Fiat Ducato review

Our Rating: 
4.2
4.2/5.0
Price Range: 
£19,995 to £31,000
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The Fiat Ducato panel van has lowered its running costs and upped its technology count in a bid to out-fox rivals

For: 
Low fuel consumption, carrying capacity, smooth performance
Against: 
Interior quality, confusing range overlap

Fiat built its first light commercial vehicle over 110 years ago and has been up with the major players in Europe’s van market virtually ever since. Over the last three decades and more it’s the Fiat Ducato that has headed-up the Italian manufacturer’s van offering and as you’d expect, the latest sixth generation version is the most advanced Ducato panel van yet.

Fiat is calling this the sixth generation Ducato but in reality it’s a reasonably thorough facelift of the Mk5 model. Like its predecessor, it’s built under a partnership agreement with PSA Peugeot Citroen and so shares its design and technology with the Peugeot Boxer and Citroen Relay (not to mention the Ram Promaster in the US). The Euro panel van trio are all built at the SEVEL Sud plant in Italy, the world’s largest light commercial vehicle factory.

The latest Ducato isn’t only looking to put one over on its French cousins, the van must battle for sales against the likes of the Ford Transit, Vauxhall Movano and the Mercedes Sprinter. It’s not an easy task but Fiat is confident that a far-reaching set of revisions designed to improve running costs, durability and user-friendliness will do the trick.

Today’s Ducato range is built around a line-up of Fiat’s Multijet II common-rail diesel engines with 2.3-litre and 3.0-litre units available packing power outputs from 110bhp to 177bhp. Crucially, the 2.3-litre unit that’s the mainstay of the range is one piece of Ducato tech that isn’t shared with its Peugeot and Citroen equivalents.

Fuel economy is a strong point for the Ducato, as it's the most economical panel van available - capable of returning 45.6mpg. That’s with the 6-speed manual gearbox, though there is the option of a Comfort-Matic auto on all models except those with the entry-level 110bhp engine.

There are over 10,000 different configurations available in a Ducato range, which can be confusing. The line-ups overlap, with the standard Ducato ranging from L1H1 to L3H2 models and the heavy-duty Ducato Maxi from L2H2 to L4H3. In addition, there are window van, dropside truck, combi and minibus versions, plus the Ducato is a very popular choice for motorhome conversions.

MPG and Running Costs

4.8

The Ducato’s fuel economy is a real feather in its cap. The entry-level 110bhp 2.3-litre engine returns 44.1mpg but if you want the star of the efficiency show you’ll need to step up to the 130 and 148bhp models. These return 45.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 164g/km with the aid of Fiat’s Start&Stop technology.

On the latest Ducato a gear-shift indicator, low rolling resistance tyres, low friction oils and a 0.31cx drag coefficient (slippery for a panel van) all help achieve these figures. Even the heavy-duty range-topper does its bit with the 177bhp 3.0-litre managing a creditable 36.7mpg and 203g/km of CO2. At launch, none of the Fiat Ducato engines are compliant with the Euro6 emissions regulations. As there’s no real running costs benefit, Fiat is holding its Euro6 units back until the rules become mandatory in order to keep prices down.

A series of steps have also been taken to enhance the durability of the latest Ducato models. Service intervals are up to a lengthy 30,000 miles thanks in part to upgraded brakes, a new clutch system and tweaked front suspension. Additional body reinforcement and upgraded door hinges are amongst the measures designed to prolong the life of the vehicle.     

Load Space and Practicality

4.3

Vast dimensions give the Ducato panel van one of the largest load capacities in its class, with up to 17.0 cubic metres of space. The gross weight range extends from 3,000kg to 4,250kg. That maximum is beyond the LCV licence threshold of 3,500kg, above which motorists would need an HGV licence if they passed their driving test after 1 January 1997.

Fiat has divided the range into lighter Ducato and heavier Ducato Maxi models, with the former, powered by the 2.3-litre engines, comprising L1H1 to L3H2 versions and featuring gross vehicle weights between 3,000kg and 3,500kg.

The Ducato Maxi range overlaps with the Ducato range, taking in L2H2 to L4H3 models at 3,500kg, 4,005kg and 4,250kg GVW. Payloads from 800kg to a maximum of 2,100kg are available and all Ducatos get a full height metal bulkhead as standard. Fiat is very pleased with the square dimensions it’s managed to achieve in the Ducato’s loadbay and the 1.42m loading width between the rear wheelarches ensures that bulky items can be slid inside with ease.

Reliability and Safety

4.5

The Ducato has a loyal following among van buyers, and this is largely down to the strong reliability record of its Fiat engines. On the safety front there’s a driver’s airbag, ABS with EBD and ESC stability control as standard.

