It seems hardly a year or two back that our former title Fleet Van was handing over the trophy for van of the year to the new Fiat Doblo Cargo. But it was, in fact, back in 2010 and already the Doblo is being treated to a mid-life facelift that looks set to ensure its ongoing success.
When it was first launched, the Doblo offered such high levels of build quality, general driveability and practicality that it immediately catapulted the Italian manufacturer into the premium league for the first time.
Indeed, the Doblo was taken by Vauxhall and rebadged as the Combo – although it appears, surprisingly, that this arrangement will soon cease as Vauxhall joins with Citroën and Peugeot to produce its next new small van. Surprisingly as we really can’t praise the Doblo Cargo highly enough.
The new model features a fresh front-end and various other under-the-metal improvements such as a quieter cab, and better comfort, handling and fuel consumption, which is improved by up to 12%.
There are now five engines to choose from: 1.3-litre, 1.6-litre, 1.6-litre ComfortMatic and 2.0-litre diesels, offering between 90hp and 135hp and a 1.4-litre petrol with 95hp.
Our test model is the Maxi 1.6-litre diesel offering 105bhp and priced £20,668 ex-VAT.
The reworked front-end sharpens up the Doblo’s looks no end, while in the cab there’s a quiet ambience that ensures the occupants can talk to each other without shouting, even at motorway speeds.
We particularly like the Doblo’s driving seat, which is firm and supportive and features an adjustable lumbar support to eliminate back twinges on long journeys. An overhead parcel shelf also comes as standard – some rivals offer this feature as a paid-for option – while there is also a good quality radio/CD player with an auxiliary socket in the middle console for plugging in remote devices.
Sadly, the van’s reversing sensors come as a £185 option. In our view, these should be standard equipment on all commercial vehicles. Manual air-conditioning is optional too, at a hefty £595, putting it out of reach for most fleet drivers. The rival Citroën Berlingo has air-conditioning as standard on Enterprise models. Air-conditioning used to be considered a luxury, but nowadays it is viewed as an essential comfort feature as a cool driver will be more alert and less frazzled in summer weather.
At the cargo end, the Doblo really excels. Maxi it says and maxi it is, offering 4.2 cubic metres of loadspace and more than a tonne of payload, which means this van will swallow an impressive amount of goods. Top marks too, for the standard fitment of a PVC floor covering, which stops bits of cargo sliding around all over the place, and the two side sliding doors which come as standard.
On the road, the Doblo is a delight to drive, with lots of feel through the steering wheel, a slick gearchange and nicely-weighted power steering. The 105bhp powerplant ensures there is plenty of oomph on offer where needed.