Fiat is looking to make inroads into the lifestyle pick-up market with its stylish new Fullback Cross off-roader. Massimo Pini gets behind the wheel.
Q: How do you make a Fullback Cross?
A: If you’re Gareth Southgate, you tell Kyle Walker to make more overlapping runs and whip the ball in for Harry Kane, but if you’re Fiat, then you sprinkle a little more Italian flair on your Mitsubishi L200-based pick-up, to create a funky, lifestyle edition.
Teaming up with Mitsubishi in the first place was a smart move from an economic point of view as the cost of Fiat developing a new vehicle from the ground up would have been significantly higher, while from a reputational standpoint, the Fullback instantly inherited some ‘fit for purpose’ kudos thanks to the L200’s proven track record - earned the hard way.
Check out the video from the Launch in Italy
Fiat launched the Fullback in 2016, but now it’s adding to its existing rather functional range with the new, flagship ‘Cross’ variant, as it hopes to take a bigger slice of the pick-up market sector that has grown by more than 60 percent in the past four years, with lifestyle versions accounting for 25% of the segment.
Ringing the changes against the standard Fullback, the Cross presents a sportier look thanks to its exclusive, textured black sport bar - styled in Italy by Fiat Centro Stile - mounted atop the load platform, as well as a the application of a trendy matt black finish to the custom front grille, door mirrors, door handles, wheel arch flares and 17-inch alloy wheels which are shod with chunky all-terrain tyres. There are also newly designed side steps, a bespoke load liner (both finished in black), a silver skid-plate and chrome door sills.
On cars finished in the dark metallic grey, the sport bar transforms the typical ‘chopped off car with a tray stuck on the back’ pick-up profile into something much more fluid and shapely. I’m sure that as the grey Fullback Cross flashed past the pedestrians of Turin (where the launch took place), many would have been fooled into thinking it was a jacked up saloon. The effect is lost of course, on cars finished in lighter hues when the dark grey addenda serve to contrast rather than complement the bodywork.
As to whether the sport bar improves airflow, Fullback Product Manager, Giuseppe Strata, confirmed that the effect was negligible, “The sport bar was designed to be aerodynamically efficient, and it is also load-bearing, but it’s primary function is purely aesthetic.”
Power comes from the tried and tested 2.4-litre diesel engine in its more powerful 180 horsepower guise (a 150hp version is available in the standard Fullback), mated to either a six-speed manual or, in the version we drove, a five-speed automatic gearbox fitted with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters - if you like that sort of thing.
With peak torque of 430 Nm at 2500 rpm on tap, the powertrain offers plenty of low-down grunt, but it’s also rather gruff and makes quite a racket as it responds to a heavy right foot. A little more sound insulation would surely improve the situation but, to be fair, noise levels are far from unacceptable when travelling under lighter loads with more genteel accelerator inputs.
Fiat claims the traction system as among the best in class (bar the L200, Strata cited the VW Amarok as the only competitor that comes close) with four driving modes. A simple rotary dial in the centre console makes it a doddle to switch from two-wheel drive to all-wheel drive with a Torsen central differential that automatically distributes torque between the front and rear axles in response to traction needs or can be locked for a 50/50 front-rear split for off-road use. There are also low-range gears and, for the most extreme conditions, you can even lock the rear differential.
We tried the Fullback Cross on a variety of surfaces, beginning with the tarmac and cobbles on the city streets of Turin, before heading up into the twisty mountain roads of Piedmont and eventually onto unmade muddy tracks for a spot of mild off-roading among the vineyards. Fiat’s pick-up performed well enough in town: its knobbly, high-profile, all-terrain tyres made the ride a little more comfortable but this was accompanied by a mild increase in road noise. On the fun side, switching to two-wheel drive mode even allowed for a bit of controlled ‘drifting’ as coaxing the tail to step out slightly was easily corrected with a flick of the steering wheel. I mention this to illustrate that the handling is predictable and the chassis well-sorted, not because I think that ‘driftability’ is particularly high on the agenda of pick-up buyers.
Bearing out Fiat’s brag about the Fullback Cross’s class-leading traction, we found it to be incredibly capable once we left the tarmac behind and got the tyres caked in mud. Locking the rear diff enabled us to clamber out of some potentially tricky terrain with the minimum of fuss.
Inside, the Cross is pretty much identical to the regular Fullback. Leather seats are fitted as standard - the front ones are heated and the driver’s features electric adjustment - and the steering wheel is also wrapped in leather. Unsurprisingly, the 7-inch touchscreen navigation system is the same as the one fitted to the L200. This is not a problem in itself, but a little disappointing as it’s neither amongst the most responsive nor intuitive units available and buyers, particularly owner-operators, are starting to place more and more emphasis on in-car tech and connectivity.
Standard safety kit is competitive and includes seven airbags (one being a driver’s kneebag), electronic stability control, trailer stability assist, lane departure warning (LDW) and hill start assist. A standard rear parking camera adds peace of mind when you’re reversing the 5.28-metre load-lugger but this is made also easier by the Fullback’s best-in-class 11.8 m turning circle.
On the practical front, the double cab offers seating for five with decent head- and legroom both up front and in the rear, while the 1 ton payload ensures the Fullback qualifies as a fully-fledged LCV (Light Commercial Vehicle) and thus benefits from associated tax breaks for business operators.
Despite this, the Fullback Cross’s lifestyle appeal means it will be sold through regular Fiat dealers - alongside passenger cars - as well as the Fiat Professional network with the rest of the commercial vehicle range, priced at £26,495 (ex. VAT) for the 6-Speed Manual and £27,895 (ex. VAT) for the 5-speed Automatic.
It’s a very capable machine and if you’re in the market for a versatile pick-up with off-road ability and kerbside cred, then it merits consideration alongside its Mitsubishi L200 cousin and the Volkswagen Amarok.
Whether buyers will choose to go for the ‘full-on’ Cross or simply opt for the regular Fullback and spec it up with one or two extras will, for many, depend on the finance deals available and Fiat is clearly well aware of this, having come up with Business Contract Hire deals of £269 (ex VAT) a month for the Manual and £279 for the Automatic (terms and conditions apply).