Professional Builder tries out the latest update of the Fiat Ducato.
A great big chunky cargo carrier is not the sort of image one usually associates with traditional Italian flair and design, but they clearly have a keen eye for practicalities, because, when it comes to panel vans, the super economic and reliable Ducato has achieved iconic status on home soil. It’s been Fiat’s commercial flagship offering for more than 35 years and a new update is always greeted with much anticipation and fanfare in Italy’s automotive capital. Last facelifted in 2014, this latest offering is part of what the company calls the MY20 project, although it’s fair to say that the Ducato still isn’t the most modern looking amongst some particularly strong, relatively handsome competition in the large van segment.
What is does have, however, is tremendous versatility, with very high payloads, impressive on paper fuel economy, an extremely space efficient load area and a huge number of build variants to choose from, so, in good old fashioned workhorse terms, it is always worthy of consideration.
Visually there is little difference – some titanium coloured trimmings and black headlight surrounds the most notable – but, significantly, the new Ducato benefits from the move to an all 2.3litre engine line up, each one equipped with variable geometry turbo charger and compliant with the latest Euro 6d-TEMP emissions regulations. Those familiar with the not altogether satisfactory changing action of the previous Comfort-Matic gearbox will also be pleased to see the introduction of a more efficient nine speed auto option. There’s plenty of power and torque on offer, but the ride is at best firm, and the ageing seat design would, one suspects, provide only a modicum of comfort on a longer drive than our test run at the foothills of the year round snowcapped Alps.
Inside, the dashboard and control layout remains largely the same, with plenty of storage space and a useful fold down centre back section, which doubles as a mobile desk. There is an improved infotainment system on offer, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for the first time, and a full range of driver assist facilities, including blind spot assist, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and full brake control, which can automatically identify obstacles and apply the brakes, should the vehicle be in danger of a collision. All vehicles come with a standard Eco Pack, which includes the start and stop system, the smart alternator, electronically controlled fuel pump, which guarantees energy savings, and greater combustion efficiency – all aids to total cost of ownership.
While the new Ducato is only available in front wheel drive, it still offers potential customers a huge amount of choice, with over 1,000 body length, roof height and wheelbase variants across panel vans, window vans, chassis cabs, truck bodies and conversion platforms, around 10,000 options in total. Particularly advantageous for conversions is that all of the powertrain elements are confined within the dimensions of the cab.
Approaching its fortieth birthday and, despite the welcome changes, the Ducato is clearly beginning to feel its age, but life could be about to begin all over again in 2020 when it will become the company’s first ever all electric van. And with it comes the promise of performance criteria that Fiat believe will transform the old workhorse into a bona fide thoroughbred.