Fiat Fullback is a full-blooded 4x4
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.