Fiat has always made innovative, fun and practical cars. This, the Doblo, is the latest in that long line of success. The looks are the most obvious talking point; they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I never found a beholder who thought the Doblo was beautiful! It will come as no surprise to learn that there is a pure van variant of the Doblo and it makes no effort to conceal its alter ego. I was a big fan of the Mulipla's looks (pre-facelift), so was a little bewildered by this offering and can only guess that there wasn't a huge styling budget as it would have added to the car's retail price. It's a theory anyways!
Close the door and the shell resonates like any other van but don't let this put you off.
If you've seen the interior of the Panda
then you'll instantly be at home in the Doblo. It shares the same geography, the dash mounted gear lever and switchgear layout. All of the switches and controls are laid out in exactly the same way, just bigger. The Doblo also shares the Panda's excellent roominess, and how. This is probably the most spacious vehicle on the market, pound for pound. The high roofline makes it feel big straightaway and it's no illusion. Anyone less than five feet tell can stand upright in the rear. The boot is also huge, although the vertical opening hatch may cause access issues in some contexts due to its sheer size. The practicality of the Doblo is further enhanced by a dazzling array of stowage space and cubbies from roof-mounted shelves above the windscreen to perhaps the cleverest door handle mouldings I've seen yet. These incorporate not only a door pull, but also a stowage tray and a cup holder. Brilliantly useful and efficient.
The driving position betrays the Doblo's van alter ego. The steering wheel sits a little flat and the seating position is rather sit-up-and-beg. However, it is comfortable and the driving experience is better than the looks suggest, with only the slightly vague steering marring an otherwise decent set of controls. Sporting prowess was never top of the design brief, but you can still enjoy hustling the Doblo along. The ride quality is good thanks to a relatively soft set-up that lends itself to a fair amount of body roll, but masks the majority of urban pot holes very well. It does lack a little composure at motorway speeds, but that situation probably improves with more than a single occupant or luggage on board.
The JTD common-rail 1.9-litre diesel unit, as seen in other Fiat
models is an excellent choice of engine. In this guise producing 105bhp, it's the peak torque of 151lb.ft at a lowly 1750rpm that is the most telling. It matches the Doblo's character perfectly. Relaxed, easy torque delivery matched to a well-judged set of ratios mean that very seldom, if ever, do you see 3000rpm in any gear other than top. Accomplished and unobtrusive around town, it is also more than capable of propelling the 1,300kg Doblo along at a decent lick on A and B roads. It does become a little vocal in the upper rev range, where it still performs well, but this is never an issue as wind noise is usually the more dominant noise source.
That is the price you pay for such a large frontal area. However at 70mph it isn't excessive and a small tweak of the stereo volume is all that is needed to block out the noise; it doesn't prevent normal conversation. The other penalty for the high profile is a tendency to fidget and move around in cross winds, and also a fairly marked increase in fuel consumption at higher speeds. That is not to say that the Doblo is thirsty; in fact during its week with us, and our normally heavy feet, it refused to drop below a 40mpg average: a truly impressive result.
Given the purchase price, the quality of materials and level of equipment are impressive. Fair enough there is a noticeable amount of paintwork on show in the interior but this isn't an issue unless you choose a particularly garish external colour. The plastics are quite bright and cheery and of a decent level of fit and finish: well beyond that suggested by the sticker price. This top of the range model features electric windows, air-con, a CD player and a trip computer whilst sensibly eschewing other occasional items like electric mirrors in exchange for more practical items such as reversing sensors.
This is an indication of the Doblo's personality. It's a genuinely useful and practical car that is aimed at being a usable and functional tool for transporting families and or bikes/lifestyles etc. It is a prime example of a car that would become an extension of the family and fit into daily life seamlessly. It is designed to do a job, as practically and cheaply as possible. I can't think of many other cars at this price that offer so much space, economy and plain practicality at this price. It is another example of Fiat's ability to produce innovative yet fun family cars and further encouragement for the revitalisation of the brand. Don't judge the book by its cover!
Think of the Fiat Doblo as a larger Panda and you won't be far wrong. Outright dynamic capability isn't brilliant, but as a car, you can actually use and live with the Doblo and it would be an excellent family wagon. You'd forgive it its questionable looks as you would a family pet's and you'd love it for its sheer practicality and fun factor.