2013 FIAT DUCATO REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Large commercial van
Price: $42,490 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 96kW/320Nm 2.3 turbo diesel, 6sp automated manual
Fuel Economy tested: 9.6 l/100km
Fiat’s Ducato has an appeal that extends beyond mere value and size. Of course, those two attributes are in abundance with the big Fiat, but there’s more to it than that.
It’s a nice thing to be in, for starters. The cabin is utilitarian, but not without its own flourishes of style and quality feel is good. It’s also crammed full of practical features.
And these features don’t come at the sacrifice of the Ducato’s reason for being: its load-carrying ability. In fact, when it comes to lugging big things, the Ducato excels.
Quality: Some may think quality is wasted on 'a work van', but not Fiat. The interior of the Ducato stands out for its quality materials and build, and it’s a very welcoming cabin as a result.
The plastics might be hard, but they’re rugged and their coarse texture actually feels pretty good. It’s the same story with the uncarpeted plastic floor-panels. Durability is the name of the game here.
All switchgear operates smoothly (though the ventilation controls could use a less-fiddly design), and the cloth upholstery feels hard-wearing.
Comfort: The seating position is excellent, offering an expansive view of the road ahead and to the sides.
The driver’s seat perches you up high and has plenty of adjustment to the squab height and tilt. However, as with most vans the seating position is very upright - like sitting at a piano.
There’s also no steering wheel reach-adjustment and not a lot of recline adjustment to the seat back (thanks to the steel bulkhead between cab and load area).
That bulkhead, though, greatly increases cabin comfort by cutting out noise from the cavernous back. It also improves the effectiveness of the air-con.
Aside from the driver, there’s room for two others. It can be a bit squeezy for two burly adults, but the middle passenger gets a roof-mounted grab handle and both seats are equipped with three-point seat belts.
But there’s one fatal flaw with the Ducato’s interior: where on earth do you put your drink?! For a car pitched squarely at working drivers, the absence of a proper cupholder is unforgiveable.
Equipment: At least Fiat makes up for the cupholder shortage by fitting the Ducato with a healthy list of standard equipment.
Sat-nav is standard and the dash-mounted plug-in Tom Tom unit is intuitive to use.
The enormous power-adjustable door mirrors have a dedicated ultra-convex mirror beneath the main mirror to help see kerbs and bollards when reversing, and the trip computer, cruise control are also handy features.
But given the sheer size of the Ducato, it’s a shame that there’s no rear-view camera or reverse-parking sensors on the options list.
Storage: The Ducato boasts 11.5 cubic metres (or 11,500 litres) of cargo space in medium wheelbase, mid-roof form, and with a height of 1930mm it’s more than tall enough for a 6-foot adult to walk around in.
Being front wheel drive, there’s ample room between the rear wheelarches. With 1442mm of clearance between the arches and 3120mm total length there’s enough space to slide a couple of Australian or ISO standard shipping pallets into the back of the Ducato.
A total of 14 tie-down points are fitted throughout the load area, the floor is relatively low and the rear barn doors fold back against the body to allow forklift loading of cargo.
As for other storage, the driver is well-served by the huge door-bins, overhead shelf, a large centre console bin (lockable and big enough for a laptop), a chilled dashtop box and numerous oddment trays that are dotted around the cabin.
There’s also a slide-out tray under the driver’s seat for muddy shoes, and the centre seatback folds down to reveal an integrated clipboard.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Daunted by driving something the size of the Ducato? Don’t be. It’s easy to see where each corner is (though getting used to reversing up to loading bays will take some practice) and the way it drives and steers is relatively carlike in comparison to some other large vans.
The Ducato’s 2.3 litre turbo diesel channels all of its 96kW and 320Nm to the front wheels via a six-speed manual or a six-speed automated MTA clutchless manual, and the power delivery is typical for a commercial diesel - strong down low but with lots of lag from the turbo.
If you keep the revs between 1800-2800rpm, you’ll find there's ample torque and effortless pulling power, even with a load on.
The MTA automatic tends to take its time with gearchanges and picks the wrong ratio every now and then. We found it best to use the sequential shifter to row through gears manually.
In this mode it’s almost like driving a manual - lift the throttle when changing gears, but don’t worry about pressing the non-existent clutch pedal.
Refinement: Vans aren’t known for their refinement, and the sound the Ducato’s diesel makes means it’s no exception to this.
However, the steel bulkhead does mean that it’s quieter in the cabin than most other big-box commercial vans.
Ride and Handling: A leaf-sprung solid rear axle doesn’t lend itself well to ride comfort or handling, but the Ducato does well enough considering its purpose.
With a moderate amount of weight in the back it is quite settled on road and the extra weight softens harsher bumps. It also offers good grip for a commercial 'box', even on the fast sweeping corners encountered on rural backroads.
The steering ratio is pretty high, but the Ducato has good on-centre feel and little slack in its steering system.
Braking: We didn’t get the opportunity to test the Ducato’s braking with a particularly heavy load in the back (at most, we were carrying just under 200kg in the back), but stopping performance is decent.
There’s minimal mushiness to the pedal, and the all-disc hardware pulls up smartly.
ANCAP rating: The Fiat Ducato has yet to be tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP.
Safety features: Standard safety equipment comprises stability control, traction control, ABS and EBD. It’s worth noting that stability control is only equipped on MTA-equipped Ducatos, not manuals.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: 5 years/300,000km
Service costs: Fiat is currently offering free servicing for the first three years or 72,000km of the Ducato’s life. Costs outside of this period may vary, so consult your local Fiat Professional dealer.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter MWB low roof auto ($59,690) - The dominant player in the large van segment is also one of the most expensive - at least in medium-wheelbase configuration.
But for your spend you get a grunt-laden 120kW/360Nm 2.1 litre turbo diesel four, as well as a proper seven-speed hydraulic automatic. It’s also substantially longer in wheelbase and overall length than the Ducato, and total payload is a very useful 2170 kilos. (see Sprinter reviews)
Volkswagen Crafter TDI 340 ($48,200) - The Crafter is positively gargantuan when it comes to length, measuring 5905mm against the Ducato’s 5413mm. However it lacks a mid-roof variant in the medium wheelbase variants, and its 9.0 cubic metre cargo capacity is well down on the Fiat.
It’s also a manual-only proposition. Though the 105kW/340Nm 2.0 twin turbo diesel is a strong motor, the absence of an auto may hurt its appeal to some buyers. (see Crafter reviews)
Renault Master MWB Mid Roof Quickshift ($46,490) - This variant of the Master comes closest to matching the Ducato’s configuration, with a medium wheelbase, mid-height roof, automated manual transmission and similar cargo bay dimensions.
Its engine has 11kW more power and 30Nm more torque than the Fiat, but there are two other crucial differences: payload, and price.
At 1624kg the Master’s payload is well down on the Ducato’s 2009kg, however both will tow 2500kg. Price is the big one though, with the Master being four grand more expensive. (see Master reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The lack of a side airbag - not to mention the absence of cupholders - count as debits against the Ducato, but Fiat’s big van shines in every other respect.
It’s a doddle to drive, easy to see out of, well-built and positively cavernous inside.
That it’s also one of the most affordable vans in its segment (one one with a very attractive warranty) strengthens its appeal.