Lizzie Pope
Digital Editor

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It's exciting when marques break into new sectors and with the tough but rather comfy Fiat Fullback, that excitement is not misplaced, says Lizzie Pope

Think ‘Fiat’ and you might not think ‘pick-up’. And you wouldn’t be alone because this, the new Fiat Fullback, is the Italian automotive giant’s first foray into this market sector.

However, it is a fast-growing segment: more than 40,000 pick-ups (in this medium-duty, one-tonne classification) were registered in the UK last year, a 20% increase on 2014. In a world where having one car to perform multiple roles, both professional and personal, from the school run to towing a caravan, is becoming more common, it’s not hard to see why pick-ups are more popular than ever. Indeed, sister magazine What Car? is expanding its pick-up coverage to satisfy demand. So it’s obvious why Fiat wants a piece of the action.

The new Fullback shares much of its componentry with the Mitsubishi L200, which received a strong 3.5-star rating when we subjected it to our full tow test last year, and this tie-up helps the Fiat get off to a solid start.

British buyers will have the choice of three models, all powered by 2.4-litre turbocharged diesel engines. The entry-level SX has 148bhp at 3500rpm, 280lb ft torque at a low 1500rpm, a six-speed manual gearbox, a 1045kg payload, a 2700kg maximum towing limit and a 1765kg kerbweight, which means a pretty useful 85% matching ratio of 1500kg. The towball limit is 110kg.

Want to tow a bigger tourer? The LX and LX Auto can help, because both have 3100kg towing limits and 1875kg kerbweights, meaning that you could sensibly tow a caravan weighing up to 1593kg – or more if you are an experienced caravanner, when the two major clubs agree that up to 100% of the car’s kerbweight is a safe limit. Both also deliver 178bhp at 3500rpm and 317lb ft torque at 2500rpm. They differ in that the LX uses a six-speed manual transmission, whereas the LX Auto relies on a five-speed auto – plus, at 1050kg, the latter has a 5kg heavier payload. The towball limit for these two models is 125kg.

While these may be rugged, go-anywhere vehicles from the Fiat Professional range, this doesn’t mean that you suffer on the spec lists. ABS, Brake Assist, Active Stability Control, Hill Start Assist and, caravanners will be delighted to hear, Trailer Stability Assist are standard across the range. Two Isofix mountings in the rear cabin plus keyless entry will please many buyers, too.

The SX’s kit list includes a part-time four-wheel drive system, 16-inch alloys, a DAB radio with Bluetooth connectivity, manual air-con, a leather steering wheel and gearlever, a heated rear windscreen, cruise control and a speed limiter, and a rear-seat armrest with cupholders.

LX and LX Auto take the wheel size up an inch and add items such as privacy glass, a rear-view camera – ideal for hitching up solo – permanent four-wheel drive, bi-xenon headlights, a touchscreen sat-nav (6.1-inch on the LX, 7.1-inch on the LX Auto), dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, and eight-way powered leather seats.

So it appears that the Fullback majors on comfort more than you might expect from a pick-up – and that feeling continues when you step inside. Of course it is less refined than most family saloons, but it is not perhaps the compromise you might anticipate; good to know if you want a tough car for work that can also happily transport the family across the country on your caravan holidays.

Although an Italian-market example, the Fullback we drove basically aligns with the top-spec UK LX Auto. Climb in and you enjoy a nice, high driving position from a comfortable and well-supported driver’s seat, the A-pillars not so stout as to hurt visibility. Thoughtful use of black piano trim helps offset the cabin’s plastic elements so while it’s not luxurious, it is far from utilitarian, this sense increased by the fact that the smarter gloss black trim is fitted around the gearstick and sat-nav, two areas you’ll look at and use the most.

Rear-seat space is decent, too, while that cargo loading area seems to have every eventuality covered. It is easy to access, can be hosed clean and has six tie-down points, to help you make use of its 1520mm length, 1470mm width and 850mm height (this reduced to 845mm on the SX).

Despite sounding a little gruff when cold, the 2442cc, four-cylinder engine was an easy companion during our test drive, its 178bhp/317lb ft torque providing sufficient pace. After all, this is a 5.285m-long, 1.815m-wide, 1.780m-tall pick-up that, although being well-controlled through corners, does have some body roll, not to mention a large rear overhang, so you don’t need more pace than the Fullback has.

You might expect the ride to be hard and almost agricultural and, while it’s not soft, it isn’t uncompromising either, and this was on the larger 17-inch wheels. You'll know about it when you drive over harsh or broken surfaces, but you won't lose any fillings in the process.

The five-speed auto of our test car was a bit vague, often hunting for gears, but it was never obtrusive. One big quibble is that, like other Mitsubishis (remember, Fiat’s Fullback is based on the L200), the auto has gearshift paddles, but these are static and don’t move with the steering wheel. However, you’re not likely to want to drive the Fullback like a sports car too often, so this probably won’t deter many potential buyers.

Neither will the day-to-day costs of Fullback ownership. This being a Fiat Professional vehicle, the marque quotes two prices, one with VAT and one without, as business users can claim the cost back. Prices for the Fullback start at £20,995 for the SX (£26,253 OTR including VAT), at £22,995 for the LX (£28,653) and at £24,395 for the LX Auto (£30,333).

And, according to official combined figures, the SX, LX and LX Auto return 44.2mpg, 42.8mpg and 39.2mpg respectively, with CO2 emissions of 169g/km, 173g/km and 189g/km.

If you’re in the market for a pick-up or a do-it-all, work-and-play tow car, don’t let this model’s newcomer status put you off – as long as your caravan’s manual doesn’t deter the use of commercial vehicles for towing (as many do). The Fiat Fullback is an accomplished debut.

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