First Drive: Fiat Ducato facelift

Date: Wednesday, July 02, 2014   |   Author: James Dallas

Fiat Professional launched the sixth generation of its Ducato heavy van by declaring it the most important model in its line-up.

The Ducato is hugely successful in Europe, where it holds a 19% market share, and is also the dominant player in the motorhome sector.

But in the UK it lags behind with a segment share of around 4%. Last year it was not one of the five most popular large vans and nor was it one of the 25 top-selling LCVs overall.

Fiat Professional’s UK boss Sebastiano Fedrigo puts it succinctly: “We have lots of potential for growth in the UK,” he says of the Ducato.

He believes the increased alignment of the Fiat Professional retail network with DAF and Iveco HGV dealers that can easily accommodate large vans and offer extended opening hours as well as speedy parts deliveries will make the Ducato a more viable proposition for fleet customers.

The brand’s network has not always enjoyed the best of reputations but Fedrigo vows: “We are taking out the dealers whose service is not good.”

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, an advantage, according to Fedrigo.

“The second generation Multijet is best in class for fuel and CO2,” he claims.

Emissions for the entry-level 2.3 MultiJet II 110hp are put at 170g/km with combined cycle fuel economy of 44.1mpg. 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. The heavy-duty, 3.0 MultiJet Power 180, with 180hp and 400Nm of torque, has official CO2 emissions of 203g/km and returns 36.7 mpg on the combined cycle.

By way of comparison PSA quotes 42.8mpg and CO2 of 175g/km for its greenest engine, the 130hp unit with stop/start.

All Ducato models are equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, like the PSA vans, while the Comfortmatic automated-manual transmission is available on all but the entry-level 2.3-litre unit as an option for £1300, all prices here exclude VAT.

Luca Marengo, Fiat Professional’s product planner, says the brand focussed on three areas when developing the new Ducato: durability and reliability; efficiency and low running costs and high levels of technology.

In terms of design, the buzzword is very much evolution rather than revolution, according to chief designer Alesandro Silva, with the van not looking dramatically different to the previous generation 2006 vintage despite its new nose.

This incorporates new headlights with daytime running lights, which are LED on Tecnico models but not in Standard trim where they are a £250 option and a new grille design, which comes in chrome or black and resembles “a spartan helmet”, according to Silva.

Chunky front bumpers enhance the muscular look Fiat is aiming for. These are comprised of four sections, which should help to keep down costs by allowing repairs to be carried out on damaged portions only. Other measures intended to reduce maintenance and repair bills include headlamps located on sliding guides and a new single-piece bonnet that does away with separate plastic panels to offer better access to the engine compartment, says Fiat. The brand also claims the 2014 Ducato offers aerodynamic efficiency more comparable to a  mid-sized saloon rather than a commercial vehicle.

Other new features include an optional skid plate in black or aluminium, body-coloured bumpers and painted door handles and new wheel trims and alloy wheel designs. At the rear there are new light clusters with double side lights and Pulse Width Modulation Technology to extend lamp life.

Inside the cab the manufacturer has adopted the Techno dashboard specification as standard on all UK models.

The Ducato panel van comes in four lengths and with three roof heights. We tested the 2.3-litre 130hp engine that is forecast to be the UK’s best seller in the medium wheelbase, high-roofed Ducato 35 MH2 Multijet with Start & Stop and in Tecnico trim, the higher of two available specifications, which comes with a £1650 premium over base versions.

The model has the six speed manual gearbox that comes as standard across the line up.

It boasts a meaty payload capacity of 1575kg - we had approximately half a load on board, weighing 800kg, which Fiat reckons is about what most operators would carry much of the time. Load volume is a pretty generous 11.5m3. This matches the load capacity of the 330 L3H2 derivative of the new 2.0-tonne Transit but the Ford van’s payload is a more modest 1282kg.

The official fuel consumption for this version is put at 41.5mpg with CO2 emissions calculated to be 177g/km. Fiat claims to have cut fuel consumption by 10% across the range compared to previous generation models. The brand also says it has installed more robust components into the new van, tougher door hinges, for example, and new brake discs and pads that reduce the force required when braking by 45%. Another innovation is the new slave cylinder for the clutch, which Marengo says reduces the gear ratio thereby lessoning the need to rev the engine hard.

Fiat made ESC standard on the Ducato towards the end of the last generation’s lifecycle and on the new van the safety technology brings with it standard features such as roll over mitigation, load adaptive control and anti-slip technology.

The environment in the cabin feels spacious and classy, if not quite a match for the standards achieved by Mercedes’ Sprinter and the new Ford Transit. There is plenty of room for both driver and passengers and, although we only had two on board, the middle seat is large enough to ensure the cab could accommodate three in comfort.

The middle seat back folds down to reveal a work surface as well as a small and a large cup holder, depending on whether your preference is for an espresso or an americano or a good old builder’s tea.

There was no overhead shelf in our van, one can be added for £40, but otherwise storage space was ample, with two compartments in each door – 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.

A good touch is that the gear lever is integrated neatly into the dash making it easy to move from one side of the cabin to the other.

Multi-adjustable seats and a steering column that rises at a steep angle and can be adjusted for reach facilitate finding the best driving position.

Out on the road the Ducato is impressive. The gear change is slick and precise – taking the strain out of urban driving and enhancing the handling on the winding Alpine routes we tested the van on. The steering is steady and instils confidence by reliably making the van go exactly where you intend it to and cornering stability on the vehicle tested here was boosted by Auto Levelling Suspension – a £1350 addition. On long motorway stretches progress is serene (helped in Tecnico trim by the inclusion of cruise control, which is otherwise an option for £160) and quiet – a full bulkhead means cabin occupants are not perturbed by any rattles or squeaks coming from the load box.

Bluetooth and MP3 playback is standard across the range while Tecnico models also get a five-inch colour touchscreen with a reversing camera, satnav and DAB radio.

The presence of ESP on the Ducato makes Fiat’s Traction+ with Hill Descent Control a worthwhile option. For a reasonable £75 it ensures greater traction on poor grip surfaces such as snow and mud. It is one reason why the manufacturer has not been tempted to revise the AWD system it briefly introduced to the Ducato range in the 1990s but to stick with an exclusively front-wheel drive line-up.

 

Verdict

Good engines, enhanced quality and impressive load carrying capability should help the Ducato finally punch its weight in the heavy van sector.

 



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