A range of other electronic driver aids are also built-in to the ESC system including Roll-Over Mitigation and Load Adaptive Control which are specially designed to increase the stability of the van. A hill holder system and ASR anti-slip regulation are also included but buyers will need to explore the options list to add a passenger airbag.

Fitted to the higher spec Tecnico Ducato models is a tyre pressure monitoring system and automatic headlamps. A self-dipping function that lowers the full beam lights to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic is a further option as is Traction+, which helps the Ducato obtain maximum grip on loose surfaces. Traction+ incorporates HDC (Hill Descent Control), a function more commonly seen on off-road vehicles that brakes the van automatically to help descend steep gradients safely. 

If you want more safety technology in your Ducato there’s a traffic sign recognition system that reads road signs and warns of speed limits and no-overtaking zones. The Land Departure Warning System alerts drivers when they wander out of their lane without indicating by sounding the kind of buzzer that belongs fighter jet’s cockpit. It’s so loud you wonder if a heat-seeking missile has locked on to the Ducato’s tail or if you’ve accidently primed the ejector seat. Most drivers will end up turning it off and that’s not good for a safety aid.

Driving and Performance

4.1

Fiat pulled a smart move by keeping its 2.3-litre Multijet II diesel engine out of the Citroen Relay and Peugeot Boxer as this impressive unit provides a valuable unique selling-point for the Ducato. The 130bhp power option that most buyers will choose develops maximum torque of 320Nm and is a smooth, unflustered companion on the road. Even at the top of the rev range the engine’s deep hum never sounds harsh and noise levels are considerably lower than those from the equivalent 2.2-litre engine fitted to the Boxer and Relay.

The flagship 177bhp 3.0-litre unit is similarly refined but will mainly be chosen by operators who regularly carry heavy cargos. With a modest weight on board the difference in performance over the 130bhp and 148bhp 2.3-litre engine isn’t huge.

The six-speed manual gearbox is slightly notchy in feel but it’s well positioned and contributes to a comfortable driving position. Very tall drivers may struggle with the lack of seat adjustment and the seats could use more side support but generally, the Ducato is comfortable enough. The Comfort-Matic auto works well and suits the relaxed high-torque character of the Ducato’s engines. Its responses can get a little sluggish if you try to press on so your best bet is to take things easy.

In general, the Fiat Ducato driving experience is pretty good. The van isn’t as composed as the best in the sector over bumpy surfaces or when there’s no weight on board to subdue the heavy-duty suspension but the well-weighted steering and good visibility make it pleasant to use. The large door mirrors incorporating a wide-angle lower mirror that can be adjusted individually are a particularly good bit of design.

Cab and Interior

4

The Ducato’s dashboard feels durable enough – if not quite up to the standard of rivals from Mercedes, Volkswagen and Ford. Some of the plastics on the inside of the doors feel a little flimsy and the dash-mounted clipboard that morphs into a holder for your mobile phone or tablet computer doesn’t seem very durable. Worse still, it was the source of one of the most prevalent cabin rattles on our test car.

Fiat Ducato 2014 interior

There’s plenty of storage space in the Ducato, with a large glovebox, numerous cubbyholes, deep door pockets and under seat storage. Fiat also now offers a classy-looking touchscreen infotainment system that works well, although we wonder how its piano black trim surround will stand the test of time.

In general, the quality of the cabin and its switchgear has been significantly improved in this version of the Ducato. The best rivals do a better line in perceived quality but for user-friendliness the big Fiat is up with the best.   

Van dimensions

Body style

Height

Width

Length

L1H1 low roof van

2,254mm

2,050mm

4,963mm

L2H1 low roof van

2,254mm

2,050mm

5,413mm

L2H2 medium roof van

2,524mm

2,050mm

5,413mm

L3H2 medium roof van

2,524mm

2,050mm

5,998mm

L4H2 medium roof van

2,524mm

2,050mm

6,363mm

L4H3 high roof van

2,764mm

2,050mm

6,363mm

(Width including door mirrors: 2,508mm) 

Load area dimensions

Body style

Height

Width

Length

Volume

L1H1 low roof van

1,662mm

1,870mm

2,670mm

8.0m3

L2H1 low roof van

1,662mm

1,870mm

3,120mm

10.0m3

L2H2 medium roof van

1,623mm

1,870mm

3,120mm

11.5m3

L3H2 medium roof van

1,932mm

1,870mm

3,705mm

13.0m3.

L4H2 medium roof van

1,932mm

1,870mm

4,070mm

15.0m3

L4H3 high roof van

2,172mm

1,870mm

4,070mm

17.0m3

(Width between wheel arches: 1,422mm)

Specifications

  • Power: 110bhp – 177bhp
  • Weight (GVW): 3,000kg – 4,250kg
  • Payload: 800kg – 2,100kg
  • Loading height (approx, unladen): 460mm
Last updated: 14 May, 2014
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