What Car? says...
When the Fiat Ducato was launched, it very much slid under the radar. There was no fanfare and no gimmicks. It just arrived and began delivering. That’s part of the reason why the Ducato has become such a phenomenal success in the large van sector – not that you’ll notice many of them around, and that’s because it's most commonly used as a motorhome.
It’s also a shared product with the Peugeot Boxer and Citroën Relay. They, too, are popular in the motorhome sector, but it’s the Ducato that has stolen a march on its rivals. That’s not to say it doesn’t make a competent van too. A high payload capacity is, after all, one of the reasons why so many body builders use vans for motorhomes, the other being that, unlike the Peugeot and the Citroën, the Fiat comes with a choice of engines and power outputs.
Previously available with a choice of a 2.0, 2.3, and 3.0-litre engines, Fiat has long yo-yo-ed on the engine choices it offers customers. Today, the Ducato range is powered by only a 2.3-litre engine, covering 120bhp to 180bhp. Unlike previous Ducato engines, these all require AdBlue. Buyers also get the option of a nine-speed automatic gearbox which replaces the Comfort-Matic previously offered.
The Ducato is available in more than 10,000 different configurations, with four body lengths and three body heights. Sizes L1H1 to L3H2 constitute the regular vans, while a heavier-duty Ducato Maxis is available in L2H2 up to L4H3 sizes. There’s also the option of a Comfort-Matic automatic gearbox, available on all models except the entry-level engine.
As well as a panel van, the Ducato is available as a platform and chassis cab (used for those motorhome conversions), dropside, three-way tipper, crew van and minibus. The Ducato is available only with front-wheel drive.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The Fiat Ducato's single engine choice is at the very least simple. The range starts with a 120bhp engine producing 236lb of torque, and goes up in 20bhp increments. 140bhp units get 258lb ft, 160bhp engines have 280lb ft and the range-topping 180bhp unit has 295lb ft of torque.
There is, though, a twist in the tale as specifying the brand new nine-speed automatic gearbox adds a further 15lb ft of torque to the 160bhp model and an additional 37lb ft to the 180bhp.
For that reason we'd suggest the 180bhp engine with the automatic transmission is worth a look, as it gives you 332lb ft of torque. That's a lot of power even for a large van, but it can also pull from exceptionally low down in the rev range, helping significantly with towing or if the van is heavily laden.
The automatic gearbox is also sensational compared to the Comfort-Matic it replaces. The shifts are short and precise, so much so that you’ll barely notice the change or the dip in the engine revs. If the most powerful van isn’t to your taste or budget, the next model down as either an automatic or a manual would be our suggested purchase.
The Ducato drives particularly well and is a far more comfortable van than in previous generations. To say it has matured into a sophisticated working vehicle is not an understatement. The suspension is finely tuned to be both engaging to drive and comfortable and the steering is nicely weighted for a large van so that you’re not fighting it at every turn. It’s not in the same league as the Volkswagen Crafter, but it’s certainly knocking on the door of the Transits and Sprinters of this world.
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