Attempt to cover every key niche in the light commercial market as a manufacturer and you will need to enter into a joint-venture with somebody else sooner or later. Light commercial production volumes tend to be lower than car volumes, so a collaborative deal is often the only way to make the figures stack up.
That is why Fiat Professional went to Mitsubishi when it decided to enter the 1.0-tonne-payload 4x4 pick-up sector. As a consequence, it is now selling the Fullback – a Mitsubishi L200 with different badges and some cosmetic changes.
The four-door five-seater double-cab has arrived first with the two-door extended cab in the pipeline. A 4x2 double-cab is also produced but seems unlikely to appear in the UK.
Power comes courtesy of a 2.4-litre diesel, at either 150hp or 180hp, married to a six-speed manual gearbox. The more-powerful of the two can be specified with a five-speed automatic box instead.
Fiat Professional is offering two trim levels: entry-level SX (for the 150hp variant only) and the more upmarket LX (for both the 150 and 180hp models). Even if you content yourself with SX you need not feel short-changed given that the bundle includes everything from electric windows and mirrors to air-conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels and cruise control with a speed limiter.
Nip up to LX and the package also includes keyless ignition, leather upholstery and electrically-adjustable and heated front seats, not to mention a 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system with digital radio, a reversing camera and lane departure warning. This time around you get 17-inch alloys.
So what’s it like to drive?
The motor industry changes fast. While the L200 was only launched in Britain last year to some applause, it was followed by Ford’s latest Ranger and Nissan NP300 Navara.
Both the Ford and the Nissan are quieter, ride better on ordinary road surfaces and have a much greater air of refinement about them than the L200/Fullback, which feels a little agricultural by comparison. It is far more manoeuvrable, though, and offers a best-in-class, tighter, turning circle than its bulky rivals. That is a significant advantage if you are trying to wriggle into a city centre parking bay or swing out of a narrow country lane and through a farm gate.
We were sampling a 180hp manual double-cab not short on performance although we were admittedly driving unladen. We had no quarrels with the quality of the gear change, or with the off-road performance delivered by its four-wheel-drive system. A low-ratio set of gears is available should the going get really demanding and a locking central differential can be engaged for improved traction.
The official combined-cycle fuel economy figure is a respectable 42.8mpg with CO2 output set at 173g/km.
Access to the 1520mm x 1470mm x 475mm load bed with a 1045kg payload is by means of a drop-down tailgate and Fiat Professional’s latest offering can haul a braked trailer grossing at up to 3.1 tonnes.
Fighting for registrations against established rivals when you are a newcomer to the market can be an uphill struggle, but Fiat Professional has the advantage of a dedicated commercial vehicle network. Roughly half its UK dealers are linked with truck franchises; and truck dealers understand the importance of efficient aftersales support.