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Fiat Ducato 2019 review: Long Wheel Base Mid Roof

Our test vehicle is the Ducato Long Wheelbase Mid-Roof, which is part of a local five-model range.

Daily driver score

3.3/5

Tradies score

4/5

Australia’s heavy commercial vehicle market has three segments - Light Duty, Medium Duty and Heavy Duty - based on GVM ratings. Light Duty (3501-8000kg GVM) is dominated by Isuzu’s versatile N-Series light truck range, which despite not offering a panel van variant commands almost 24 per cent of sales.

Its closest competitors are the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter (panel van and cab-chassis) and Hino 300 Series (cab-chassis/tipper/alloy or steel trays) which both have about 15 per cent of sales each.

So, these three manufacturers combined control more than 50 per cent of the Light Duty segment. Therefore, it stands to reason that brands offering a range of cab-chassis vehicles, which allow an almost limitless choice of bodies to bolt to the back of them, appeal to a wider buying group than those offering only panel vans in this weight division.

The lack of a cab-chassis variant could well be a factor in the relatively small Australian sales of the Fiat Ducato, which with only 5.0 per cent market share currently sits near the bottom of a long list of quality competitors. So, is this largely the result of not offering a cab-chassis variant, or are there others factors at work? We recently put a Ducato through its paces to find out.

Price and Features – Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Our test vehicle is the (Series 6) Ducato Long Wheelbase Mid-Roof, which is part of a local five-model range that also includes Short Wheelbase Low-Roof, Medium Wheelbase Low-Roof and Mid-Roof variants, plus an Extra Long Wheelbase Mid-Roof. All are powered by Fiat’s 2.3 litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine.

In standard specification with six-speed manual, our Long Wheelbase Mid-Roof retails at $46,990 but with the optional Comfort-matic (six-speed manual with automatic shift function) as fitted to our test vehicle, that price climbs to $49,890. Like apples and oranges, there’s no point in comparing these prices with cab-chassis class rivals, but the Ducato’s pricing is more than competitive with a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van equivalent.

As you’d expect, the standard equipment list has a no-frills work focus, including 16-inch steel wheels with 225/75 R16C Continental tyres and matching spare, height and reach adjustable steering wheel, manual air-con, rear parking sensors, cruise control, 5.0-inch touchscreen mulitmedia system with steering wheel controls, USB/AUX connectivity, CD player and Bluetooth, steel cabin bulkhead with sliding-glass partition, two-passenger bench seat with three-point centre seatbelt, rear barn doors with 270 degree-opening, multi-adjustable driver’s seat (including lumbar adjustment) and an electronic stability control menu optimised for load-hauling.

  • The rear barn doors have a 270 degree-opening. The rear barn doors have a 270 degree-opening.
  • The Ducato is fitted with 16-inch steel wheels. The Ducato is fitted with 16-inch steel wheels.
  • There's a full-size spare tyre. There's a full-size spare tyre.

Design – is there anything interesting about its design?

Our test vehicle features a 4035mm wheelbase, 5998mm overall length, 2522mm height and 2050mm width, with a 14.4 metre turning circle that’s identical to Sprinter. Its front-wheel drive chassis relies on a simple and rugged combination of MacPherson strut front suspension, leaf-spring beam axle rear (with flexible rubber cones to help support heavy loads) and four-wheel disc brakes. In addition to the wide-opening rear doors, generous cargo bay access is also available through a solid sliding door on the left-side.

Entry to the cabin is spacious as the large doors open almost 90 degrees. There are no grab handles on the A pillars but it’s still quite easy to climb aboard.

The dashboard layout is logical and easy to use and driver comfort is enhanced by plenty of steering wheel and seat adjustment plus an inboard fold-down armrest. However, the base cushion is a tad short for proper thigh support and can feel like you’re sliding off the front of it at times. A big angled left footrest would be most welcome here, just like the one that protrudes so prominently from the passenger floor, which is of course the driver’s floor in LHD models. It’s a shame this footrest doesn’t migrate to the right for RHD models.

The driver enjoys a commanding view thanks to a large windscreen and door windows, which provide clear eyelines to the large Kenworth-grade mirrors with their lower wide-angle lenses. By comparison, rear vision through the central mirror is compromised by the thick vertical join of the equal-width barn doors and the centre seat headrest. We would strongly recommend ticking the box for the optional rear-view camera.

Engine and transmission – What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The Ducato relies on a small but spirited 2.3 litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. It produces 130kW at 3500rpm and 400Nm of torque at a low 1500rpm, which highlights its flexible nature and load-lugging ability.

The six-speed ‘Comfort-matic’ (sounds like a 1950s American car ad) is a manual transmission which offers a choice of auto or manual driving modes. The manual option can prove handy when hauling and/or towing big loads, particularly in hilly country.

The 2.3-litre turbo-diesel engine makes 130kW/400Nm. The 2.3-litre turbo-diesel engine makes 130kW/400Nm.

To assist with engine braking, the transmission in auto mode starts downshifting with great enthusiasm when the brakes are applied on a steep descent. It also blips the throttle with each downshift to ensure smoothness. However, up-shifting is not so good (see Driving section).

Fuel consumption – How much fuel does it consume?

The dash read-out was showing a combined figure of 9.9 litres/100km at the end of our 344km test.  That wasn’t far off Fiat’s official figure of 8.9. However, our own number calculated from trip meter and fuel bowser readings was slightly higher at 10.8, so with its 90-litre tank you could expect a real-world driving range of more than 800km.

Practicality – How practical is the space inside?

The Ducato’s 2105kg tare weight and 4250kg GVM results in a sizeable two-tonne-plus payload of 2145kg. It’s also rated to tow up to 2500kg of braked trailer and with a GCM of 6750kg it can legally tow that weight without any reduction in payload. That’s a very practical equation for a multitude of working roles.

