2014 FIAT DUCATO REVIEW
What’s Hot: Endless pulling power, enormous load area
What’s Not: Still no cupholders, jerky transmission
X-FACTOR: Sizable, secure and affordable, Euro box-vans are taking off. Fiat's Ducato 180 has the room and the power for any big job.
Vehicle Style: Large commercial van
Price: $40,000 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 130kW/400Nm 3.0 litre turbo diesel 4cyl | 6sp automated manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.0 l/100km | tested: 9.5 l/100km
Fiat’s gargantuan Ducato has a new engine - a gutsy 3.0 litre turbo diesel. And this engine, according to Fiat, makes it the most powerful four-cylinder load-lugger in its segment.
Though there are no changes to the bodywork, load area or cabin furnishings, the new model now comes with reversing sensors added to the list of standard equipment - a vital feature for a van of this size.
We unleashed our inner delivery driver and took it for a spin. As a cargo-carrier the Ducato has a many virtues, but now it’s got a whole lot more grunt to go with it.
- Individual driver’s seat, plus two-passenger bench
- Dual wing mirrors, power-adjustable
- Reach adjustable steering column
- Height adjustable driver’s seat
- Cruise control, Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, trip computer, USB audio input, power windows standard.
What’s new? At first glance, nothing. There’s the same independent driver’s seat and double passenger seats, the same upright driving position and still no useful cupholders.
But it is a nice place to be. It’s also relatively quiet thanks to the steel bulkhead that separates driver and passengers from the cargo compartment, and the view through the large front windows is fantastic.
The steering column only adjusts for reach and not rake, but with the Ducato’s bolt-upright seating position it’s not as uncomfortable as it sounds. The wheel is pretty much exactly where it needs to be anyway.
There’s also a bunch of large storage compartments around the cabin, as well as huge door-bins and an integrated clipboard on the fold-down centre armrest.
Bluetooth telephony and media streaming is also standard, and the Ducato is prepped for a plug-in sat-nav unit.
The load area of the medium-wheelbase, low-roof variant we tested (the entrypoint to the Ducato range), measures 3120mm long, by 1870mm wide, by 1662mm tall.
Being a front-driver, the lack of a rear-axle driveline means the Ducato’s floor is very low, and the 1422mm gap between the rear wheelarches means a pallet (or two) can be accommodated with room to spare.
Getting those pallets in will also be a cinch, with the rear barn-doors being able to fold almost 270 degrees to allow a forklift to drive right up. A driver’s side sliding-door is available as an option.
Cargo can be secured using the 14 beefy tie-down points.
All up, on offer in the MWB low-roof Ducato is 10 cubic-metres of cargo volume with a payload of up to 1612kg.
That’s about 300kg less than the LWB and XLWB variants, but a towing capacity of 2.5 tonne is the same for all Ducato models.
ON THE ROAD
- 130kW/400Nm 3.0 turbo diesel 4cyl | 6sp automated manual
- Front wheel drive.
- MacPherson strut front, leaf-sprung beam axle rear suspension
- Disc brakes, front and rear
- Hill start assist, reverse parking sensors
The big news here is the extra muscle from the Ducato’s upsized engine. For 2014, it’s grown from 2.3 litres to 3.0 litres, and now produces 130kW and 400Nm.
Peak torque also arrives lower and the torque band is wider, with all 400Nm on tap from 1400rpm to 3000rpm.
That endows the Ducato with tremendous flexibility - and with no load aboard, a fair bit of speed. Though we didn’t have enough cargo to come close to the Ducato’s max payload, it barely flinched when weight was added.
The move to a larger engine doesn’t just add power, but Fiat says fuel economy also improves.
The factory claim for the Ducato 180 is 8.0 l/100km (down from the Ducato 150’s 9.6 l/100km), but we didn’t see any less than 9.5 l/100km on our urban/highway drive.
The single-clutch automated manual doesn’t seem to be as refined as the previous 108kW Ducato, and is a lot more abrupt in its clutch take-up than the previous model.
Upshifts in automatic mode are also long drawn-out affairs that interrupt the supply of power for a fraction of a second too long.
On the flipside, downshifts are perfectly rev-matched in a manner that would shame some so-called “performance” automatics.
We found ourselves driving around in manual mode more often than not, and subconsciously lifting the throttle on each shift to help speed it up.
If we’re going to go to such trouble we may as well be driving a proper three-pedal manual.
Why? Because backing up to loading docks would be infinitely easier. If there’s any kind of incline to be negotiated in reverse, the automatic gearbox doesn’t slip the clutch enough to creep smoothly.
The result is a jerky ride as you inch towards your target.
Thankfully the now-standard reversing sensors should help prevent the embarrassment of backing into things, but, again, a proper manual or a conventional torque-converter automatic would be preferable.
ANCAP rating: The Fiat Ducato has yet to be assessed by ANCAP.
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS and EBD are standard on the Ducato. Driver and passengers are protected by three-point seatbelts and dual front airbags, though side head airbags are a cost option.
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.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Ducato’s new motor gives it bragging rights as the most powerful four-cylinder large commercial van, but here are some other European cargo-carriers worth checking out:
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
For $40,000, the 2014 Ducato 180 provides a lot of cargo capacity for your spend - as well as the ability to haul it without breaking a sweat.
We’d like to see the automated manual gearbox replaced with a conventional torque-converter automatic though. The automated manual is not as user-friendly as a conventional auto.
Also, would it kill Fiat to add a proper cupholder or two?
But on balance, the updated Ducato is one of the better large vans out there. If you’ve got plenty of gear to move, the Ducato will get the job done.