In contrast to the rest of Europe, Fiat Professional’s Ducato heavy van has struggled historically to make its mark in the UK, taking less than 5% of sector sales in a market where the brand has enjoyed better success with its smaller models such as the Doblo Cargo and Fiorino.
Fiat is confident the new facelifted version, which went on sale in July, will see the Ducato realize its potential in a highly competitive sector.
The Ducato shares its platform at Fiat’s Sevel Sud plant in Italy with the Citroen Relay and Peugeot Boxer but whereas the PSA brands use a 2.2-litre diesel engine range, Fiat has installed its own 2.3-litre Multijet engines into the Ducato line-up.
The most efficient models – the 2.3 MultiJet II 130, which produces 130hp and 320Nm, and the 2.3 litre MultiJet II 150, with 150hp and 350 Nm, both return an official 164g/km and 45.6 mpg on short-wheelbase low-roofed models when equipped with optional Start&Stop.
By way of comparison PSA quotes 42.8mpg and CO2 of 175g/km for its greenest engine, the 130hp unit with stop/start.
We tested the new 2.3 150hp Ducato 35 L3H2, with the longest wheelbase and the mid-placed roof of the three heights available.
It’s a big unit and as such concedes ground in economy compared to the most efficient models – it didn’t come with the £350 Start&Stop option either, which, according to Fiat, would improve our van’s fuel economy from 39.8mpg to 40.9mpg and cut its CO2 from 186 to 180g/km.
It does get a switchable speed limiter as standard however, which can be set in the workshop at 56, 62, 70 or 81mph.
The engine is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox that is standard across the line-up, although a semi-auto Comfortmatic system can be specified on all but the entry-level model for a premium of £1500. But we found the manual operation to be slick and precise and the steering reassuringly steady when negotiating winding roads and roundabouts.
The L3H2 offers a meaty payload capacity of 1485kg, which can be fitted into a load space of 13m3. The Peugeot Boxer 335 L3H2, however, matches the Ducato’s load volume and offers a slightly higher payload of 1525kg – figures mirrored by the equivalent Citroen Relay.
We didn’t drive the Fiat van with a full load in the back but the 150hp engine is set up for long hauls and gives every indication that it could cope with heavy assignments with aplomb. Once the optional (£150) cruise control is engaged the van makes short work of gobbling up the motorway miles.
The updated Techno cabin is standard across the line-up and is an improvement on the previous Ducato’s interior that was beginning to look its age. It also compares favourably to the cheaper-looking dashboards in the PSA models.
The environment in the cabin feels spacious and reasonably classy, although not a match for the standards achieved by Mercedes’ Sprinter and the new Ford Transit.
The middle seat back folds down to reveal a work surface with a clip to hold papers in place. There are three cup holders in the cab but no overhead storage shelf.
Otherwise storage space is ample, with two compartments in each door and the lower bin big enough to contain large water bottles. There is also a covered storage compartment large enough to hold a 15-inch laptop. One quibble was that the chrome touches on the dash created irritating and potentially distracting reflections on the windscreen.
We were pleased the standard fit media system included DAB radio as well as Bluetooth, USB and AUX compatibility. An upgraded version with a 5-inch touchscreen and sat nav is available for £470 but a nice touch is that steering wheel-mounted controls were included as a no-cost option.
The air suspended, shock absorbing driver’s seat (£280) undulates after bumps but once you’ve got used to that it contributes to a comfortable ride.
In common with most panel vans, even those with wing mirrors like dinner plates and wide-view angles fitted, vision to the rear on the near-side can be restricted in the Ducato when pulling out from junctions or into traffic. This highlights the benefit of the innovative Renault-developed blind-spot mirror, which is mounted in the passenger’s sun visor and installed in the brand’s new Master and Trafic models, as well as their Vauxhall-badged equivalents the Movano and Vivaro. It would be no surprise to see other manufacturers, including Fiat, introduce similar products in the near future.
The new Ducato features impressive engines and improved quality but has its work cut out to match the best in a competitive sector.