Review: The Fullback is more than a Fiat-badged bakkie
It’s always refreshing when a new bakkie takes on the establishment. The Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger, Isuzu KB, and Mitsubishi Triton are all good in their own right and at the forefront of what bakkies can do, but consumers sometimes overlook other bakkies on offer; those like the Fiat Fullback.
It highlights, once again, that sometimes there are gems to be found in the unlikeliest of places. Am I hinting that the Fiat Fullback, in Professional 4x4 guise, is South Africa’s next great bakkie? Not at all, but it should not be judged by the badge on the nose.
Triton in the mix
The Fullback shares much of its underpinnings with the Mitsubishi Triton - that much is evident just at first glance.
The design, for starters, leans heavily towards the Triton and from afar it might be mistaken for one. It even has the J-line that separates the loading bay and the rear of the cabin
Speaking of, the loading bay has a payload of 1000-litres, while also boasting adequate ground clearance of 205mm. It’s not class-leading, but high enough to get up and over most challenges.
The interior is decked in leather, but it shares many aspects and components with the Triton. The dashboard, the placing of buttons, and the knob between the front seats to control the 4x4 system with, it’s all taken from the Triton bin. The engine and gearbox, too, are shared with the Mitsubishi.
By now it probably reads that the Fullback does not have its own character and that it’s a second-grade Triton, but that conclusion would be short-sighted and off the mark because the bakkie does prove its worth once you get the wheels rolling.
The five-speed automatic seems like a step back against other bakkies’ six-, seven, and eight-speed offerings, but it really hooks the next gear without effort or hesitation.
Around town, the suspension absorbs speed bumps quite well, but the leaf suspension does allow for some stiffness over the rear axle. Overall it is quite soft and even the turning circle of 11.8m is not that much of an issue.
Taking on the open road is one of the bakkie’s strongpoints; especially when driving at 120km/h and seeing fuel consumption dropping to around 9.0 litres/100km. That is really good, considering the 2.4-litre diesel engine’s 133kW and 430Nm. The power is delivered adequately and runs without missing a beat.
A muddy situation
But this Fullback is the top-of-the-range derivative, equipped with a 4x4 system that proved itself quite capable. During the test period the Fullback was saddled up and taken on an excursion to the outer edges of Franschhoek in the Boland.
The trip to a secluded spot next to a dam situated between mountains and hills required the Fullback to scale truly muddy ground. Starting off in standard 4x2 mode, the rear wheels soldiered on and pulled the bakkie through the mud, without the vehicle squirming for traction.
But oversized rocks meant that moving beyond the muddy spot could prove risky. Reversing the way the photographer and I arrived seemed a good choice (though in hindsight doing a multi-point turn to face the other way was the best option).
Reversing and the drive system still in normal 4x2, the Fullback’s rear got stuck in the sand embankment around the mud. Just a few minutes ago that embankment proved no trouble for the bakkie, but that was because the massive approach angle of 30 degrees helped to start the descent with no hassle.
The departure angle at the back, however, is 22 degrees and that has the bakkie in this sticky situation. Once traction control has been deactivated, the most extreme 4x4 mode selected, and the rear diff-lock engaged, the Fullback tried again to shuffle out of the mud, but the rear wheels got caught in the slippery abyss and the front wheels kicked up more mud as it hurriedly fought for grip.
But the seemingly tricky situation was quickly overcome after placing a few rocks under the rear wheels. Even with the front wheels rim-deep in the mud, the bakkie sailed out of it once it found better grip levels.
It was a fun few minutes playing in the mud against my will, but it showed that when traction is gained the Fullback can do its part. And as we all know, traction is key.
The Fiat Fullback Professional 4x4 offers good value at R573 900, but the bakkie is more than a Mitsubishi Triton underneath all that metal.
It really is a shame, though, that consumers are looking the other way and not giving this bakkie a chance. It’s not on the same level as the Hilux, Ranger, and Triton - that I won’t argue - but it does have its own character and proved itself to be quite capable both on and off road.
Fiat Fullback bakkie gets (two-tone) Garage Italia treatmen
Fiat has pulled the covers off the new Fullback Cross Concept by Garage Italia, a posh two-tone take on the Italian automaker’s bakkie (itself, of course, based on the Mitsubishi Triton).
Revealed at the IAA Commercial Vehicles show in Hanover, the concept was conceived in partnership with Lapo Elkann’s creative hub.
The show vehicle features green and bronze two-tone exterior, complete with bronze side-mirror caps and 17-inch matte black alloy wheels. Inside, you’ll find original “Elmo Vintage” brown leather interior covering the seats as well as part of the facia.
The two firms make no mention of any under-the-bonnet upgrades, but we suspect the concept is powered by the range-topping 2,4-litre turbodiesel engine, which sends its 133 kW and 430 N.m to all four corners via a five-speed automatic transmission.
While the automaker technically labels the vehicle a concept, we wouldn’t be terribly surprised were it eventually to be offered as a limited-edition model.