Fiat gets out the black highlighter pen and applies it liberally to the exterior of its Fullback one-tonne pick-up truck, creating the lifestyle-oriented Cross range-topper in the process. There's additional equipment inside and it's a damn fine truck, all things considered - although so is the regular Fullback, which is cheaper and (almost) mechanically identical...
In the metal
The Fiat Fullback Cross is a great-looking thing. It's based on the Fullback, which in turn is just the handsome Mitsubishi L200 in an ever-so-slightly tailored Italian suit. What the Cross has over and above the Fullback is a load of black styling addenda - spot it clothing the front grille, the door handles, the rear-view mirrors, the wheel arches and the 17-inch alloy wheels that are wrapped in mud-and-snow tyres. There's also a matte black 'sports bar' running around three sides of the load bay, which can take a vertical load of up to 30kg, plus a silver skid plate at the front to amplify the lifestyle quotient.
That, combined with the improved equipment levels (outlined in the 'What you get for your Money' section below), makes the Cross the new flagship of the Fullback family and it's one that's aimed squarely at the sort of people who transport surfboards and mountain bikes in the back of their pick-up more often than they lug around pallets of bricks and lengths of rough-sawn timber. There's just one engine available for the Cross, the Mitsubishi-sourced 2.4-litre turbodiesel delivering robust outputs of 180hp and 430Nm, and you can choose to have either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission hooked up to it. Like the L200, the Fullback also has a proper low-ratio box with a Torsen centre differential, allowing it to run in rear-wheel drive on dry, well-surfaced roads and then switch into a variety of four-wheel-drive settings according to how soggy the terrain beneath its tyres is getting.
On the road, it drives exactly like a Mitsubishi L200, only with slightly less grip. Honestly, this is not a bad thing, as Fiat's decision to 'borrow' the Japanese pick-up's underpinnings is not a misguided one; the current L200 is accepted to be one of the stronger, more refined trucks in its class, despite a leaf-sprung, live axle rear suspension set-up and a body-on-ladder-frame chassis construction. Fiat certainly hasn't done a great deal to the L200 in the transition to Fullback, and the only difference the Cross exhibits compared to a Fullback LX is marginally less grip on dry tarmac, thanks to its all-terrain rubber.
Other than that, this is a pleasant driving experience, if you couch your expectations in terms of this commercial vehicle-derived class and not the wider 4x4 market. Not a single one of these one-tonne pick-ups drives in anything like as urbane a manner as a top-level European SUV, but if you like a slightly rugged motoring experience to go with the rugged looks of the Cross, then the Fiat can deliver. The ride quality is about the best that can be expected of a vehicle with primitive springs at the back and it proves more than bearable both in town and out on faster, extra-urban routes. Slow steering is nevertheless accurate, while there's enough mechanical grip from both axles to ensure the Cross isn't a mess in the corners. Furthermore, the 2.4-litre engine is only shifting 1,860kg, which is reasonably light by the class standards.
That makes the Fullback pretty nippy, although the five-speed automatic fitted here saps some acceleration from the mix (the manual model is almost one-and-a-half seconds quicker from 0-100km/h at 10.4 all-in). Never mind; Fiat predicts almost 70 per cent will opt for the auto and it's a fine gearbox otherwise, never really providing any obtrusive moments of clunky nor recalcitrant behaviour to mar its performance. The engine is also well subdued, as is wind noise and the whoop of the tyres, although admittedly there is more of the latter on the Cross than you'd get on a Fullback LX with road-biased tyres fitted. Body roll is contained to an acceptable degree, while the brakes are just about strong enough to haul in a fast-charging, unladen Cross, so quite what the retardation would be like on a fully loaded-up Fiat truck is hard to say.
We also took it off-road, on not the most difficult course but in some pretty abject conditions. Without even needing to resort to 4LLc (low-ratio), the Fullback Cross negotiated a steep, muddy and rutted track with relative ease. With a locking rear differential in the mix as well, this should be precisely the sort of pick-up that can get you out of some hairy wilderness situations - such as escaping off a soft beach as the tide starts to come in, for instance.
What you get for your money
It's difficult to say how good value the Cross will be as pricing hasn't been confirmed for Ireland yet, although a 2.4 manual Fullback LX (the next grade down the Fiat pick-up ownership ladder) costs €31,670 if you're a private buyer and around €23,000 excluding VAT and VRT; therefore, add a little on for the Cross version. As well as the external styling additions, for that money the Cross features bi-Xenon headlights, LED daytime running lamps, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, rear parking sensors, soft tailgate opening, a leather steering wheel and upholstery (with heated seats in the front and electric adjustment for the driver's chair), satnav on a seven-inch touchscreen, DAB radio and Bluetooth. It is also the only Fullback to have a rear differential lock as standard, which should make it supremely capable off-road.
Although the Fullback hasn't been Euro NCAP-tested as yet, the L200 upon which it is based has a four-star rating, so it should be safe by the standard of these commercial-based trucks. It comes with seven airbags, ESC stability control, Trailer Stability Assist, Lane Departure Warning and Hill Start Assist. The Cross is also obviously a practical machine, capable of towing 3,100kg of braked trailer and up to 1,100kg in its load bed, which comes with a liner as standard.
In a market sector where we tend to love all the vehicles in it, no matter their compromises nor drawbacks compared to more advanced SUVs, the Fiat Fullback Cross is a worthy addition and one that deserves to poach a few sales from the more upmarket, lifestyle-focused models. It drives almost as smoothly and confidently on the road as its Mercedes and Volkswagen rivals, while costing significantly less. Sure, you could buy a Mitsubishi L200 and trim it up with official aftermarket styling options to make it look as good as the Fullback Cross, but it's nice that Fiat has decided to offer such an aesthetic package as a trim level on its truck. A talented all-rounder that really looks the part, the Fullback Cross is well worth consideration.