Fiat Ducato Maxi Series II XLWB
Price Guide (recommended price before statutory & delivery charges): $45,990
Options fitted to test car (not included in above price): Nil
Crash rating: Not available
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 7.2 (7.4, AT)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 189 (195, AT)
Also consider: Mercedes-Benz Sprinter ELWB (from $59,190); Renault Master X62 (from $43,990); Volkswagen Crafter 50 (from $56,450)
Big white vans are usually viewed as one of those things you just seem to end up driving. There is, however, quite a lot more to it.
Warranty, fuel consumption, servicing costs, resale values, and suitability for the commissioned task are all key considerations for these dutiful workhorses – and all considerations way beyond the information gleaned from my thirty-minute drive around Melbourne’s outer northern suburbs.
But nonetheless my stint at the wheel did garner some valuable, and indeed impressive, intelligence on the vehicle’s unladen dynamics, interior amenity levels and ergonomic considerations that are, to the driver at least, as much a valued part of the driving experience as those earlier considerations are to the owner’s hip pocket.
Steeping up into the cabin of the Ducato, it’s immediately evident that the model is generationally ahead of the smaller Scudo van tested earlier. The architecture of the dashboard, larger switchgear, concise instrumentation and two-tone décor make a pleasant change from the monotone grey of the older Scudo.
A soft-textured hood lining and bulkhead (with sliding Perspex window) also help to make the cabin feel friendly and inviting – just the type of place you’d be happy to spend long hours at the wheel. They also assist in insulating the cabin from road noise.
Ergonomically, the Ducato makes a lot of sense – except in one key area: the reach-only adjustment of the steering column. Otherwise the relationship to the pedal box is spot on, and the view of the road ahead and to the side is commanding. Rearward vision is assisted by hefty wing mirrors with neat convex mirrors set lower that aid in reversing and when changing lanes.
There’s sufficient storage throughout and we really like the nifty (and lockable) lap-top compartment in the lower dash centre. It is a shame then the model only offers one measly cup holder when all three seats are occupied which is placed, rather unwisely, right above a pair of 12V power outlets.
Seating is more comfortable than the Scudo we drove immediately prior but still offers enough support to ease the numbing aches that come from so many hours at the wheel. Also easy are the larger HVAC controls and steering wheel-mounted audio and Bluetooth functions that keep your eyes where they should be; it’s spoilt by the cruise control stalk which still sits on the side of the steering column and out of sight.
And it’s the cruise control that just could be the Ducato’s greatest asset. The direct-injected 2.3-litre Multijet II four-cylinder turbo diesel provides 109kW at 3600rpm and 350Nm from 1500rpm. It may not seem like a lot but without a payload on board, the Ducato was impressively quick from standstill, and during roll-on acceleration.
Climbing a particularly precipitous incline on the Bulla-Diggers Rest Rd behind Melbourne Airport, the Ducato pulled effortlessly from 2500rpm in fourth gear, easily accelerating beyond 80km/h. It was impressive, too, that the Ducato managed to retain its composure over the crumbling C road, a real credit to the vehicle’s ride/handling/load-lugging suspension compromise.
The Ducato is suspended by a MacPherson strut arrangement up front bolstered by track control arms and an anti-roll bar. Up back, the rigid dead axle hangs by a dual-leaf arrangement. Cornering is about what you’d expect from a van trying to deliver a ride to meet such a spread of expectations, but it is stable, and not easily phased by nasty mid-corner corrugations aimed at tripping up the high-riding hauler. Dare I say, it would be even more settled with a little weight on board.
We enjoyed the positive shifts through the handy six-speed transmission. The shifter is located close to the steering wheel and snicks cleanly through its gates to allow crisp control over six well-laced forward ratios. The clutch is suitably weighted and appositely tactile, no need to stretch and strain here.
The steering, too, is well assisted, bordering on light, but retains a positive on-centre feel when cruising the open road. It loads consistently through sharper turns though probably has a longer ratio through the rack than is completely necessary with power assistance. The light wheel is a bonus when manoeuvring, however, with tight U-turns and close-quarter parking achieved with very little worry.
Worry free too are convincing disc brakes (measuring 300mm up front and 280mm at the rear) controlled by a long travel, but well-modulated pedal. The brakes are assisted electronically with an anti-lock system featuring brake assist and brake-force distribution.
Three-point seatbelts are offered in all three seating positions and dual airbags (switchable on the passenger side) are offered. However, the Ducato is yet to be tested by EuroNCAP and, as such, does not have a ‘star’ rating. It also does not feature electronic stability control.
With a 90-litre fuel tank and a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 7.2L/100km the Ducato has a theoretical cruising range of 1250km. We dare say this will decrease when hauling up to 1914kg of payload, or towing up to a rated 2500kg (braked). The extra-long wheelbase Ducato on test offered as much as 15 cubic metres of cargo space (4070mm long, 1870mm wide, 1932mm high and 1422mm between the arches). The electronically-lockable rear is accessed by 270-degree opening barn doors aft, and a kerbside sliding door.
The Ducato range sees a competitive mix of roof heights, chassis configurations and transmissions sure to keep Fiat on par with its immediate rivals (see top of page). Pricing and equipment, too, is comparable to most in this class with the model on test retailing for a reasonable $45,990.
Without a payload to speak of, or competitors to compare, the Ducato test drive here stands in isolation. But what it does prove is how thoroughly modern and easy to drive these hard working vehicles have become, offering a brief but valuable insight into the rigours of working at the wheel.
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