What Car? says...
When many people think of Fiat, their minds probably jump to small, fashionable Italian cars like the 500. It’ll escape many that the same company builds a big van in the shape of the Fiat Ducato.
Little do those people know that the Ducato is actually one of the most popular and vans in Europe and has been the dark horse of the large van sector since its last major update in the middle part of the previous decade. In the UK it should be thought of as an alternative to the more familiar Ford Transit and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter; it offers just as much choice, but is better value by dint of carrying more standard equipment.
The Ducato has always shared its platform with the Citroën Relay and Peugeot Boxer, known in Europe as the Sevel vans after the factory in which all three models are made. Now that Fiat, Citroën and Peugeot are all one big, united family under the Stellantis umbrella, there’s a real opportunity for these big vans to forge their own identity and footing in the market but in many ways, the Fiat Ducato has been doing that all by itself. In the past, Fiat has regularly given the Ducato a different engine or alternative gearbox option to its siblings, and by being a little different it has found itself a niche as Europe’s most popular donor vehicle for motorhome conversions.
However, while the needs and demands of a van driver are very different to a holidaying motorhome owner, the fact that the Ducato overlaps the two makes it all the better; it’s a comfortable van, packed with technology (Fiat proclaims it to be the first Level 2 autonomous commercial vehicle – that’s to say it has an Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) that allows the van to steer itself and regulate its speed) and it has a wide range of engines, body sizes and body types for buyers to choose from.
Whether you’re after a panel van, or chassis cab, double cab or tipper truck, there’s a Ducato in the range, with three wheelbase options giving four different lengths and three roof height options.
We’re going to tell you what the latest Ducato is like to drive and work with. Keep reading to find out if this versatile Italian is right for you.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
In the past, the Fiat Ducato’s engine options differed from those offered in the otherwise similar Citroën Relay and Peugeot Boxer, and this made the Ducato stand out. Times have changed, though, and it is now a shared group engine that finds its way under the bonnet. It’s no disaster, though, because the 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine that Fiat calls Multijet 3 is an economical performer and comes with a range of power ratings.
Fiat calls its engine line-up 120 HP, 140 HP, 160 HP and 180 HP which is a close approximation of the power each produces – the actual figures are 119bhp, 140bhp, 157bhp and 174bhp. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a nine-speed automatic optional on all models except the least powerful engine.
So far, we’ve driven the Ducato in 160 form with the 9-speed automatic gearbox, which changes gear quickly and smoothly and assures that the appropriate gear is always engaged. This combination proved well matched, with plenty of power.
The Ducato’s steering is direct and nicely weighted so you know you’re driving a large van but you don’t feel like you’re having to exert much effort. Like many large vans the ride is a bit unsettled at the rear (unless you’re carrying a decent amount of weight), but is on the whole one of the most comfortable in the sector. It’s far better than the Renault Master and on a par with the class-leading Ford Transit.
The ADAS assistance system enables the Ducato to gently control its own steering as well as apply the brakes or increase speed, but as with any other driver assistance system, it is just that – the driver must still concentrate on the road.
Being well-insulated from engine and road noise helps the Ducato to be comfy on long trips; this is undoubtedly a factor that has helped win it many admirers in the leisure vehicle sector as a basis for motorhome conversions.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Sit behind the wheel of the Fiat Ducato and the seats might feel rather firm at first, but they prove to be pleasingly supportive. The central seat has a fold-down workbench that’s designed to make working with a laptop or tablet easily and can be swivelled towards the driver for more comfort.
The real eye-catcher is the Ducato’s U Connect infotainment system which is available with a screen of up to 10in. Navigation, wireless smartphone mirroring and “Hey Fiat” voice command are all controlled through the new system which is also offered with smaller 7.0in and 5.0in screens. The system isn’t perfect, though; we found it prone to crashing and the voice command didn’t always work efficiently.
The overall quality of the interior is easily on a par with the competition; it looks smart and compares well with that of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. And while there’s quite an expanse of fairly bland plastic on the passenger side and above the dash, the most prominent areas are treated to attractive flashes of piano-black and chrome trim and different textures of plastic.
