The New Generation FIAT Ducato – Sixth and the best
The sun shone in Italy as Europe’s motoring press gathered at the Balocco Proving Ground in Piedmont for the launch of the new Fiat Ducato
This is the sixth generation of the popular light commercial vehicle which has attracted over 22m customers since 1981
The New Ducato has some significant changes to the previous model, following a five year investment programme and 10.5million km of testing. Allesandro Silva, Head of the FIAT Professional Design Centre, explained the concept behind the new vehicle. ‘We wanted to keep the look and spirit of the Ducato and preserve its charisma and strong characteristics whilst making it memorable, more beautiful, not square,’ he said.
The revamped model has a more car-like feel. It is more aerodynamic, with Cx values closer to a mid-size saloon than a commercial vehicle. The wider front grill, available in chrome or black finish, improves the aesthetics. Raised DRL (Daytime Running Lights) headlamps are fitted with optional LEDs and have been made easier to access, as has the multi-part bumper, which further helps to reduce repair costs. A new bonnet, skid plate and alloy wheels complete the revised exterior style.
Luca Marengo, Product Planning Manager at Fiat Professional, explained the three key elements they had focused on; Durability and Robustness, Efficiency and Low running costs and High-tech Content.
Fiat claim that thanks to the specific reinforcements and improvements on the body and the doors, which included hinges, sliding rollers, stops and door seals, durability is up by 50%. The new braking system reduces wear and noise whilst increasing lifespan and performance, due to improved pads and discs and a redesigned pedal. The upper pillar and seals on the front suspension have also been altered to prevent water infiltration and the durability of the clutch and suspension have also been improved.
A number of improvements and features are in place to help reduce running costs and fuel consumption. The New Ducato is fitted with a MultiJet II Euro 5+ engine, with a new Euro6 unit scheduled for 2015 and is available in 2.0-litre, 2.3l and 3.0l options. (The 2.0l engine is only available in Europe).
The 2.0l and 2.3l engines have a low servicing frequency (every 48,000km), low fuel consumption and low CO2 emissions, as well as quiet running and reduced weight.
The 2.3l and 3.0l options also offer the Comfort-Matic robotised gearbox which adapts to different driving conditions offering improved driveability and fuel savings of up to 5%.
A Start-Stop system has been fitted to the 2.3l version. This automatically switches off the engine when traffic conditions require the vehicle to stop, whilst maintaining the operation of comfort and safety features. This is particularly beneficial in urban areas where fuel consumption can be reduced by up to 15% and harmful emissions can be further reduced. The device can be deactivated using the button on the dashboard.
Fuel consumption is said to be further reduced by the introduction of a gear shift indicator on all models and low rolling resistance tyres.
The new Ducato has a number of hi-tech features which improve comfort, safety and the driver experience. The comfort of the driver is something Fiat Professional takes seriously. Alessandro Silva explained that they wanted something more car like and ‘An excellent working place for the driver.’
More space has been created by repositioning the gear lever and the central console has been re-designed. It now incorporates a two-cup holder to accommodate two 0.75l bottles as well as space for storing various objects. It includes the USB port and aux-in socket for charging /playing equipment such as MP3 players and Smartphones. The Ducato also features a multifunctional, adjustable tablet holder suitable for all current devices as well as traditional notepads, something that is unique in this sector. Alternatively, a spacious glove compartment, large enough to hold a 15inch laptop can be requested.
The seats and steering wheel have several adjustment options. Climate conditions within the cabin can be controlled with a number of optional features which include manual or automatic air conditioning, climate control and independent heaters that operate even when the engine is switched off. Driver comfort is further increased with the addition of cruise control systems, speed limiters and reverse parking sensors.
A number of safety features have been added as standard. They include the ESC (Electronic Stability Control) system, which intervenes to control the vehicle’s behaviour in emergency conditions. It also features a new anti-roll system which reduces the risk of rollover; a gravity detection system which assess the vehicles load conditions in real time; hill holder for uphill starts, anti-slip and drive torque control systems and several electronic braking assistance systems.
Further driving aids can be fitted to the vehicle. Traction+ with Hill Descent Control is not available currently on any other vehicle in this class, Fiat claim. It provides greater traction even on slippery surfaces, such as snow or mud, without weighing down the vehicle and increasing running costs. The Hill Descent Control takes over on steep descents to keep the speed within a pre-set limit. The speed is controlled by the ESC system, which manages the brakes without the driver’s intervention. The New Ducato is also the only vehicle in its class currently to supply the Traffic Sign Recognition system. This identifies road signs such as speed limits and no overtaking and then displays them on the vehicle’s instrument panel.
The Lane Departure Warning system works differently to lane assist systems in that it doesn’t control the steering for you but activates an alarm when the vehicle crosses over the lane boundary. This can be deactivated by a switch on the central console. Another control system available is High Beam Recognition. This automatically adjusts the headlamp’s high beams based on the distance of the vehicles arriving from the opposite direction. Other features include, parking sensors and rear view camera, cruise control, speed limiter and TPMS – a tyre pressure monitoring system.
