A steady succession of mergers, takeovers and joint-ventures, implemented over the past few years with an eye to leveraging major cost savings, have made it increasingly difficult for motor industry brands to distinguish themselves from each other.
Citroën, Peugeot, Vauxhall and Fiat are now owned by global corporate giant Stellantis. As a consequence Citroën’s Relay, Peugeot’s Boxer, Vauxhall’s Movano and Fiat Professional’s Ducato are all fundamentally the same vehicle aside from the logos they bear.
So why buy one rather than the other for any reason other than the discount you are offered by the brand’s local dealer, the warranty provided or whether you think the dealer is any good or not? Fiat Professional has hit on a reason: the amount of technology that it has managed to cram into its vehicle.
As a consequence it is now claiming that the latest version of Ducato – its eighth incarnation – is the first ever light commercial to boast level two autonomy. While that certainly does not mean the Ducato can drive itself – a point we would like to stress strongly – the ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems) package it features means that driving it is both easier and safer than it would otherwise be.
As a consequence it won the What Van? Van of the Year for 2022, despite its otherwise-ageing design.
What Fiat has done is coordinate different functions on the Ducato so that they work together seamlessly.
Adaptive cruise control with stop and go ensures that the driver keeps a safe distance from the vehicle in front on the motorway, braking and accelerating, and stopping and pulling away again as and when required, without the individual behind the wheel having to do anything.
The package collaborates neatly with traffic jam assist. Its presence means that you no longer have to keep pressing the brake or accelerator pedal when you are inching along in a queue on the M6 for mile after wearisome mile.
At the same time lane keep assist gently steers you back into the lane you ought to be in if you lose concentration and your van starts to veer into the adjacent lane – and potentially into the path of oncoming traffic.
Once again we would like to stress that none of this means that the Ducato can drive itself. The driver still has to pay attention to what is happening on the highway ahead and all around the vehicle, and can intervene and override the technology at any point.
However, it is a harbinger of how light commercial automation is likely to develop over the next few years.
Aside from its considerably-enhanced on-board technology, the latest Ducato has undergone an external and internal makeover, with the cab receiving a new dashboard featuring a digital instrument panel, plus a different steering wheel and gear lever. The front of the vehicle has been restyled, with a switch to LED lights.
The newcomer gets the same 2.2L diesel as its Relay/Boxer/Movano stablemates at 120hp, 140hp, 160hp or 180hp. Married to a new six-speed manual transmission, the engine is 25% lighter than its predecessor, and is said to be 7% more frugal.
An optional nine-speed ZF automatic gearbox is up for grabs, and can be specified on everything, bar the least-powerful engine.
The battery-electric E-Ducato What Van? tested last autumn does not as yet share the updates enjoyed by its diesel-powered stablemate.
The Ducato comes with a load cube of from 8m3 to 17m3. It is produced as a van, a glazed van, a chassis cab and a chassis cowl and operators can choose from four different trim levels – Standard, Tecnico, Tecnico Plus and Business Edition.
Worthy of note is the arrival of Uconnect plus, the Fiat app that enables operators to enjoy a host of connected services.
MyRemote, for example, allows you to lock and unlock the doors even when you are quite some distance away from the vehicle, and to check its location. The Wi-Fi, with added Wi-Fi hotspot, enables the connection of up to eight devices and the use of Amazon’s Alexa,
We took off in a manual 140hp 3.5t LH2 Business Edition Ducato with a 13m3 load bay and a mountain of extra-cost options. Here is how we fared.