A Fiat Pickup? Surely you must be joking, the world has gone mad, how on earth could such an august Italian manufacturer of cars be knocking out a flatbed? This would never have happened 20 years ago. Well, you’re wrong. Because it did. Fiat have been making pickups since the ‘70s – when they launched the 127 Fiorino, a car that may not ring many bells, but if you see one it will bring memories of a holiday in Italy flooding back. Fiorinos still ply their trade on the back streets of rural Italian villages to this day. The Fiorino was eventually replaced by the rather confused looking Strada, originally made in Brazil, which was based on the Uno. The Strada still survives to this day, mainly sold in South America, but in reality, you’ll rarely see one this side of the pond. Now there’s a proper full-size pickup with a Fiat badge. Meet the Fullback, sensibly based on the already-successful Mitsubishi L200 and on our shores since 2016.
Those familiar with the already-popular L200 will recognise the affinity between the Fiat and its Japanese cousin, but the base Fullback carries its new Italian face well. The big light clusters and exaggerated lower grille suit the normally workmanlike chops of a pickup, while going back it’s very much L200 territory – fortunately not a bad place to start. The version we’re driving is the beefed-up Cross edition, which brings in a bit more heft. The Cross sits on chunky 17-inch rims and gains a load more black plastic around the arches, front and rear bumpers and in the shape of a curved “sports bar” that runs around the load bay. Inside there are swathes of leather and a seven-inch touchscreen unit that makes the interior feel far more car-like than some big pickups.
Fortunately for us our time with the big Fiat coincided with some of the worst snow we’ve seen for years, so we were fully able to test out the Cross’s off-roading prowess. Under the bonnet, there is a single diesel engine option – a 2.4-litre turbocharged unit which produces 180PS (178bhp) and more importantly 430Nm (312lb ft) of torque. That is enough to shift the Cross down the road with absolutely no issue (0-26mph in 11.8 seconds), but road prowess is not what it was ideally designed for, which is where our time in the snow comes into play. The Fullback has all the features you could wish for on an off-roader, so we have a centre-locking differential, a rear-locking differential and switchable 4x4/rear-wheel drive. As it sits on a live rear axle it can feel a little bouncy on tarmac, but off this provides great articulation over the rougher stuff. Through the snow, the Fullback ploughed on while others around it faltered. While some SUVs around were left abandoned the Fiat acted as if it wasn’t even on a wet road. The steering can be a little limp, and the gearchange is nothing to write home about, but it was more than adequate while shifting itself around a rather muddy perimeter track and with low range available should you need it, it’s pretty much just hill-descent away from being all the off-road mud-plugger you could ever need.
Fiat making a big pickup? Imagine the outcry just a few years ago. But now the pickup is more and more becoming the vehicle of choice for the working farmer/builder/anything across Europe and the everyman’s car maker of Italy would be bonkers not to include on in their lineup. Teaming up with Mitsubishi was a smart move, the L200 is one of the most accomplished pickups around, so with a little Fiat design, it makes the Fullback a real proposition for those who want a flatbed in the UK. In Cross mode, the Fullback becomes a great all-rounder, able to lug unspeakable amounts of kit (1,045kg) almost anywhere without a struggle. If you want a pickup and want to head away from the tarmac then Fiat have stamped their name as one you have to look at.