Car reviews - Fiat - Ducato - range
Appealing exterior design, updated fascia with more practicality, improved performance, promised economy and cheaper repairs, broader range, benign dynamics, massive cargo carrying capability
Room for improvement
Robotised manual inferior to a regular auto, tall drivers might wish for more seat adjustment, dash plastics a little lo-fi
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3 Dec 2014
FIAT PROFESSIONAL’S most impressive boast about its facelifted Ducato is that the whole nose cone has been modelled on a gladiator’s helmet.
A handsome makeover then, and one that’s been absolutely necessary to keep the essentially eight-year-old design fresh, the Italian-designed co-op van is at least keeping up with its newer competition.
The emphasis here has been to lower repair and running costs over the Mk5 model (the line has run continuously since 1981 and has been shared with the PSA Peugeot Citroen group) while increasing performance, comfort and refinement over the outgoing model.
To that end, economy improves (down to as little as 7.7L/100km), the bumpers are now in three pieces for localised replacement in minor damage scenarios and tech advancements like a Hill Hold function, Load and Centre of Gravity Detection devices, Rollover Mitigation, Electronic Stability Control, a 5.0-inch centre screen and Bluetooth/MP3 connectivity, are all standard. A reverse camera is now an option too.
That the Ducato’s massive and easy-to-access cargo area needed no real attention stands testimony to the rightness of the 2006 concept. For a massive box on wheels you can barely do better.
The cabin overhaul does as much as that redesigned front end to lure curious buyers into the brand, with a dashboard and three-person bench-seat interior presentation designed to be a ‘mobile office space’.
Key attributes include heaps of storage, clear instruments, commanding forward views, straightforward media connectivity with touchscreen and quite comfy seats. Only a sense of flimsy (if durable) materials undermines what appears to be a successful modernisation effort.
We only drove one example – the LWB, high-roof Maxi LWB van with the 130kW/400Nm, 3.0-litre, 180 Multijet, four-pot turbo-diesel, driving the front wheels via a six-speed automated manual transmission.
No fans of any sort of robotised gearbox, this one does work well enough in ‘Auto’ mode, as long as you learn to lift your foot between ratio changes to minimise jerkiness. That there’s a manual mode is actually a benefit for some people who want to feel more involved in the driving process.
Obviously we’d prefer a regular manual (that’s standard) or the unavailable conventional automatic transmission, but even with the Comfort-Matic ‘box, the engine’s richly torquey power delivery makes the latest Ducato one of the most effortlessly pleasant vans on the market. It just whooshes forward with minimum fuss, bringing a turn of speed that is quite surprising for a box this big.
Kudos, too, goes to the Fiat’s linear and well-weighted steering, that translates into responsive and accurate cornering capabilities with a one-tonne load out the back, we tried a couple of hot-hatch-style roundabout cornering manoeuvres, and the Ducato sailed right through like a dainty elephant.
Indeed, after an hour and a half behind the wheel, the facelifted Italian workhorse still felt fresh, underlining the effort Fiat has gone in updating its oversized mobile office.
Throw in keen pricing and a promise of ever-improving dealer and servicing representation in rural as well as urban areas, and the Ducato ought to at least be on every big-van buyer’s shortlist.
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