Fiat Ducato Review
|Facts At A Glance|
ENGINES:2.2 100bhp / 2.3 120bhp / 3.0 157bhp
MAX PAYLOAD:(panel vans) 1,115kg-1,850kg
FiatDucato Van Range- HEFT DEFYING FIAT
Fiat’sDucato is bigger and brawnier but is it better?
Moreso than virtually any other category of vehicle, the panel van comes ina mind-boggling array of different shapes and sizes. Trying to get yourhead around the sprawling interwoven structure of body and poweroptions that comprise a modern panel van Range can be a real brainburner but the line-ups keep expanding so the demand must be there.Take Fiat’s latest Ducato for instance. Dip a toe into the brochure andyou’re immediately confronted with three engines, three wheelbases,three roof heights, four gross vehicle weights and numerouscombinations thereof.
The Fiat Ducato has bounded upmarket size-wise in its latest form. Thelargest derivative of the old model that operators could lay theirhands on was a 3.5-tonner with a 12m3 load volume. Today, the big Fiattops out with a 17m3 volume and a 4.0-tonne gross vehicle weight. Thispropels it into the top tier of the panel van sector where the likes ofthe Mercedes Sprinter, Volkswagen’s Crafter and Iveco’s Dailytraditionally hold court. In addition to the panel vans, there are alsocrew cabs, chassis cabs, dropside trucks and a Combinato minibus, allexpanding the Ducato’s potential market.
Youdon’t expect to be flummoxed by the way a panel van looks but theDucato is far from conformist in its appearance, at least in comparisonto the troop of drab, identikit models that used to populate panel vanland. Things are a little different these days with some charismaticdesign efforts having been turned out by the leading marques, but theFiat still stands out. It would stand out further were it not for itsCitroen Relay and Peugeot Boxer sister models that are also built atthe Atessa plant in Italy’s Cheiti province to the same design.
TheDucato’s huge bulbous front bumper extends up above the line of thewheelarches, meeting the corresponding bulge of bonnet section in adeep crevice that then stretches along the vehicle’s flanks. Theexpanse of plastic that forms the bumper is split into three sectionsto negate the need to replace the whole thing in the event of anaccident, and incorporates a handy step to make cleaning the windscreenless of a scramble. The Ducato differentiates itself from theequivalent Peugeot and Citroen offerings with a classy metallicsurround for the grille that’s cut into that front bumper.
"TheDucato is far from conformist in its appearance"
Atthe rear, functionality must take precedence and the Ducato is lessvisually remarkable but it impresses in other ways. The loadbay hasbeen designed to maximise the useful space available and it’sclass-leading in this regard. Access is via sliding doors on bothflanks and twin side-hinged doors at the back where a wide step isintegrated into the bumper and the loading height is a ground-hugging535mm. Inside, there’s space for objects of up to 1,422mm to be slid inbetween the wheelarches and the whole loadbay gets half-heightprotective side panelling. Most impressive, however, is the uniformshape of the loadbay itself. Where some panel vans noticeably taper offgrowing narrower towards the roofline, the space in the Ducato is verysquare, allowing the full load volume to be better utilised. By mixingand matching the various body options, Ducato operators can achieveload volumes ranging from 8 to 17m3 and maximum payloads from 1,115 to1,850kg.
Thecabin interior initially looks similar to that of the old Ducato withthe same modular dashboard design and dash-mounted gearshifter but yousoon realise that it’s entirely new while retaining the same themes.The designers have gone overboard on storage, building two pockets intoeach door, a large but optional overhead shelf and a pair ofgloveboxes. The middle glovebox is worthy of note as it’s particularlylarge. Folding down beneath the dash, it yields enough room - Fiatsuggest - for a laptop computer and is lockable for extra security. Theclipboard that flips out from atop the facia is a neat idea carriedover from the old Ducato. The Ducato’s is a very practical and spaciousinterior with only the quality of the plastics used raising a realisticquestion mark.
Powercomes from one of three engines, all sophisticated Multijet common-raildiesels. There’s a 100bhp 2.2-litre, a 120bhp 2.3-litre and a 157bhp3.0-litre that generate 250, 320 and 400Nm maximum torque outputsrespectively. The lesser unit gets a 5-speed gearbox but the other twobenefit from six speeds. Even the 100bhp engine delivers a convincingshove and it should be more than adequate for buyers looking at thesmaller Ducato models. The engines are pleasantly refined too.
ThisDucato boasts a 30% increase in chassis rigidity over the vehicle ithas replaced, and this extra stiffness can be felt on the road. The vancorners with composure on suspension that may be slightly firm for sometastes but that highlights the sharp driving dynamics. The stubby noseof the Ducato contributes to a seriously tight turning circle and goodforward visibility, greatly simplifying those tricky manoeuvres.
Despiteefforts to produce a more ‘car-like’ driving position, the wheel isstill mounted quite flat, but the variable power steering is a first ina panel van and it works well - staying light at low speeds andweighting up nicely for better control on the motorway. The seatpadding is soft and it’s open to question how comfortable this willprove during a long day behind the wheel but there’s a good degree ofadjustment allowing drivers of differing proportions to get comfortable.
AllFiat Ducato models come with remote central locking, electric windows,a rake adjustable steering wheel and a CD stereo with ABS, EBD and adriver’s airbag accounting for the safety provision. A rendezvous withthe options list will be required if niceties like ESP stabilitycontrol, climate control, Fiat’s Blue&Me communicationinterface ora rear parking camera take your fancy.
Fiathave done a commendable job on the Ducato. It’s amongst the mostpractical panel vans on the market and it’s obvious that seriousthought has gone into the way the vehicle will be used by operators.The diesel engines are from the top drawer, as we’ve come to expectfrom Fiat, and the adventurous styling gives the van a distinctpersonality. The important bits do feel tough and durable, while theoptional bulkhead is a good idea. The taut chassis and goodmanoeuvrability mean you can even have a bit of fun at the wheel of aDucato, what more could you ask for?