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Road Test Fiat Ducato

However, the Italian motoring giant is making its Australian comeback through its excellent commercial van range.

The Ducato comes in mid-roof and high-roof versions and the big-cube model is riding on the wave of popularity of these bigger vans, which include the Ford Transit and the Mercedes Sprinter.

Fiat sold 343 Ducato vans last year and has set a target of 600 this year. However, a slowing van market has stunted this ambitious mark. After four months, just 158 Ducatos were sold — but the sales are still better than 2004.

But it's only a fraction of the Fiat Ducato's European popularity. There were more than 20,000 Ducatos sold in Europe in April alone.

The first quarter of 2005 was the best-ever Ducato sales figure.

Fiat says the Italian, German,French and Spanish business operators are particularly attracted to the Ducato's engine.

"The good performances have been driven by the customer appeal of the models powered by Fiat's advanced JTD diesel range, that are appreciated by customers for the great performances and low fuel consumption," a spokesman says.

The Ducato offers a 2.8-litre turbocharged diesel engine that features common rail and has better fuel economy than petrol.

The front-wheel drive provides extra space at the back and there's 12 cubic metres of it.

With a GVM of 3510kg, this big boy crosses into the light-truck category, which, according to VFACTS, starts at 3500kg.

The Ducato can fit two pallets and be loaded either from the sliding side door or the back doors, which open 270 degrees.

The engine has 94Kw of power 300Nm of torque at 1800rpm.

The dashboard-mounted gear stick is placed for fast gear changing and it's interesting to see the new Fuso Canter has also adopted this driver-friendly design.

The cabin is very upmarket and the van comes with ABS brakes, dual airbags, airconditioning, power windows and mirrors and remote central locking.

This keyless entry is a bonus for busy delivery people who don't want to waste time fumbling around for keys 50 times a day.

The driver's window is brought up and down with just one touch.

What gives this bigger van the edge is the high seating, which offers excellent vision.

But forget about trying to find a park in Westfield — unless you want to turn your 2.4m-high van into a convertible.

Parking this big vehicle is easy in normal car parks as the 3700mm wheelbase fits neatly in a normal car parking spot. However, the high roof is attracting interest from camper manufacturers.