Having first appeared in 1981, the Fiat Ducato won the first ever What Van? Van of the Year Award back in 1989 and, now badged the Fiat Professional Ducato, it has returned to the podium to capture the main prize again for 2022.

The Ducato is famed as the motorhome par excellence, but it’s true that discerning customers have always known there is more to the large van than its facility for being converted.

The Ducato’s individuality has historically enabled it to stand out from the crowd and the latest vintage retains this quality despite it being a joint-venture Stellantis product.

The new Ducato stands out with cutting edge technology, such as level two autonomous Advanced Driver Assistance Systems and an excellent nine-speed auto transmission. The availability of automatic transmission is important in that it takes clutch wear and tear out of the equation and thus increases the big van’s appeal with supermarket delivery fleets.

Reflecting on the Ducato’s success at the awards, Richard Chamberlain, Fiat Professional’s country manager, says: “The What Van? Van of the Year Award for new Ducato has cemented it as the best large van money can buy in the UK. 

“To be judged the best against competitors by industry experts has no doubt shown prospective customers the best-in-class technologies and capabilities of Ducato and we’ve seen a significant increase in interest from a broad spectrum of customers since the award win.”

The latest Ducato is good to drive, a practical load-lugger and remains the perfect antidote to badge-swapping repetition.Packed full of tech that sets it apart from the rest, the Ducato right now is streets ahead of the competition.

There are four power ratings of 120hp, 140hp, 160hp and 180hp and the choice of both manual and automatic transmissions with a new six-speed manual or a slick nine-speed auto that is available on all but the entry-level vans.

The real differentiating factor between Ducato and its competitors is the ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems). Fiat Professional is billing the Ducato as the first ever light commercial vehicle with Level 2 autonomous technology, where the steering as well as acceleration or braking are controlled at the same time. 

This Ducato can be seen as a marker for the start of the self-driving van revolution and it harnesses its autonomous elements remarkably well.

Other large vans have already included some of these systems in their vehicles, like the Volkswagen Crafter, which can gently steer you between the white lines on the motorway and then there’s the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, which more aggressively applies the brakes to bring you back on track, but the Ducato is more refined. Not only does it deftly control the steering inputs but it also gently applies the brakes or increases acceleration to keep you on course and at the required speed – and it will even do this when taking corners. 

This is made possible because the Ducato’s Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop&Go functionality is seamlessly tuned into the Lane Keep Assist and Traffic Jam Assist functions, making driving the Ducato not only easy but also safer. There are other features that have begun becoming standard fits on other models too – like a speed limiter, pedestrian detecting braking, road sign recognition and driver attentiveness monitoring, not to mention Cross-Wind Assist, Trailer Stability Control and Active Park Assist, which can do parallel and perpendicular parking, but it is the way the Ducato does all of these together without ever feeling overbearing or overly controlling that set it apart. 

The Ducato’s technological capabilities signal a massive leap forward in the large van sector but at the same time the van remains as functional as ever. Available with a GVW of up to 4.25t giving a payload of up to 2,200kg, there are panel vans with up to 17m3 of load capacity with four body lengths and three roof heights. Throw in crew vans, chassis cabs and dropside or tipper variants and the Ducato range is as complete and versatile as any other on offer and that’s without considering the new addition of the electric E-Ducato, which is currently still based on the previous model. 

Other innovations include a digital centre mirror, found in other Fiat/Chrysler group products like the RAM pick-up, that provides a crystal-clear view of the road behind you in a screen that not only looks like a traditional rear view mirror but can also function as one at the flip of a switch. 

A 7ins digital TFT touchscreen is fitted as standard but it’s the 10ins Uconnect system newly added to the Ducato that transforms the interior. It not only allows wireless Apply CarPlay and Android Auto but also a raft of connectivity systems to monitor the vehicle. It is without doubt the most modern and up-to-date infotainment system in the segment. 

The new Ducato is the first in the range to wear the new modernised FIAT badge on its bonnet and the first of the brand’s products to break cover since the Stellantis merger. 

The Ducato though, so often an under-appreciated and overlooked large van, is pleasingly independent in its new skin. Buyers might not even think of the Ducato as being in the same category as a Volkswagen Crafter, Mercedes Sprinter or Ford Transit. Those powerhouses of the large van sector have for many years sat together in the hierarchy and may presume to continue to do so. Right now, however, they must cede the summit to the Ducato, which is the big van to beat.