Small vans fit an important niche in the van-driving world with most capable of carrying small, heavy loads while offering drivers a car-like driving experience - and the Ford Transit Connect and Fiat Doblo Cargo are 2 of the best. Vanarama Van Expert Tom Roberts puts them head-to-head.
For van drivers looking for a small(ish) van, there are quite a few that fit the bill but there’s little doubt that the Ford Transit Connect will have featured in your thoughts at some point. Ford is market leader across most van sectors and has earned its success through its reputation for building great vans. The tricky part was finding something to compare it to and call it a fair fight. I chose to put the Connect up against the Fiat Doblo Cargo, because both vehicles don’t share their underpinnings or identities with any other manufacturer - a rarity in the current market that seems filled with platform sharers.
Both vans have been around for quite a while now - the Ford Transit Connect in its current form being introduced in 2013 (although with some updates in 2018), while the facelifted Doblo first appeared back in 2010 and had a refresh in 2014. If the Fiat looks familiar, it’s probably because it was also marketed as the Combo by Vauxhall up until late 2018 (the new Combo is now a Stellantis platform sharer with the Citroen Berlingo, Peugeot Partner and Toyota Proace City).
Although Fiat has recently launched the mid-sized Scudo, there is little news on a new light van from the Italian manufacturer. However, you can expect a new Ford Transit Connect soon, which will share the same platform as Volkswagen’s next/new Caddy.
We’re just going to look at panel vans here - although both the Fiat and the Ford are also available in double (crew) cab and full passenger carrying guises - and whichever van and configuration you choose, there’s a decent amount of loadspace to play with. The Doblo is available in 3 sizes, SWB (L1), Maxi (L2H1) and XL (L2H2). There are just the 2 length (L1 and L2) options with the Connect, which also offer no high roof version. The shorter Fiat offers an internal load length of 1820mm while the L2 gives 2170mm. In comparison, the L1 Ford has 1786mm and the L2 has 2152mm of load length capacity – the Connect and Doblo are pretty evenly matched here.
If you’re after some serious volume, the Doblo XL might be one to consider which uses its high roof to help provide 5.0 cubic metres of capacity, compared to the L2 Connect which can only offer 3.6 cubic metres.
The Winner: The Fiat Doblo Cargo clinches this category on volume alone - there’s not much to choose between them here.
For the majority of light van users, the payload on either of these vans will be more than adequate - after all, you’d probably struggle to get 1500kgs into either van because of the physical size of the load.
Depending on which model you go for, the Connect can carry between 579kgs and 863kgs, while the Doblo Cargo can heft between 750kgs and 1005kgs. If you need to tow, both the Doblo Cargo and Transit Connect will pull a braked trailer weighing up to 1500kgs, depending on the exact model.
The Winner: Another tick in the box here for the Fiat Doblo Cargo based purely on its ability to carry more weight. Again, it’s a close call.
Engines and Drivetrains
Unless you go for the 1.0-litre 100PS EcoBoost petrol Connect, they all come with the same 1.5 litre EcoBlue diesel engine at outputs of 75PS, 100PS or 120PS. You can (with the diesel unit) opt for a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic gearbox - these have proved themselves over the last two years to be incredibly efficient gear boxes that add a lot to the Connect’s drive quality.
For the Fiat, a 1.6-litre diesel engine is offered in 90HP, 105HP and 120HP versions since the old 1.3-litre lower-powered versions were discontinued (and quite right too). Critically, there’s no automatic option for the Doblo Cargo - a stumble in today’s modern van market.
Official combined fuel consumption figures for the Connect are as low as 62.8mpg, while the Doblo Cargo is less economical with a best figure of 48.7mpg. Neither Ford or Fiat have developed electric or hybrid versions of these vans, probably because they’ve been around for quite a while now and are heading towards the end of their lives as production vehicles. You can be sure that the replacements will be designed with emission-free technology at the forefront of the design team’s minds.
The Winner: The Ford Transit Connect is light years ahead of the aging Doblo Cargo when it comes to quality, cleaner engines. Simple win for Ford here.
There are no less than 5 trim levels to choose from in the Transit Connect range: Leader, Trend, Limited, Sport and Active. Entry level Leader is a little sparse when it comes to equipment, but you do get a DAB radio and electric front windows. Trend adds body coloured front bumpers, front fog lights and a heated windscreen and in the cab you’ll see a 4.2” multimedia screen. Go for the Connect in Limited trim and the exterior will feature 16-inch alloy wheels and some more body-coloured items, such as door handles and door mirrors. Inside, air conditioning, cruise control, heated seats and a leather-trimmed steering wheel make things just that bit more comfortable for the driver.
Ford surpasses expectations in the Connect Sport - based on Limited spec, Sport is designed for those who really want to stand out in a crowd of more bland and faceless vans. 17-inch 5x2-spoke machined alloy wheels complement the sports styling kit containing front, rear and side sport stripes, aluminium roof rails, a front and rear lower spoiler and chromed rear bumper moulding. Finally, Connect Active, also an upgrade from Limited, is meant to appeal to those who want a stylish van capable of going off the beaten track. The alloy wheels are upgraded to some macho 17-inch 5 spoke stunners, and the ride height is increased at both the front and rear. Inside, the media unit is upgraded to Ford’s SYNC3, 6-inch touchscreen, which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.
All Transit Connects feature an integrated modem. The FordPass unit doesn’t just offer the driver and passengers a WiFi hotspot, it also provides a range of connectivity services, such as remote vehicle health monitoring, remote start and locking, location reporting (great when you’ve forgotten where you’ve parked it) and an alert if the van is moved or opened without authorisation.
Meanwhile, Standard, Tecnico and SX are the 3 main spec levels for the Fiat Doblo Cargo. Although it's the base model, Standard which boasts a 7-inch multimedia unit with the excellent Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Move up to Tecnico and you’ll gain body-coloured electric mirrors, front fog lights, a lined load area and the Maxi model features twin side-loading doors in lieu of a single one. The range-topping SX adds reverse-parking sensors, cruise control and air conditioning.
However, if your workday sees you heading off-road, the Doblo Cargo Trekking model might just be what you’re looking for. It’s based on the L2 Maxi Tecnico but adds Trekking side mouldings, front and rear body colour bumpers with Trekking grey skid plates but, more importantly, Traction+. This is Fiat#s enhanced ESP (traction control) system, which can get you out of trouble in slippery conditions where other vans might struggle.
The Winner: Clearly, the Ford Transit Connect offers far more (and more modern) equipment in its bulging spec list. This isn’t to say the Doblo Cargo offers nothing, it just doesn’t offer as much!
Both the Ford and Fiat are great load carriers, there’s more than enough capacity for most light van users whether your priority is weight or volume, although with the XL option and the higher payload, Fiat win on points here. There’s no doubt though that the range of trim points and equipment available for the Connect means that you’re more likely to find the specification level to suit you, and the Ford is considerably more economical.
On the road however, the independent rear suspension on the Doblo Cargo provides the owner who likes to drive with, shall we say ‘enthusiasm’ and one of the most rewarding handling experiences of any van, something the Italian manufacturer is unsurprisingly proud of. Also, for those who need more grip in challenging conditions away from tarmac, Fiats Traction+ product will almost certainly see the Doblo Cargo Trekking going places that the Transit Connect, even in Active spec, will struggle with.
In the end, price and personal preference conquer all - take a look and make sure to check out the Vanarama website for the best leasing offers on the Fiat Doblo Cargo and Ford Transit Connect.