Fiat Ducato sports a surprisingly stylish, contemporary face for a freight vehicle, complete with swept back headlight assemblies with the option of up-to-the-minute LED daytime running lights. It’s the sort of vehicle most delivery van drivers would be proud to park in their driveways.
In the safety department Ducato also scores high marks with standard electronic stability control (ESC) incorporating anti-lock brakes (ABS), anti-slip regulation (ASR), electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), load adaptive control (LAC), brake assist, roll-over mitigation (ROM) and hill holder.
Optionally available are Zone and Traction Packs, the former featuring lane departure warning system (LDWS) as well as rain and dusk sensors which automatically activate the wipers and headlights respectively when required.
The Traction Pack includes Traction+, an intuitive traction control that improves the vehicle’s power delivery to the ground in difficult terrain and slippery situations. This pack also includes all-season tyres and hill descent control which frees the driver from having to use the brake or accelerator during steep descents.
There is a range of 80 genuine Mopar accessories designed to enhance the appearance and functionality of Ducato vans. The list includes a full-size aluminium roof rack, folding aluminium ladder for access to the roof rack, loading roller to facilitate loading of long items onto the rack, rubber floor mats, side window weather shields, tyre valve caps featuring the Fiat logo and anti-theft wheel nuts.
Load ‘er up, Tony
The test unit loaned to us by East Coast Fiat Professional in Brisbane was the top-shelf XLWB MR which denotes extra-long wheelbase medium roof.
The next smaller variant is the LWB MR which actually shares the lengthy 4035mm wheelbase with its big brother, the difference being a shorter body length meaning less overhang behind the rear axle.
The XLWB boasts a cavernous 15m3 cargo volume and a payload capacity of just over two tonnes. It has overall length, width and height of 6363mm, 2050mm and 2522mm respectively. The load bay length, width and height are 4070mm, 1870mm and 1932mm respectively and there’s 1422mm between the wheel arches. Importantly, the load bay interior features lining up to the belt line to prevent unsightly dents from the inside on the outer body panels.
A distinct advantage of the front wheel drive layout is that the load deck is lower than that of rear wheel drive vans due to the absence of the diff and tailshaft. As such, the Ducato’s unladen floor height of 535mm is ideal for an average height person to load and unload items. This is an important work health and safety consideration for those doing multiple drop delivery runs.
At Diesel, when we test vehicles we try to load them close to their GVM in order to simulate real-world conditions. This test was no exception and the good folk at Matthei Timbers in Yatala provided a 1.5 tonne pallet of hardwood that was placed directly above the rear axle. Along with the necessary materials used to block the load from moving forward, this put the GVM at around 350kg below the allowable limit.
At this point it’s worth mentioning the plethora of load lashing points strategically located around the loading bay that kept the heavy load ultra-secure.
While large vans are not always used to carry such heavy loads, it was good to see how the Ducato handled it.
Pleased to say the answer is ‘remarkably well.’ The engine’s ample power and torque reserves were completely unfazed by the weight, as was the Comfort-matic transmission which sensed the load and adjusted shift points accordingly, in particular preventing premature upshifts on hills which would have unduly laboured the engine. On the other side of the coin, it automatically effected successive down-changes when decelerating to help slow the vehicle and avert the need for excessive service brake applications.
Also noticeable was the way the ESC assisted by LAC and ROM adjusted to a heavy load with a high centre of gravity at the rear of the vehicle. Indeed, the Ducato’s surefooted manner when accelerating, cornering and braking made it an enjoyable drive regardless of the weight it was carrying.