the least user-friendly systems in terms of connecting to Bluetooth or searching for contacts, and we tried two versions of iPhone and neither would charge via the USB. That was a complete pain made worse because it consistently kept trying to connect to the USB (and failing), cutting out the radio in the process. You’ll be much better off and far less frustrated using the Transit Connect’s or Caddy’s more modern system.
Finally, there’s the interior quality. It’s not awful, and you get some soft-touch surfaces on the dashboard, but the materials elsewhere are no better than average and it doesn’t feel as well made as the best in the small van category. The indicator switch feels particularly cheap, with a very indistinct action that means when you tap for three flashes before a lane change it often doesn’t work.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The Fiat Doblo Cargo’s front head room isn’t a problem, but if you’re very tall you could well find the lack of leg room an issue. Storage space is reasonable, with various trays, a glovebox and door bins, plus overhead storage above the windscreen. SX models get a storage tray under the passenger seat cushion, but that’s too shallow for anything other than papers and receipts.
The Doblo’s real selling point is its flexibility when it comes to moving loads. Like the Nissan NV200, it's a slightly different size and shape to its key rivals, so it can do jobs that others can't. Whether you’re comparing the short wheelbase (Cargo) or long wheelbase versions (Maxi Cargo), you’ll find the load bay is generally roomier than in, say, the Ford Transit Connect.
In pure numbers, from the rear doors to the bulkhead it’s between 1820-2170mm long, and between its wheel arches there’s 1230mm. The load-bay height is 1305mm if you opt for the standard roof and 1550mm for the high-roof XL.
The short-wheelbase vans are capable of transporting up to 3.4m3, while long-wheelbase, high-roof vans can transport as much as 5.4m3. Maximum carrying capacity is just over one tonne, including the driver.
Many variations of doors can be ordered, from single or twin sliding side doors to barn doors or a lift-up tailgate at the rear. The downside is that, unlike some of the competition, the Doblo Cargo doesn't have any clever load-through bulkheads or trap doors to increase maximum length when you need to carry extra-long loads, and that makes it below average for the class.
The addition of job-specific models, such as the Work-Up pick-up model, partly makes up for this, because at least there’s likely to be a version of the Doblo to suit most needs.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
If you compare starting prices, the Fiat Doblo Cargo costs a little less than the rival Ford Transit Connect and significantly less than the Volkswagen Caddy. If you buy on a PCP finance deal, however, as most drivers will, the price gap will narrow.
The engines are economical, with an official average of just over 50mpg for the 1.3 Multijet 2, whichever power option you choose. The 1.6 Multijet officially averages 46mpg, and we saw around that figure on a run, while around town it was down in the mid-30s.
Entry-level models are pretty basic, with wheel trims and the mandatory safety systems, such as ABS and electronic stability control, plus Brake Assist and Hill Hold Assist. A tyre pressure monitoring system can be added as an option along with additional passenger and side airbags.
As you go up the trim ladder, things get a bit fancier, with SX trim adding the driver’s armrest and overhead storage we mentioned earlier, along with electric door mirrors. The mid-point of the range is Tecnico, which comes with rear parking sensors, air conditioning, steering wheel-mounted controls and Bluetooth. This is our choice to get some luxuries. Sportivo has cruise control, electric windows, black metallic paint and 16in alloy wheels.
If you’re in need of accessories, particularly for ladders, Fiat does a smart range of roof racks suited to the low-roof version.
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