The driver and passenger experience is further enhanced with the infotainment system.
Radios are available with MP3 player and Bluetooth technology. In addition to conventional analogue, all radios are DAB compatible and have RDS, TA and PTY functions. For convenience, volume settings are retained from the point when the device was last switched off.
The Bluetooth system allows hands-free telephone management once the contacts have been added. The controls are conveniently located on the console, whilst the information is shown on the large display. As well as making and receiving calls, SMS messages can be read via text-to-speech technology, probably not an option you would want enabled whilst carrying passengers.
Uconnect is an exclusive system which includes a five inch colour touchscreen, reversing camera and built-in Tom Tom navigation system all as optional extras. The satellite navigation system uses digital birds-eye-view maps with progressive route guidance from Tom Tom’s IQ routes. For safe application, the system can operate using a voice activated system whereby the end destination can be entered hands-free by the use of voice commands.
The Test Drive
There were a large range of vehicles to choose from for test drives. Understandably, I choose two minibuses; driving the 2.3l 150 and the 3.0l 180 versions as well as traveling as a passenger in each. Three pre-set routes of 20 minutes, 1 hr 15 and just under 2 hours were available and the long and short routes were selected.
The 150 model had two front passenger seats and with the design of the new centre console restricting leg room considerably, the middle seat would have proved quite uncomfortable on a long journey. That said, the amount of storage available was considerable. It was a hot day and the air-conditioning certainly made for a more comfortable experience but as a passenger I found the bleeps from the lane departure system and the speed detector quite irritating for passengers and also an indication that the vehicle was being badly driven. The former can be deactivated which the driver chose to do on our second test.
Once behind the steering wheel the switch over from manual to automatic gearbox took a couple of attempts, something everyone appeared to struggle with. Thankfully the gear indicator proved very useful here. With the seats and steering wheel easily adjusted I was on my way.
The air suspended driver’s seat was incredibly comfortable which helped alleviate some of the stress of driving. Like any new vehicle you jump behind the wheel of, it takes a few miles to get the feel of it, where everything is and what is beeping at you. With all the technology, the vehicle almost drove itself and it was reassuring to feel the Hill Descent Control take over down a particularly steep and winding mountain pass.
The speed indicator also proved a useful tool, particularly for built up areas where it was surprising to realise how easy it was to misjudge your speed. This was helped by the fact that despite the bright sunlight, the instrument panel was easy to see. Of course, speed limiters are available but in this instance it was just one too many buttons to fiddle with. If I had been driving a right hand drive vehicle in England, I may well have checked a few more of the functions.
The Ducato handled well, was very easy to steer, thanks to the power assisted steering and was surprisingly quiet. Visibility from the front was excellent but slightly restricted over the left shoulder. However, the mirrors more than made up for this. The reversing sensors made parking easy, especially with the aid of the rear view cameras.
The Uconnect navigation system was simple to use but I felt it was positioned slightly too far over to the right, but again, these are all things that you soon get used to. It mattered because I was solely reliant on it, so it was a good test of its reliability, which was mostly accurate but seemed to miscount some roundabout junctions, resulting in a couple of off-piste moments.
For the true passenger experience, I opted to sit in the rear of the 180. It had nine seats which allowed for sufficient leg room. The middle seat in the row could be folded down to be used as a table and had a moulded cup holder and tray for this function. Access was easy with an automated step coming forward once the rear-door was opened and the seats were all fitted with three point seatbelts. The sliding rear windows automatically locked when closed, an excellent security feature and being tinted, they offered comfortable viewing.
There were several moulded pockets along the roof sides and a larger area above the cabin. None of these would have been big enough to house anything deeper than a conventional bag; certainly a camera bag and flight case wouldn’t fit. The cabin space would however be suitable for housing an air-conditioning unit and there was a parcel shelf behind the seats with space to store bigger luggage.
The cab layout to this vehicle was slightly different and only had one front passenger seat, alleviating the problem of the centre consol obstructing legroom, but there was little difference in the driving experience.
There are a number of configurations available and we were shown school buses, ambulances and vehicles fitted with rear lifts and wheelchair restraints.
Fiat Professional is aware of the options for conversion and has launched the new Fiat Professional for Converters programme. Members will have access to a dedicated website and can contact a team of specialists, available both to answer any technical enquiry and to provide advice for developing new products.
Both models that I test drove are available in the UK, in long and extra long body formats and are available to order now for delivery in July.
To find out more about the new Fiat Ducato and to arrange a test drive,
No doubt the first right hand drive conversions will not be long in appearing
New Ducato Maxi
- Special Window Van
- 4250kg GVW, LWB, Long Body, Medium Height
- 2.3 150 Multijet: £29,345 (Basic Price)
- 3.0 180 Multijet Power: £30,945
New Ducato Maxi
- Special Window Van
- 4250kg GVW, LWB, Extra-Long Body, Medium Height
- 2.3 150 Multijet: £30,245
- 3.0 180 Multijet Power: £31,845