You can replace the standard analogue dials with an optional 7.0in digital dashboard display, which is easy to read in all conditions. A welcome standard feature is the digital centre mirror, which provides a view behind the van even when a solid fixed bulkhead is fitted.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
As a large van, the Ducato is not short of space either in the front, between the driver and passengers, or in its rear loadspace. From the driver’s perspective, there’s plenty of room with a good deal of seat travel and room around your knees.
Interior storage is particularly good in the Ducato, with a low tray at the foot of the centre dash console, above-dash storage, deep tiered door pockets (deep enough for a large water bottle) and a dedicated area for phones, with wireless charging.
Panel vans come in either a short (3m), medium (3.45m) or long (4.035m) wheelbase with a 4963mm body on the short, 5413mm on the medium and the option of a 5998mm or 6363mm body on the large wheelbase. These give internal loading measurements of 2670mm, 3120mm, 3705mm and 4070mm, respectively.
Width across the load area is 1870mm, while the internal height ranges from 2254mm for the standard roof, 2524mm for the high roof and 2764 for the superhigh roof. Load volumes range from 8m3 to 17m3. Payloads range from 905kg to 1550kg for 3.5-tonner vans, however, the Ducato is available at higher gross vehicle weights of up to 4.25-tonnes where a maximum of 2200kg can be carried. LED load area lighting is fitted (with infrared sensors).
While the dimensions of the Ducato are pretty much standard in the large van sector, the Ducato’s impressive carrying capacity stands out; along with its Citroën Relay, Peugeot Boxer and Vauxhall Movano siblings, it leads the class for payload.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Traditionally, the Fiat Ducato has been one of the more affordable large vans, but when you pile on the options it becomes pretty pricey; high-spec vans are up with the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Volkswagen Crafter in terms of purchase price.
On top of the standard base specification there are three “Packs” available: Tecnico, Tecnico Plus and Business Edition. Technico upgrades the infotainment screen from 5.0in to 7.0in and adds electric mirrors, Bluetooth and wireless phone charging. Tecnico Plus pack adds automatic climate control, while Business Edition upgrades the U Connect screen to 10in and adds navigation and a digital instrument cluster – rather than standard dials. This last pack is pricey, but we reckon the extra comfort and convenience that Business Edition brings makes it worth considering.
The Ducato also has a pretty long list of safety assistance systems, including Crosswind Assist, Trailer Stability Control and Active Park Assist for parallel and perpendicular parking. Plus there are those autonomous driving abilities; Adaptive Cruise Control with a Stop&Go function as well as Lane Keep Assist and Traffic Jam Assist, as well as Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) that can detect unexpected obstacles such as pedestrians and cyclists. Road sign recognition and driver attentiveness monitoring are also provided. This comprehensive suite of kit saw the latest Ducato jump from the bottom of the pack to be among the most advanced large vans on the market when it comes to safety.
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About the author
George Barrow is one of the leading van and truck reviewers, and is the UK’s only representative on the prestigious International Van of the Year jury. He has written about vans and commercial vehicles for the past 15 years, and can be found in titles including The Sun and What Van?, alongside What Car?.
Barrow is well regarded in the commercial vehicle industry, securing access to the latest models – and the people who made them – long before other titles.
The latest version of the Fiat Ducato was launched in 2021 and has a much better reputation for reliability than its predecessors, especially when linked to the 2.2-litre diesel engine. Older versions could suffer engine and gearbox issues that were extremely costly to fix. Read the latest Fiat Ducato van review.
The Fiat Ducato has a warranty of up to five years/125,000 miles - but do check the paperwork as this is only available on later top-trim models; lesser versions have to make do with three-year/100,000 mile coverage. Even then, a well-maintained version of the Fiat Ducato can be reliable well beyond 125,000 miles. Read our Fiat Ducato verdict.
The Fiat E-Ducato has an official range of 174 miles in mixed driving conditions, although that’s dependent on load, driving style and weather conditions, so we’d suggest that 130-150 miles is more realistic in everyday use. Read our Fiat E-Ducato review.
Most warranties extended to at least 100,000 miles, and some beyond that, while anecdotal evidence suggests a well-maintained diesel should be reliable for upwards of 200,000 miles. However, they key to longevity is regular and thorough servicing, so always check a vehicle’s history before purchasing it.