26.1.2009 Fiat Qubo review
Quintessentially quaint and curiously cubic, the all-new Fiat Qubo may get your goat with its strange name but Iain Robertson believes that its low-pollution, high-MPG and funky family aims will win it innumerable van-derived fans.
Converting vans to people-movers is a tried and tested preoccupation of the motor industry, which started long before the dawn of the MPV sector. Yet, I have often wondered if Citroen knew what impact it would have in the UK, when it first sold its Berlingo Multispace here in 1998. A colourful windowed-van marketed with a youthful and zesty appeal, even though the vehicle was actually no less than a light commercial with car-like trimmings and all of the usual van failings.
The new Qubo sits on a Fiat Grande Punto platform, which helps to bridge that gap more effectively between van and car. As a result, its handling is crisp and not in the least `topply`, or as easily deflected in a strong breeze as most van-derived alternatives can be. In fact, with its prizefighter nose and kicked-up side windows, it does manage to look far less LCV-like than several of its rivals. If you have not been drawn to this class of vehicle before, then you may need to understand its total design flexibility and the enormous amount of space that is available and, no, it is not just show-cat and dog owners that buy them!
As the credibility of this class of car has grown, matched only by the number of sector players, its family funkiness also seems to have expanded. The twin side-sliding doors have enormous benefits, not least for rear seat access in confined spaces and, with children in tow, confined spaces can also mean damage to the car parked next door, so they are appreciated. You are not going to find the soft-touch dashboard materials of some of the more recent upward-aspirers in the family car scene, but that does not make the cabin any less hospitable and the full complement of airbags is present, while the seats are no less than supportive and comfortable. The driver is fronted by a full set of dials and a rake and reach adjustable steering wheel to enhance the car-like aspects. While the Dynamic trim features a climate control system, it is an option on the less costly Active version.
Of course, mechanically, once you recall its Punto base, you will realise that the engines are going to be small in capacity, which means a choice of 1.4-litre 73bhp petrol or 1.3-litre 75bhp diesel. Blessed with bags of bottom-end pull (no less than 190Nm of pull is available from as low as 1,750rpm), while the quoted 0-60mph and top speed benchmarks are on par at just over 16.0 seconds and 96mph, it is the diesel version that will have the greater appeal to the modern family seeking frugality and a sub-120g/km CO2 rating. Unfortunately, the petrol is rated at 165g/km, as opposed to the diesel's preferable 119g/km, which means a mere £35 VED charge (£30 from April 2010, under the current 2008-2009 tax system).
This could be the car to blaze a trail for the small diesel engine. Even if it is not, the fact is that the diesel is a smooth and refined performer, which delivers strong in-gear punch. However, with a prospect of an official (combined) fuel figure of 62.8mpg (40.4mpg for the petrol), the attraction is even more compelling and combined with a lowly Group 2 Insurance rating (for either model), the discerning family car buyer is presented with a lot in his or her favour with the Fiat Qubo. Now hook up the unique Fiat `eco:drive` USB tool and, by downloading and analysing driving performance, little improvements can be made that will create additional cost and environmental savings.
On the personal front, removing any emotional aspects related to the car's appearance, for the individual seeking a spacious, comfortable, practical, well-equipped, modest performing, economical, accessible and classless mode of transport, the Fiat Qubo meets all of those parameters and exceeds expectations with its excellent driveability, good handling and first-rate eco-friendliness. It is almost a case of what more would you need as a daily runner? The answer is not much, as the Qubo delivers a qualified, qualm-free quantum at a most questionable time. Better join the queue!
Model tested: Fiat Qubo
Body-styles: 5-door hatchback
Engines: 1.4 (P4), 1.3 (TD4)
Trim grades: Active, Dynamic
Prices: from £9,750 to £12,350
In the showroom: Now
Review star rating: 5 STARS
Warranty: Three years, 60,000 miles
Iain Robertson © Next Green Car.com 2009
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