Fiat’s Ducato has the model to fit all size requirements
It was back in the October issue of Delivery that road test editor Dave Whyte piloted the current 2014 version of the Ducato around the city streets of Melbourne, refreshing his memory on the features and benefits of this front-wheel-drive range of large vans. Now, with an upgrade and some detail changes for 2015 we once again review what the Ducato has to offer Australian business and how the Fiat Professional network has responded to market demand.
The major differences taking place for 2015 include the addition of a short-wheelbase version to join the medium, long and extra-long-body van variants and the cab/chassis option.
Calling the 2015 Ducato the “new Ducato” is more advertising puffery than realistic comment, but, nonetheless, the range is appealing and it easily stands comparison to other competitors such as the Ford Transit, Renault Master and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. Both Renault and Mercedes-Benz are fighting hard in this segment for increased sales, while Ford seems to be intent on ignoring the potential of the latest Transit, despite the fact that it genuinely can be called “all-new”.
Under the Ducato hood is a 3.0-litre, four-cylinder, common-rail diesel with a variable geometry turbocharger supplied by Fiat Powertrain Division. With 130 kW at 3,500 rpm and a peak torque output of 400 Nm rated at 1,400 rpm it’s well up to the mark and showed its potential during a brief evaluation at a pre-launch event where all models were loaded with 1,000 kg payload.
It’s a gutsy engine but also manages to be extremely frugal when it comes to fuel consumption, returning a combined figure of 7.7 l/100 km. The transmission choice is for a six-speed manual gearbox as standard on short and medium-wheelbase version, plus an optional six-speed AMT (Automated Manual) called Comfort-Matic. Those choosing the long and extra-long-wheelbase models get the Comfort-Matic as standard. All versions feature extended service intervals of 48,000 km. As yet, there’s no fixed price service cost in place, but according to a Fiat spokesperson that is currently under review.
As we so often state, Delivery’s view is that in light commercials an AMT often appears clunky and slow to respond, especially if the driver is used to full fluid automatics with a torque converter. Delivery’s recommendation here is to stay with the manual gearbox. The shift quality is good and it gets the best performance out of the engine. That said, statistics show that the AMT does return better fuel economy by up to five percent.
Fiat has opted to maintain the inclusion of a full-width and full-height bulkhead in all variants, and this in itself ensures that road noise is not transmitted into the driver’s cabin. Because the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC)) only has to control a smaller area because of the bulkhead, the cabin is better heated and cooled, especially in some of our recent summer days where the mercury has headed above 40 degrees Celsius.
Passenger space across the cabin enables the fitment of a twin-passenger seat as standard, with the centre seat converting into a work table for the driver. Bluetooth connectivity and MP3 playback is standard and the five-inch colour screen is touch sensitive. It can also connect to an optional rear-vision camera.
The Europeans are very focused on safety and it’s here that the current crop of light commercials has it hands-down over the light truck brigade. Ducato doesn’t have the crosswind assist system of Mercedes-Benz, but it does offer two SRS airbags to protect the driver and passenger, reversing sensors, electronic stability control with rollover mitigation, load and centre of gravity detection and hill holder, all as part of the standard spec. Add a little more to the order form and you can include traction control and hill decent control and the reverse warning camera.
There is a change to the frontal styling that sharpens the look and adds LED daytime running lamps. Fiat has continued its three-piece split front-end construction that enables damaged panels to be separated and replaced without having to shell out for an entire new front end.
The cabin interior provides a well thought out storage system that includes lockers large enough to hold a laptop and keep it out of sight from prying eyes. There’s also a clipboard for notes and plenty of stowage for drink bottles etc. Cruise control is standard and many of the fingertip controls are steering-wheel based. The spare wheel is also full sized.
It’s no longer surprising that many of the features once found on upper level prestige cars are finding their way into the light commercial market. With drivers spending all their working day at the wheel in many occupations, a close inspection of the options list shows a buyer can include lane departure warning system, rain sensing wipers, dusk sensing lights and high-beam recognition that dips from high to low beam automatically at the approach of another vehicle.
Before buying a light commercial, a prospective customer now has so much choice available in terms of cargo volume, payload and even roof height that it definitely will pay to spend time evaluating the intended use of the vehicle. Picking the right shape and payload will make it easier to use, and if you don’t need a high roof there will be a return in the reduced fuel consumption by having a lower frontal area.
Interestingly, Fiat claims that the aerodynamic efficiency of the latest Ducato actually matches that of a Maserati. Delivery might remain slightly sceptical over that suggestion, but we have to admit that with the windows open there is very little wind noise, suggesting that airflow around the front end is very well managed.
It’s up to the buyer to choose between a cargo volume that ranges from 8 cu.m to 18 cu.m and a payload potential that climbs from 1,480 kg to 2,100 kg. The overall van length varies from 4.9 m to 6.4 m and the internal height from floor to roof ranges from 1.66 m to 1.9 m. Remember though that none of these can comfortably slip under the roof of the average underground car park. If you spend your life hiding your van under Woolworths then you would be better off from a Fiat perspective looking at the mid-range Scudo.
Because of the full-width and full-height bulkhead, Delivery recommends choosing the sliding side-door option for both sides, as there’s no access from the cabin directly to the interior. The width between wheelarches in the cargo area is over 1.4 m, enabling a pallet to be easily slotted in by a fork lift with extended tines, and thanks to there not being a drive shaft to the rear axle the load height of the floor can be kept to a low 535 mm. We particularly liked the large fuel tank capacity that is standardised at 125 litres.
Delivery will be evaluating all the different sizes and models of the Ducato in coming weeks, so stand by for a full on-road evaluation through 2015. Check our specification charts for all the new pricing.