Of course, Fiat says the Dobl_ isn't a van, rather a purpose-designed MPV. But such claims fade when viewed next to the van-like proportions, and the fact that a proper commercial version, the Cargo, will be sold alongside the glazed and seated variant. The company hopes the Dobl_ will take sales from the Renault Kangoo and Citroen Berlingo when it goes on sale here next March.
Engine choice is, at launch, limited to just two - a 1.9 normally-aspirated diesel with 63bhp and a 65bhp 1.2 8-valve unit. The petrol engine is a slightly beefed-up version of the unit in the base Punto, the diesel an old-school indirect injection unit.
The Dobl_ sits on an all-new bespoke platform with MacPherson struts at the front but, moderately astonishingly for the 21st century, leaf springs at the back. These are claimed to save cost, but also offer safer handling when loaded.
The Dobl_'s interior space can't be faulted: it is genuinely massive. Front seat room is good thanks to the adoption of a high seating position (although the non-adjustable wheel on the base SX makes it awkward for taller drivers), and the back is more than large enough for three adults to sit abreast.
All Dobl_s will come with sliding rear doors on both sides and all door apertures have been made as large as possible for ease of access. The boot will come with either twin opening doors or a conventional tailgate according to version and it's cavernous. Fiat claims the 750 litres of luggage space beneath the load space cover is more than any other car on sale. With all the seats collapsed, luggage capacity rises to a very van-like 3,000 litres.
Two trim levels are available - SX (petrol only) and ELX (petrol and diesel). Equipment levels on the European-spec launch cars were comprehensive, although UK trim is as yet unfinalised. Equipment will certainly be good, though, with all models having ABS, power steering, electric front windows and two airbags.
Unfortunately, the Dobl_ is flawed to drive. It's not a problem with the fundamental driving dynamics - steering is enthusiastic, controls light and ride and handling well up to your modest expectations. The big problem comes with the engines - both petrol and diesel seem to be overwhelmed by the 1,280kg unladen kerbweight. The glacially slow 0 - 60mph times - 19 seconds for the petrol and 21 for the diesel, best provide testimony for the diesel.
If anything, it feels worse than that, and the 1.9D I drove wouldn't hold 70mph even up shallow motorway gradients. The petrol proved no better, almost equally gutless and very nearly as noisy. My test drive was with just two people, and no luggage. The prospects for loading up five adults and filling the 750-litre boot are grim indeed. Salvation will have to wait for two forthcoming 100bhp engines, a 1.6 petrol and a 1.9 JTD diesel, due in September /October next year.
Fuel consumption of the over-stressed launch engines was also disappointing - 36.7mpg for the petrol and 39.2mpg for the diesel. You're not exactly being rewarded at the pumps for travelling so slowly. CO2 emissions are also underwhelming - 183g/km for the petrol and 191g/km for the diesel, testimony to the huge aerodynamic profile.
On the plus side, refinement is surprisingly good with hydraulic engine mounts minimising vibration and noise in the cabin and road noise well contained. Visibility is excellent, and the car is usefully manoeuvrable in town. To be fair to the 1.9D, it's considerable low-down torque masked the engine's fundamental lack of urge. Ride comfort on rougher roads is actually considerably better than the Punto, thanks to the longer wheelbase.
Fiat has yet to announce prices for the UK, promising only that they'll be 'very competitive' with Kangoo and Berlingo. Not that the French duo have exactly taken off over here, thanks to the supplement being charged over European versions.
Fiat's estimate for next year's sales, just 550 passenger Dobl_s and up to 1,800 Cargos, is reassuringly modest, and the company reckons that most customers will be private buyers, especially young families and small entrepreneurs. The more powerful engines may broaden the appeal of the range somewhat, but in the meantime the sheer slowness is unlikely to win the Dobl_ too many friends.