REVIEW DATE: 01 Jun 2007
Fiat's Scudo certainly stands out from the small panel van crowd on looks but can it attract buyers who prioritise more practical criteria. Steve Walker reports
Unadventurous, derivative, dull; these charges and others like them are becoming tougher and tougher to level at modern panel vans. This category of commercial vehicles was once the very embodiment of function over form but in recent years the leading manufacturers have unshackled their designers somewhat, allowing them freedom to inject a spark of creativity into the mix. Where once choosing a panel van for your business was largely an exercise in statistical analysis, now buyers must also ask themselves which model they most like the look of. Fiat hope their latest Scudo will attract its fair share of admirers.
There are certainly some distinctive-looking panel vans out there at the moment but manufacturers remain unwilling to shoulder the development costs of these vehicles alone. That's why we see new models brought to market by groups of manufacturers with each individual marque branding the vehicle as their own. This Scudo, like its predecessor and its bigger brother the Ducato, is a product of Fiat's alliance with PSA Peugeot Citroen so you can also get it badged as a Citroen Dispatch or a Peugeot Expert. It's an unorthodox-looking van whatever insignia adorns its grille with a steeply raked windscreen, a huge front bumper and dramatically elongated headlamps. The styling themes are definitely more Peugeot than Fiat with the large front overhang and the bonnet that rises at the edges before easing up into the A-pillars. Half close your eyes, stand on your head and on a foggy morning, you could almost mistake it for a 407.
The Scudo is one of the smaller panel vans you'll encounter on your commercial vehicle search but, crucially, it's not as small as the old Scudo model it replaced. During its marathon innings that stretched from 1995 to 2007, that model sold some 350,000 units partly because there was nothing else on the market quite like it in terms of size - with the obvious exception of its Citroen and Peugeot sister vehicles. Where the old Scudo slotted into the no van's land between smaller panel vans like the Volkswagen Transporter and larger little vans like Ford's Transit Connect, this model goes head to head with the first group. If it's going to beat these rivals on a level playing field, it will need to be good.
"The Multijet diesel engines are predictably strong"
The Scudo range is far broader than before. Buyers can vary the available load space in their model by selecting from two wheelbases (L1 and L2) and two roof heights (H1 and H2). This gives rise to payload capacities between 1,000kg and 1,200kg with load volumes of 5m3, 6m3 or 7m3. The Scudo offers a class-leading loading height of just 490mm (which the optional air-suspension can drop further) and impressive load access with full-height rear doors and a sliding side door on each flank. With openings of 924mm wide, these sliding side doors are big enough to take a standard Euro pallet. This, along with the 1,245mm loading width between the wheelarches and the square shape of the loadbay generally, helps make the Scudo one of the best small panel vans when it comes to accommodating larger objects.
As well as the panel van models, Fiat are also offering platform cabs ready to take all manner of conversions and Combi models with between five and nine seats aimed at taxi firms or even buyers with large families who may have been considering a large MPV. The cab area is impressively spacious for two passengers with firm, supportive seating and plenty of adjustment in the driving position. If you specify the front bench expecting to get three across the front row, you may be disappointed as the dash-mounted gear lever severely restricts legroom for the middle passenger.
The light grey plastics aren't of the soft-touch variety but they do seem tough and the layout of the controls is largely conventional with all the important stuff sited on the steering column itself. For storage there are narrow door pockets, a large pot in front of the passenger and a small glovebox but you might need that third front seat to sit larger items on. The overhead shelf increases the oddment space available but you have to reach up and feel about blindly for anything you've put in there, so leave that box of roofing tacks in the glovebox. Standard equipment includes a CD stereo, power steering, remote central locking and a height adjustable driver's seat.
The Scudo cabin sits noticeably lower than other small panel vans and this has advantages when it comes to getting in and out. You don't have to hoist yourself up to the driving seat and once you're there, the actual driving position is more like that of an MPV than a van. This has advantages in terms of comfort on longer trips but you do loose out a little on visibility. The Scudo sits you a long way back from the base of its steeply raked windscreen, so it's hard to pinpoint where the nose of the van is on parking manoeuvres and the long front overhang means that the turning circle isn't particularly tight.
On the open road, the Scudo is very pleasant to drive with the suspension taking care of the bumps admirably and the light steering easily adjustable. The Scudo corners with good body control for such a high-sided vehicle and the braking is assured with ABS and EBD as standard. Without a full bulkhead, noise levels in the cab are quite high but the Multijet diesel engines are predictably strong.
Don't necessarily let the modest 1.6-litre capacity of the Scudo's entry-level engine put you off. This 90bhp unit chips in with a sizable 180Nm torque rating and it will be more than adequate if you do most of your driving around town. The 2.0-litre engines are stronger for those carrying bigger loads on longer trips. There's the choice of 120bhp or 140bhp power here and that means torque of 300Nm or 320Nm, both at a lowly 2,000rpm. These are excellent commercial vehicles engines with strong economy and power enough to make you question the need for the lager 2.5-litre units employed by some rivals. The 120bhp 2.0-litre is probably the pick of the range.
The Fiat Scudo is definitely a strong product with flamboyant styling for a panel van but whether it has the wherewithal to tempt buyers away from their Vivaros and Transporters remains to be seen. Where the previous Scudo had its unique halfway house dimensions to set it apart, this larger Scudo must tackle the class leaders directly. Many will choose it on merit with the punchy, economical engines, cab comfort and versatile load area being particular draws but ultimately, Fiat will be happy to settle for a smaller slice of a larger pie.
|For SCUDO RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.0 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||7|