With its raised roof height, the huge cargo bay looks more like a warehouse inside. Its expansive 3750mm length, 1870mm width and 1932mm height allows even tall adults to stand without stooping and it can swallow a gargantuan 13 cubic metres of load volume (which is two cubic metres larger than Merc’s high-roof Sprinter).

With its raised roof height, the huge cargo bay looks more like a warehouse inside. With its raised roof height, the huge cargo bay looks more like a warehouse inside.

And with 1422mm between the rear wheel housings, it can also easily carry up to three standard 1165mm-square Aussie pallets, which can be loaded by forklift through the rear barn doors or the side sliding door thanks to its generous 1250mm opening.

There are 10 tie-down points at floor level, with another four at waist height. The lower internal walls are lined and there are two internal lights. There’s also a large full-width open storage area directly above the cab, which is useful for stashing away all kinds of gear.

The cabin also offers many useful storage and convenience options. There are two bins in each door, with the lower and larger one being deep enough to hold a large drink bottle if required. There’s also a small open storage pocket to the right of the steering column to keep smaller items like sunglasses, chewy etc within easy reach.

The cabin also offers many useful storage and convenience options. The cabin also offers many useful storage and convenience options.

The centre of the dash-pad incorporates a permanent clipboard with spring-loaded clip to secure paperwork, while just above floor height in the centre dash is a dual bottle/cup holder and small open storage pocket.

The passenger side has a lidded storage compartment also set into the dash-pad plus two open storage bins, a single glovebox and another bottle holder to the left of the touchscreen. And above the windscreen is a full-width map shelf.

There’s also plenty of open storage available beneath the driver and passenger seats and the centre seat’s backrest folds forward to reveal a small work desk with two cup holders, another spring-loaded clipboard and even a pen holder. It’s the office you have when you don’t have an office.

There are two bins in each door, with the lower and larger one being deep enough to hold a large drink bottle if required. There are two bins in each door, with the lower and larger one being deep enough to hold a large drink bottle if required.

What’s it like as a daily driver?

The ride quality when empty or with light loads is noticeably firm but acceptable, given its two-tonne-plus payload capacity. The brakes are effective and the steering responsive, even though it’s quite firm and linear in feel for a power-assisted system.

Its long wheelbase requires a later turn-in on tight corners to ensure you don’t clip the inside kerb but overall it’s easy to manoeuvre in city and suburban driving. However, the cluttered rear view through the central mirror makes reversing too much of a guessing game, even with the rear parking sensors. Really, for a solid-sided van of this size, a rear-view camera should be mandatory.

The torquey turbo-diesel engine has ample performance, but is hindered by the automatic transmission. With each up-shift there’s a long pause before the next gear engages, triggering a sharp drop in engine revs which feels like a light tap of the brakes each time. Compared to its Sprinter equivalent, which slides through up-shifts like a knife through butter in one seamless surge, the Ducato’s hesitancy between gears soon becomes annoying in city traffic and is a significant shortcoming. And it doesn’t improve with manual shifting either.

Even so, it’s a good highway cruiser thanks to the noise-cancelling effect of the cabin bulkhead combined with low tyre and engine noise. However, we did notice some wind buffeting around the large side mirrors. Fuel efficiency is maximised by an engine spinning at only 1800rpm at 100km/h and 2000rpm at 110km/h on the highway.

What’s it like for tradie use?

This is a massive cargo bay that would be just as effective as a fully-equipped workshop-on-wheels as it would for delivery work. We laughed at how it dwarfed the four 325kg concrete weights we use for GVM testing. Together with driver though, our combined payload was 'only' 1.4 tonnes (we ran out of blocks) which was still almost 750kg (or three quarters of a tonne) below its huge 2145kg payload rating.

In stop-start city traffic and suburban driving, the Ducato performed like this payload wasn’t there. In fact, the only major difference we noticed was that the ride quality improved as the big rear leaf springs finally had a chance to do what they’re designed to do.

With four 325kg concrete weights and driver on board our combined payload was still under the 2145kg rating.
With four 325kg concrete weights and driver on board our combined payload was still under the 2145kg rating.

It wasn’t as impressive when he headed for the hills and our 2.0km 13 per cent gradient set climb. Again, there was nothing wrong with the engine, which had ample torque to pull this payload. The problem, once again, was the auto transmission, which could not decide if it wanted to stay in third or fourth gear. It frantically hunted up and down between these two gears all the way to the top, even though there was no change in throttle position or gradient.

We also tested engine braking on the way down, in a manually-selected second gear, but such a small capacity engine could not be expected to restrain such a big payload without some assistance from the middle pedal. However, it is rated to lug close to 7.0 tonnes, which is an impressive number whichever way you look at it.

Safety – What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

No ANCAP rating or AEB but it does have driver and dual passenger front airbags, head restraints and three-point seatbelts for all occupants and rear parking sensors. Plus there’s an electronic stability control menu tailored for variable load carrying like electronic brakeforce distribution, load adaptive control, roll-over mitigation, hill hold assist and hydraulic brake assist.

Ownership – What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

In this long wheelbase mid-roof specification, it’s a competent and versatile worker with numerous attributes, headlined by its cave-like cargo volume, two-tonne-plus payload capacity and numerous storage options. However, the driver’s cluttered rear view through the central mirror combined with no reversing camera is a glaring safety oversight that needs to be addressed. If Fiat could fix that, along with replacement of the less than stellar six-speed auto (something like the Sprinter’s slick-shifting nine-speeder would be the go), this big van would be hard to fault.

$49,890

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3.3/5

Tradies score

4/5
Price Guide

$49,890

Based on new car retail price