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Fiat Fullback aims to take on established rivals

Gone are the days when farmers in the Free State couldn’t decide between the diesel and the petrol Hilux. Nowadays, the whole country is bakkie-obsessed and spoilt for choice and as the lunacy rises the sales figures follow suit. Just ask Ford and Toyota. It’s fair to say that the pie has increased significantly and so Fiat Professional has gathered at the table to have its share with the Fiat Fullback.

The Fiat Fullback is based on the tried and trusted Mitsubishi Triton – also now available in SA. It’s built tough with leaf springs at the rear and coil springs at the front. It’s perched right up there in terms of load bearing and towing ability and it feels solid and well put together. That 2.5-litre diesel engine is efficient yet respectably strong with 100kW and 324Nm of torque in the 4×2 version (up to 132kW and 400Nm in 4×4), so doesn’t feel strained or powerless just as long as its operating within its power range. Yes, it is less refined but when called in to perform some arduous tasks on a construction site or even to cart the old trees you’ve just DIY’d in your back yard, the Fullback feels up to the challenge.

It even has a touchscreen infotainment interface that is – actually quite unpleasant. You can’t see much of the detail when the sun is out and it’s too cumbersome to attempt to use while driving.

I grew up off the beaten track around the sugar cane fields and sugar mills of eastern Swaziland. Double Cabs were just a normal part of life. I learned how to drive in them. I learned the beauty of oversteer, the shortcomings of 4X2’s that got stuck in the mud trying to back out of the fishing spots we frequented and I learned how hard they could work when called in to do some heavy slogging.

Fast forward some decades and my kids are smitten with the Fiat Fullback. The loadbin is a playground and make-believe dining room, the ride height and side steps make for an excellent climbing apparatus and they enjoy the fact that we can go off the beaten path to feed the turtles at the pond without Dad worrying about scuffing the bumpers or scratching the paintwork.

And isn’t that the charm of bakkies? Ignoring dynamics and comfort there is an attraction to a car that can offer so much to a family. Like a trusted and loved family Labrador, the Fullback was a hit in the Middleton household.

Of course, the Fiat Fullback plays in a space that is dominated by some major players. Don’t be fooled by the badge. It doesn’t exude some special Italian flair (its built in Thailand) but it is an honest and robust alternative to the Hilux/Ranger establishment. It seems a worthy value proposition at about R40 000 less money and probably a few thousand more saved in insurance money.

But you must consider how much you value additional airbags, a more refined choice of engines with automatic transmission options, traction control, a much larger dealer footprint, smarter connectivity / infotainment and badge appeal that comes from the reigning champs of the SA bakkie market.

Price: R402 500

2477cc, 4-cyl diesel turbo, RWD,

100kW, 324Nm,

7.9l/100km, 207g/km CO2,

0-100kph in N/A sec, 167km/h,

1805kg

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