Fiat Full­back is a full-blooded 4x4

South African Country Life - - In This Issue -

The Fiat Full­back is the most un­der­rated 4x4

There’s a pri­vate dam in East Gri­qua­land that sits on top of the Drak­ens­berg. From its edge you look down on moun­tain tops pok­ing out of the clouds, and sur­round­ing you is noth­ing but sky. It is un­fath­omably scenic, un­be­liev­ably re­mote and home to trout that grow fast and big. It’s not far off heaven, in other words.

But it’s also at the end of a goat track where an eight-kilo­me­tre trip takes close to an hour, as you wend your way through wat­tle plan­ta­tions and above the tree­line, skirt­ing cliffs and bounc­ing over rocks, ev­ery­thing drop­ping off on your left, where over eons a stream has formed a gorge in the moun­tain.

In short, it is not the type of road you take lightly – a true 4x4 with low range is non-ne­go­tiable, or you’ll dam­age some­thing, and the few softer SUVs that have tried to make the jour­ney have failed, some dis­mally. The farmer claims that you only get up if there’s a Toy­ota badge on the car, and this is true Land Cruiser coun­try.

You can un­der­stand, then, why my fishing buddy asked me more than a few times if I was sure that my Fiat bakkie was go­ing to be up to the task. Luck­ily, I knew that Fiat had made a move into the bakkie mar­ket with the help of the tech­ni­cal know-how of Mit­subishi, which has won the Dakar Rally nu­mer­able times and spent decades per­fect­ing their 4x4 sys­tems. Ac­tu­ally, the Full­back goes fur­ther than bor­row­ing tech­ni­cal know-how – it’s es­sen­tially a re-badged Mit­subishi Tri­ton, as you can see if you put the two ve­hi­cles next to each other. And if you’re at all fa­mil­iar with the dash­board of a Pajero or Tri­ton 4x4, you’ll recog­nise the drive-sys­tem in­di­ca­tor.

The drive-sys­tem is a shift-on-the-fly sys­tem (which means you can change from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive while still mov­ing), op­er­ated via a ro­tary dial on the con­sole. It fea­tures 2H (two-wheel-drive high range), 4H (four-wheel-drive high range, with an open diff – suit­able for wet, tar roads), 4HLc (four-wheel-drive high range, with the diff locked – only for gravel roads and other slip­pery sur­faces) and 4LLc (four-wheel-drive low range, with the diff locked – for proper, slow, of­froad work on low-trac­tion sur­faces). It’s iden­ti­cal to the Mit­subishi Su­per Se­lect 4WD-II 4WD sys­tem, and that’s a good thing. (This is one area where the Full­back has been re­cently up­graded, where pre­vi­ous mod­els had a sim­pler 4WD sys­tem.)

On the drive we used 4HLc on the gravel roads, which gave

us great trac­tion in slip­pery cor­ners and over cor­ru­gated patches.

It re­ally does take the edge off gravel driv­ing, although you should still be con­ser­va­tive with your speeds. Then, when the go­ing got moun­tain goaty, we switched to 4LLC, and it was su­perb. There was one in­stance of wheel slip­page, but the lowrange sys­tem and the five-speed au­to­matic gear­box worked bril­liantly to­gether for the low-speed rock crawls, and the ground clear­ance of a claimed 205mm (although it looks higher) al­lowed us to com­plete the drive with­out bash­ing the car on any pro­trud­ing rocks.

We ar­rived at the cot­tage and my friend, who was fol­low­ing us, and who coin­ci­den­tally drives a car with a Toy­ota badge on the back, asked why I hadn’t warned him about the ‘road’. “I’ve never done any­thing like that be­fore. It was hec­tic!” And it is – it’s a proper

4x4 trail that will test you and your ve­hi­cle thor­oughly, and the Full­back passed the test ad­mirably.

This par­tic­u­lar Full­back model is pow­ered by a 2.4-litre tur­bod­iesel en­gine that pushes out 133kW and 430Nm (the other mod­els use a 2.5-litre en­gine that is slightly less pow­er­ful – 131kW and 400Nm), and it is smooth and more than up to the task of get­ting the ve­hi­cle where it needs to be, even with a hefty load.

The one area where the Full­back doesn’t quite live up to the class lead­ers is the in­te­rior. De­spite be­ing well made and feel­ing as though the ma­te­ri­als are of great qual­ity, the lay­out is a bit dated and, at a time when other bakkies are be­com­ing more like SUVs, this isn’t good enough.

Ride qual­ity is good, bet­ter than a num­ber of com­peti­tors but again not quite at the top of the pile.

All in all the Full­back is a very com­pe­tent bakkie that isn’t get­ting the recog­ni­tion it de­serves, mainly be­cause the brand it falls un­der isn’t a tra­di­tional bakkie pow­er­house, and break­ing into a mar­ket dom­i­nated by Toy­ota and Ford is no easy feat. Full­back dou­ble cab prices start at R447 900, but the 4x4 au­to­matic model I drove was priced at R559 000. The prices in­clude a 3-year/100 000km ve­hi­cle war­ranty and a 5-year/100 000km ser­vice plan.

OP­PO­SITE: Moun­tain ponies head­ing down from Le­sotho, which is just a few kilo­me­tres past the dam. You buy a 4x4 to go places like this.ABOVE: The Full­back is a good enough 4x4 to take you pretty far off the beaten track. RIGHT: The in­te­rior is com­fort­able and fea­tures a touch-screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. BE­LOW RIGHT: A de­cent-sized bin has points for at­tach­ing cargo.

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