First drive: Iveco Massif

We take a first drive in the Iveco Massif, which boasts a revamped interior and engines. In the beginning there was the Jeep, which inspired the true-Brit Wilks brothers to invent the Land Rover. This impressed the world so much that some foreigners, including Belgium's Minerva and Spain's Santana, built it under licence. Eventually, state-owned Santana went its own way and developed the Land Rover independently. Then in Madrid in 2006, as well as the expected unveiling of a much needed SWB version with Euro-4 driveline, came the bombshell that Iveco was effectively taking over the PS10 product.

More than a year of silence ensued as the various lawyers, engineers and marketing suits did their own thing, but at Amsterdam's RAI Show last October, the first Iveco Massif broke cover. Now we have been able to try it in the Alpine foothills above Verona. Restyled but with no doubt as to its origin, the Massif will initially come as SWB and LWB station wagons, and LWB pickup and chassis-cab. The pickup's bulkhead has a forward-sloping lower half, which we believe could be usefully ditched for the extra cab space a vertical panel would give. All versions have full metre-wide rear openings allowing a euro-pallet to be carried.

The interior has been fully redesigned since the Santana days, and looks as good as its Solihull rival in most respects, although a few items such as the interior door handles and the rear door's external handle don't inspire too much confidence. Two 3.0-litre engine options, familiar from the Daily, are the 146hp HPI and the 172hp HPT, the extra coming courtesy of a variable-geometry turbocharger, both having a six-speed main gearbox with two-speed transfer box and selectable four-wheel drive. The flexibility of both is impressive, the HPT climbing a 40% slope in second low at tickover, and refinement is also good. The parabolic leaf springs give ride and off-road ability that come very close to coil-sprung Land Rover levels. Even with the off-road-biased tyres fitted to the launch fleet, handling is acceptable - although the turning circle still requires some anticipation in tight spots.

A van version, essential for the utility market, is still in the planning stages, as is an optional 3.5-tonne GVW upgrade. By the time the Massif reaches the UK market early next year, the full line-up should be available. Iveco's UK light vehicle product manager Jon Stokes says: "Pricing will be attractive against the Land Rover." He adds that specification will match the Land Rover rival item for item.

At a glance

  • We drive:
    • The reborn Santana now completes Iveco's extensive range of 4x4s, with 70% of components changed. Among these are styling, interior and Daily-sourced drivelines.
  • We like:
    • Despite its ageing ancestry, engine characteristics and accommodation improvements make the Massif suitable for many buyers today.
  • We're not sure:
    • Significant questions over how it will be sold still need answers.
  • We think:
    • Compared with the Defender, the big selling point has to be the engine offering. If Iveco gets the sums right, Solihull has a fight on its hands.

See the Iveco Massif in action, click here.