Fiat Professional Ducato
When the sixth-generation Ducato was launched in 2014, efficiency, low running costs and high levels of tech were just three of the areas Fiat wanted to focus on during its development.
To address the first of those, Fiat installed its own 2.3-litre Multijet engines and, with aerodynamic efficiency claimed to be more comparable to a mid-sized saloon than an LCV, consumption was cut by 10% across the range versus the previous-generation model.
As well as cutting fuel expenditure, the firm targeted reducing repair bills to keep running cost low – for example, the front bumper is comprised of sections, allowing repairs to be carried out on damaged portions only. In terms of technology, Bluetooth and MP3 are standard across the
range, as are roll-over mitigation, load-adaptive control and anti-slip safety features.
Inside, the cabin feels spacious and classy, while on the road the Ducato is impressive. The gear change is slick and precise, while the steering is steady and instils confidence. On long motorway stretches progress is serene and quiet. The panel van comes in four lengths and with three roof heights, and all are equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard.
In August 2016, the fifth generation of the Transit acquired new Euro6 engines ahead of the introduction of the latest emissions regulations. Power outputs were raised and torque ramped up over the previous engines. Ford claims that with optional stop/start CO2 can begin at 174g/km with consumption at 42.2mpg – 10% better than the previous model. Cabin noise is kept well under control by acoustic improvements to the engine.
The LCV comes with the option of front- or rear-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is also available, as is a six-speed auto transmission for FWD models. There are still two trim levels, Base and Trend, with the 105hp Ecoblue engine only offered in the former.
Meanwhile, entry-level safety equipment has been notably ramped up, with upgraded electronic stability control (ESC), plus all Euro6 vans get Side Wind Stabilisation to limit the impact of sudden gusts of wind. Base models also come with Ford’s Curve Control programme, which slows down the van if it enters a bend too quickly, and Roll Stability Control, which stops the vehicle from rolling over.
Finally, the large Ford Transit is class-leading for drivability, with precise steering wedded to the slick six-speed manual transmission.
To drive, the aggressive-looking Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has always been good, while the cabin is airy and functional with decent levels of storage and, for the sector, good-quality materials. But it is the pioneering safety features for the light commercial vehicle sector that really caught the eye when this model was launched in 2013.
Take, for example, the Crosswind Assist system, which works within the van’s electronic stability programme to keep the vehicle in a straight line if hit by a sudden gust that the driver doesn’t react to. It comes as standard on all Sprinter panel vans.
Meanwhile, optional safety tech includes Blind Spot Assist, which provides extra peace of mind when changing lanes; Lane Keeping Assist, which uses a camera behind the windscreen to film the road ahead, identifying the contrasting markings; Highbeam Assist, which automatically switches the headlamps from full beam to dipped according to the traffic situation ahead of the van or oncoming traffic; and Collision Prevention Assist, which is designed to prevent or reduce the severity of rear-end shunts. Such developments help to make the Sprinter a very good large panel van.
The Movano is sold with one level of specification, which includes a driver’s airbag, two in-cab 12V power points, remote audio controls on the steering column and plenty of storage options. Electric windows and electrically adjustable and heated mirrors come as standard too, and the back of the middle seat folds down and turns into a desk.
Vauxhall deserves particular applause for adding a mirror in the passenger sun visor that enables the driver to spot anything lurking in the nearside blind spot. An inexpensive measure, it won What Van?’s 2015 Innovation Award.
The 2.3-litre CDTI diesel digs in nicely as you accelerate away from rest and provides a steady and uninterrupted stream of power all the way up the rev range. As well as turning in a gutsy performance on A and B roads it easily holds its own on high-speed motorways.
Like the Ford Transit, the Movano is sold with either front- or rear-wheel drive, and for a relatively big van it handles surprisingly well, with plenty of feedback from a nicely weighted steering system that aids manoeuvrability at low speeds. The unladen ride is a bit choppy, though, and the cab could do with a bit more sound-deadening.