Fiat reckons its Qubo (that's a bastardisation of the Italian for 'cube') might fulfil a new market segment, as the funky and stylish answer to young, cash-strapped urban and suburban buyers looking for a car that’s both a lifestyle accessory on one level and an affordable, versatile workhorse on the other.
That's the marketing waffle. We can't help feeling that the new Fiat Qubo is just a Fiorino van with windows...
So what exactly is the Fiat Qubo then?
Skoda’s Roomster and the Renault Grand Modus both offer a similar deal: a bulked-up B-segment car with supposedly more utility space inside, but shouting ‘lifestyle’ on the outside. The Qubo comes from a platform shared with Fiat's long-time collaborators PSA, which has already spawned the Fiorino van and two French twins.
But Fiat claims the Qubo is more than a converted van, with separate teams developing the commercial vehicle and the passenger car to achieve a good compromise on both sides.
Power comes from a PSA-supplied 73bhp 1.4-litre petrol, or Fiat’s fine 75bhp 1.3-litre Multijet diesel, and there’s a choice of a five-speed manual or Fiat’s robotised ‘Dual Logic’ transmission. Consequently, the Qubo is cheap to run.
How cheap? Well, a 45-litre tank of diesel will take the Qubo Multijet 621 miles between fills, the first service interval is at 18,000 miles and the diesel produces a congestion charge-busting 119g/km of CO2. That means a year’s road tax should only set you back £35 in the UK.
Bet the Qubo drives like a van though?
Actually it doesn’t. Fiat chassis engineers have achieved a supple ride with good roll stiffness and steering that’s tight enough to inspire confidence, without being tiresomely pointy. The engines and driveline are quiet and very refined, but don’t expect any fireworks because performance is distinctly lacklustre.
The 75bhp diesel does a reasonable job of transporting the whole shooting match around, even if you won’t be doing a lot of overtaking. Although on paper the PSA-supplied 1.4-litre petrol should be even more challenged, it revs freely to a redline of just over 6000rpm and is, if anything, more fun to drive.
A new 90bhp diesel engine will join the 75bhp version for the 2010 model year in Europe, but there’s no guarantee it will come to the UK at this stage.
Click 'Next' for CAR's verdict on the new Fiat Qubo
Scroll down the page to the embedded player to view Fiat's unedited footage (no sound) of the new Qubo
What’s the interior comfort like on the Fiat Qubo?
A few years ago low cost meant you'd be bent double on uncomfortable seats, usually with a metal bar digging into your bottom. How things have changed.
The Qubo’s seats are comfortable, if a little short in the cushion. There’s room for tall people in the front and back at the same time, although lanky-legged front-seat passengers may find legroom under the low-slung glovebox a little on the tight side.
The steering wheel is fully adjustable for reach and rake and the seat for height, so long or short you’ll definitely find a comfortable driving position. The seat’s a good height from the road too, so getting in and out is easy and equipment includes Fiat’s Blue&Me Bluetooth set-up.
And just how versatile is the Fiat Qubo?
Although the rear seats fold and tumble right forward, to get the full benefit of the loadbay they have to be unclipped and removed. It’s easy enough to do, but then stashing car seats around the average two-bed flat will be a pain – and they’re not that easy to re-fit either.
Honda set a benchmark when it introduced the Jazz into this segment seven years ago, with rear seats that fold flat into the floor and it seems that others are still playing catch-up on this basic design element.
That said, with seats removed, the loadbay offers a best-in-class 2.5-metres in length, which is impressive considering the entire car is only 3.5 metres long. The sliding rear doors give easy access, and the front seat is also available as a fold-flat unit which can double as a table.
Fiat has gone into overdrive on funking up its image generally ,and the Qubo pulls no punches in this respect. Without a doubt, it’s a cool little car which is quiet, comfortable, roomy, flexible, stylish and promises low cost of ownership.
The Qubo is fairly challenged when it comes to performance and fold-flat rear seats would have made the interior great rather than good. But the Qubo is appealing and original, with a likely price tag for the petrol of £9995 when it arrives early next year, and the diesel probably pitched at around £11,300.