First Drive: Fiat Ducato Maxi 180hp

Date: Friday, March 23, 2012

Operators looking for a large van to gobble up the motorway miles could do worse than plump for Fiat’s sixth-generation, Euro5 Ducato.

We tested the big daddy of the 3.5-tonne Ducato range during a cold snap over the Christmas period, and the first thing to note is that the heater works a treat.
The long-wheelbase, extra high roof Maxi Van is powered by a 3.0-litre Multijet engine developing 180hp and hefty torque of 400Nm. It is the flagship in a four-strong engine line-up that Fiat claims is more powerful, cleaner and more frugal than its pre-Euro5 predecessor.
Fiat puts the van’s combined fuel consumption at 33.6mpg with CO2 emissions of 222g/km – not bad for such a powerhouse and a claimed 9% improvement on both counts compared with the outgoing generation.
Performance is impressive. For a large van it is reasonably light-footed and flexible in built-up areas, with the reverse parking sensor – an absolutely essential option at £231 – taking the stress out of parking.
But it is out on the open road that the engine comes into its own. With maximum torque on tap at 1400rpm, rather than the 1700rpm of its predecessor, it is not easily shaken out of its comfort zone – making for a comfortable and relaxed motorway ride.
A slight hindrance is that in automatic mode the reflexes of the cumbersomely named six-speed Comfort-Matic Transmission Automated can feel a little sluggish, and we found the van’s performance far more dynamic when manual mode was engaged. Fiat describes the system as a traditional manual transmission but without a clutch pedal due to the manual linkage to the gearbox being replaced by actuators controlled by a transmission control unit. It is only offered with the 3.0-litre powertrain but we would expect most operators to plump for the six-speed manual gearbox, which is probably the better bet, available across the full line-up.
The cabin is pleasantly quiet even at motorway speeds. Fiat credits this to the engine having a cast-iron block with integrated bearings and a dual-mass fly wheel that softens engine vibrations and significantly reduces noise.
In terms of storage space, we were surprised by the lack of an overhead shelf. There are lots of nick-nacky compartments and cubby holes, but the door pockets are very low down compared to a driving position that is good and helped by a comfortable seat and an adjustable steering wheel.
Fiat has talked up the “car-like” quality of the dashboard design, but it still falls a little short of the best in class. It has its plus points, however, such as the controls for the radio/CD player with MP3 compatibility, which are mounted high on the dashboard where they can be reached easily in addition to handy buttons located on the steering wheel.
A welcome result of the redesign is the space created for the TomTom ‘my-port’ to house the Blue&me Live nav system, and is just one factor that helps to make the Ducato a more viable all-round proposition for heavy van operators.

 

Verdict
Overall the Ducato is much better for its Euro5 engines and the 180hp engine is particularly impressive, if not cheap.



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