These might be tough times for the motoring industry, but Fiat is feeling buoyant thanks to a bold new range including the fashionable 500.

And now the brand new Fiat Qubo has arrived, further expanding the line-up and the customers Fiat can cater for in 2009.

The Qubo is a five-seat mini-MPV with sliding rear doors on both sides and a large hatchback aimed at young families and even surfer ‘dudes’.

We headed off to its UK launch to see if it’s cool for a car to be square.

The value MPV market has been dominated by the Citroen Berlingo since it was launched in 1998 and went on to sell to more than 50,000 homes in the UK alone.

Last year a brand new version called the Berlingo Multispace arrived to renew the fight for the mini-MPV segment. Its key rivals are the Skoda Roomster, Renault Kangoo and Peugeot Partner.

And now, the Fiat Qubo aims to outdo them all.

How much space?

In standard seating mode there are five seats in the Qubo, offering just enough legroom for a six foot passenger to sit behind a six foot driver.

The boot has 330-litres of space up to the rear parcel shelf, or 650-litres to roof level.

If you want to carry more luggage and fewer passengers you can fold and tumble the 60/40 split rear seats.

And, for the ultimate in space, the rear seats can then be released and taken out of the vehicle altogether and stored in your garage.

Doing this gives the Qubo a cavernous 2,500-litres of boot space.

View our Fiat Qubo slide show

Be warned though, it took us between five and ten minutes to remove the rear seats and they are heavy.

The cube shaped Qubo is in its element as a load-lugger, with a very low loading lip which makes sliding luggage into the boot easy.

We feel some of the interior is a missed opportunity though – it would have been good to see ingenious cubby holes dotted all over the interior, including the roof lining. But, we could only find the normal glovebox, door bins and cup holder you expect in a normal car.

The solution may lie with the options list, which we know will include a cycle carrier, ski rack and windsurf carrier. Hopefully there will be some extras storage solutions for the interior too.

This way up

The Fiat Qubo and its competitor the Berlingo Multispace are both based on hatchbacks. The Multispace shares its chassis with the Citroen C4, while the Qubo shares its suspension with the Fiat Grande Punto.

Both cars steer and ride surprisingly well as a result of this car (not van) technology.

The Qubo is supple and soaks up bumps and undulations really well.

It never bounces along the road, instead staying smooth and unruffled and leaving the driver and passengers happy and relaxed.

The steering is good too, with barely any effort required at low speeds and more weighting on faster roads.

Grip levels are high enough, and when they are breached the nose washes wide in a predictable manner.

Safe to overtake?

The engine choice is as simple as petrol or diesel. The 1.4-litre petrol has 73bhp and Fiat claims it can return an average of 40.4mpg.

Unfortunately this smooth and quiet engine is too short on power for us to recommend it. We found ourselves changing down a gear as soon as an incline reared its ugly head, just to maintain pace. And this was with an empty boot.

Because we found it necessary to use all 73bhp most of the time, we weren’t able to get close to Fiat’s claimed fuel consumption figures.

Far better is the 1.3-litre diesel, which instantly feels more punchy and able to pull the weight of the Qubo briskly enough to make overtaking safe.

It has a similar 75bhp power output but, it more importantly has 140lb/ft of pulling power.

As a result it’s better to drive, faster and more suited to carrying a full load and towing a trailer.

Fiat claims it can return an impressive 62.8mpg, and we think this should be possible with careful driving and motorway use after we achieved 45mpg on fast country lanes with lots of acceleration and braking.

Perhaps we should have plugged a USB memory stick into the Qubo’s Blue&Me computer port. If we had, the Fiat would have recorded data about our driving styles and allowed us to use Fiat’s freely downloaded eco:Drive software to find out how to drive more economically and save fuel.

The diesel is a £1,250 premium, but it should be worth it in the long run, thanks to its better economy and expected residual value. It’s cheaper to tax too, costing £35 annually with its emissions of 119g/km. The petrol emits 165g/km, placing it in the £145 tax band D.

Safety cell

We expect all new cars to be safe – especially those aimed at young families – and the Qubo doesn’t disappoint. ABS is fitted along with electronic brake distribution to help prevent skids during emergency stops.

Driver, passenger and side airbags are standard across the range and all five seats have three-point seatbelts.

ESP electronic stability programme is available as an option.

The Fiat Qubo is a likeable car priced competitively, and a worthy competitor to the excellent Berlingo Multispace.

If you do choose the Fiat, we recommend the diesel engine and one of the funky colours which are available. This is a lifestyle product after all; why not make it stand out parked on the beach?

Key facts

Models tested: Fiat Qubo 1.4 petrol Dynamic,
On the road price: £11,150
Price range: £9,750 – £12,350
Date tested: January 2009
Road tester: Andy Goodwin