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.
Fiat’s own Multijet II diesel engine technology provides power across the range, with outputs from 115bhp to 177bhp. Previously available with a choice of two engines (a 2.3 and a 3.0), the Ducato now has a downsized 2.0-litre unit for the entry-level 115bhp option and a revised 2.3 with 130bhp, 150bhp or 177bhp outputs. The 150bhp engine is also available as an ultra-efficient EcoJet option that improves fuel economy to a claimed 47.9mpg.
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
Of the four power outputs, it’s hard to look past the most powerful Ducato, because with 177bhp and 295lb ft of torque, it’s one of the most powerful engines on the market.
Fiat is renowned for its excellent commercial vehicle engines, too, and the 2.3-litre unit is no exception. It is perhaps a little loud, but we’d put that down to insufficient sound deadening compared with rivals rather than it being a particularly noisy engine. If a load of power isn’t what you are after, the 150bhp 2.3 is almost as good, but we’d opt for the EcoJet version, which adds engine stop-start, an Eco function, smart alternator and power steering to make the most out of your fuel.
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.
If you need an automatic gearbox, the Comfort-Matic shifts smoothly but can be a bit slow pushing through the changes. It does, however, pair well with the higher-powered engines. We’d recommend the six-speed manual over the automatic option, though, for its nice short action and great positioning.