Fiat has updated its large Ducato van for the 2015 model year.
Featuring an aggressive new face, designed to represent a Roman Gladiator's helmet, the new Ducato will continue Fiat Professional's fight for growth in the competitive light commercial market.
The new look Ducato sports (optional) LED running lights, a bigger bonnet with improved access to the engine, a larger grille for better cooling and an innovative three-piece bumper designed to reduce replacement/repair costs in the event of an accident.
The Ducato is the most powerful front-drive van in the segment, with a 130kW/400Nm 3.0-litre turbo diesel engine across the range, and claimed fuel economy as low as 7.7 L/100km.
All vans are available with either a six-speed manual or six-speed Comfort-Matic (robotised manual) gearbox. The Comfort-Matic also features a "Load Adaptive Control" function that essentially tells the van you have a heavy load in the back, so hold lower gears longer and engine brakes when going down hill.
Inside, the big Fiat's "mobile office" has a standard three-seat bench and a myriad of storage compartments to assist in getting the job done. All vans feature an integrated bulkhead that not only protects the passenger compartment from any errant loads, but also improves noise and heating/cooling efficiency for the occupants.
There is a standard five-inch touch screen that controls Bluetooth phone and audio, SMS reader and basic voice commands. The screen can also be connected to an optional reverse camera.
Safety touches abound, with all vans featuring front driver and passenger airbags, electronic stability control (ESC) with rollover mitigation (ROM) as standard. There is also a standard hill hold assist, rear parking sensors and optional lane departure warning function for further peace of mind.
The 2015 Fiat Ducato is available in three wheelbases, four lengths and two heights, in either a box-van or cab-chassis configuration.
The vans have a 535mm loading height and payload capacities ranging from 8,000L to 18,000L. All configurations feature twin-side doors and 180-degree folding rear barn doors and can accommodate cargo up to 2,110kg (in LWB variant).
Fiat Professional showcased the load bay size and access of the new Ducato by revealing an original Fiat 500 Abarth stored inside. The low-load height of the van was demonstrated as the little Cinquecento ably negotiated some basic loading ramps with ease.
We drove the medium wheelbase, low roof variant on an urban loop around Melbourne.
The cabin is comfy and airy and there are lots of storage compartments, including deep bottle holders and a dedicated phone holder (conveniently next to the USB plug) in the centre of the dash. The middle seat can also fold down into a handy desk (including a paper clip and some more cup holders).
There is a nifty drink chiller above the glove box, but the doors and covers on the storage compartments feel a bit cheap and have sub-par fitment.
Vision is great out front and the mirrors do an excellent job - each featuring a standard and wide-angle view, but rear vision is obscured by the cargo bulkhead, despite there being a little porthole window.
While the driver's seat can be adjusted for hight, angle and lumbar, the passenger and centre bench (combined) cannot be moved. The layout is spacious enough, particularly when two-up, but longer trips could require frequent stops and stretches for the passenger.
On the road, the Ducato (loaded for us with a one-tonne water tank ballast) feels light and is very easy to drive. We found the ride pleasant and quiet on smooth roads, but on even slightly undulating surfaces there was a noticeable longitudinal surge at speeds above 60km/h. This may have been due to our 'liquid' cargo sloshing around in its tank, but we're keen to take a better look at this when we have the Ducato in for a longer review.
Over larger imperfections and speed humps, the Ducato initially crashes when under compression then bounces on rebound - this was solidly amplified at speeds greater than 20km/h. Again we are keen to test this further in both loaded and unloaded configurations, but at this point can only suggest to approach speed humps with care.
The robotised manual gearbox can be driven smoothly if lifting off the throttle on changes and the 130 MultiJet engine moves the van swiftly enough to keep up with other commercial traffic.
Our urban-only test loop saw fuel economy just north of 10L/100km - expect that to improve with more sustained highway driving.
Prices start at $38,000 (plus on road costs) for the SWB low-roof van, making the Ducato the most affordable full-size van in its class.
Combined with a three-year / 200,000km warranty and 48,000km service intervals, the 2015 Fiat Ducato presents a stylish value proposition for those needing large cargo hauling capacity, albeit with a few rough edges.
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