Fiat's largest van, the Ducato, ups its game in this much improved form. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
The Fiat Ducato. It's the company's largest van, the flagship of its commercial vehicle range since 1981 and, according to the Italian brand, the most important model in its LCV line-up. That's certainly the case in mainland Europe, where it's the best selling commercial vehicle of any kind, regardless of category, number one in terms of sales in twelve different countries. Here though, it's a less familiar sight than it should be on our roads, something Fiat set out to change when it launched this much improved 'X290'-series sixth generation version in 2014, a design enhanced first in 2020, then again in 2022 to create this much improved 'Series 8' model we're going to look at here. The fundamentals here are pretty familiar because they're shared with three other competing models in the large van segment, the Peugeot Boxer, the Citroen Relay and (latterly) the Vauxhall Movano. Fiat uses its own powerplants though and as part of the 'Series 8' update, gave the Ducato a bit more visual and technological sophistication to set this LCV apart, not only from its design cousins but also from other key segment rivals. The core reasons you might want one though, lie as before with the wide range of body styles and the affordable running costs, aided here by the introduction of a fresh Multijet 3 diesel powertrain and the option of a new 9-speed auto transmission. There's also a full-electric version too.
Fiat has established itself as a centre of excellence for diesel engine technology and the latest Euro6D MultiJet3 engines found under the bonnets of this improved Ducato reinforce that reputation. As usual in a van, diesel is the only combustion option, the whole range based around the same 2.3-litre Multijet engine, improved for efficiency, refinement and durability, developing either 120hp, 140hp, 160hp or 180hp and usually supplied with the 6-speed manual gearbox we're trying here. Providing you avoid the entry-level unit, optional with this revised 'Series 8' model is a new 'AT9' ZF 9-speed auto transmission with three driving modes - 'Normal', 'Eco' and 'Power'. That torque converter gearbox is far better than the previous rather jerky robotised auto. The only powertrain that this Fiat shares with its Peugeot, Citroen and Vauxhall Stellantis Group LCV design cousins is that used in the full-electric E-Ducato, which is offered with two battery sizes - 47kWh (which has a 120 mile range) or 79kWh (which has a 192 range). The 47kWh model gets to 30mph in under 6 seconds and has a top speed of 62mph. On the move, we've been impressed with the supple ride and relatively easy manoeuvrability of this 'Series 8' model: vans this big are rarely this easy to drive. A key change with this revised model is the redesigned electric power steering system, claimed to be more precise and manageable in all driving and load conditions, with a smaller steering wheel with a reduced turning circle.
The Ducato remains recognisable but a bit more contemporary-looking in this improved Series 8 form. The front now has a bolder look, featuring a smarter Fiat badge in its centre, flanked by re-styled three-section headlamp units which can now feature full-LED beams. The engine housing and the skid plates have also been redesigned. You may want optional front fog lamps too. As before, there are three vehicle heights and (with the diesel) five lengths available. And inside? Well this sixth generation Ducato design may be getting on for a decade old but it'll feel pretty current if you've got a spec including the two optional screens that Fiat's added into the cab of this 'Series 8' model. Even the standard instrument cluster with analogue dials separated by a 3.5-inch screen has been redesigned. We tried the alternative extra-cost Full Digital Cluster binnacle display which has a 7-inch TFT central colour display flanked by two side digital gauges. In the centre of the dash sits another optional screen if you don't stick with the standard 7-inch monitor, this one Fiat's latest 10-inch Uconnect screen. A third screen can optionally be built into the rear view mirror. The seats are better with this revised Ducato, with a more contemporary look, smarter padding and offering more space and comfort. You can't fault the cabin for stowage options either. There are two gloveboxes, with an open recess between them, plus there are three storage levels (and a bottle holder) in each of the restyled door cards. And you get lots of space beneath the two-person passenger bench, plus there's a cubby under the climate controls, with a cup holder to the left of it.
At the time of this test, Fiat Professional's ex-VAT figures for diesel models ranged in the £35,000 to £52,000 bracket, spread across three vehicle heights and five lengths. Obviously, the all-electric E-Ducato (only offered with three lengths) costs a lot more, the amount varying between the three choices customers will have in terms of height, length and wheelbase. Plus with this model, there are two trim levels - 'STD' and 'Primo' (or with the E-Ducato, 'STD' and 'e-Tecnico'). At the time of this test, ex-Vat E-Ducato pricing after deduction of the government's £5,000 Plug-in grant started from around £64,000 for the 47kWh model - or from around £79,000 for the 79kWh version. The Ducato can also be had in People Mover minibus or chassis cab forms, you can order basic cab or cowls formats, specify a Dropside Truck or go for a 1-way Tipper. If you want this panel van but need it to also carry people, there are Window Van and Crew Van versions. Or you could use this Fiat as a conversion base. Across the Ducato range, your Fiat Professional dealer will encourage you to look at three functional extra-cost Packs - 'Professional', 'Style' and 'Night Vision'. You might additionally want to add various optional autonomous driving ADAS features. A fresh set of connected services can transform the way you might be able to use this Ducato. 'Uconnect' Services and the FIAT app will make it possible to manage and monitor the vehicle directly from various devices.
The Ducato Panel Van can be had with three heights and in five different body lengths (or three lengths in E-Ducato form). These full-height twin rear doors open conventionally, but we'd want to specify the optional 270-degree feature which allows you to fold them back along the vehicle sides. Depending on variant, cargo capacity varies between 8 and 17m3. Gross Vehicle Weights range between 3,340 and 4,170kgs. Choose the E-Ducato and you'll find no practicality compromises with the under-floor battery installation. There's the usual sliding side door (with the option of another on the other side) and if you use it to swallow really heavy loads, you'll want to choose the right payload variant - there are Ducato payload options of up to 2.1-tonnes. As usual, we'd recommend that you add the ply-lining kit for the load area sides. The bulkhead's tough, but offers no load-through flap into the cab for longer items. Class-competitive efficiency figures are promised, with Panel Van CO2 emissions as low as 210g/km and a combined cycle fuel economy figure of up to 35.3mpg. Obviously, these figures will vary with body size and engine output, but you can improve them by adding in an extra cost 'Eco Pack'. The diesel unit has 30,000 mile service intervals to help lower service bills and reduce time the vehicle spends off the road for maintenance. As for the alternative full-electric E-Ducato, well we gave you that version's range figures in our 'Driving' section. The base 47kWh derivative and takes 2 hours 25 minutes to charge via AC or DC chargers. The bigger-battery 79kWh E-Ducato takes four hours to charge.
Pounding the streets of Naples or Palermo is about as tough an assignment as you could think to put a commercial vehicle through, but it's here that Fiat's Ducato has earned a loyal following. If it can put up with that sort of traffic, heat-cycling, and punishment from potholes, cobbles and other road users, British conditions aren't going to make it break a sweat. This improved 'Series 8' model builds on the toughness of its predecessor and adds a welcome layer of technical sophistication in both combustion and full-Electric forms. A wider range of derivatives give this vehicle one advantage over its Citroen, Peugeot and Vauxhall design stablemates, but a more significant differentiating factor lies with the MultiJet diesel engines that remain exclusive to this model, here usefully improved in more efficient Multijet3 form. You can see why Fiat doesn't want to share them. It's all indicative of the way that the Italian brand has clearly thought long and hard about what operators actually want. Take things like this improved model's media connectivity and autonomous driving tech for instance. As a result, if your business is in the market for a large van, it may very well be that you really need to go for an Italian.
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