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Fiat Ducato 2021 review: Mid-wheelbase GVM test

The MY21 Fiat Professional Ducato Series 7 is equipped with an all-new drivetrain.

Daily driver score

4/5

Tradies score

4.4/5

The Ducato originated in 1981 through a joint venture between Fiat and PSA Peugeot-Citroen, which are both now part of the recently formed Stellantis conglomerate. The Ducato has evolved through four decades and several generations, with more than 2.6 million sold in a variety of body styles (including popular motorhomes) and wheelbases.

The current generation van, which competes in the 3501-8000kg GVM commercial class, is also marketed as the Peugeot Boxer, which was tested at maximum GVM by CarsGuide in 2020. Despite many similarities between them, the latest iteration of the Ducato is more than just a badge-engineered version of its French sibling.

The MY21 Fiat Professional Ducato Series 7 is equipped with an all-new drivetrain, updated safety and convenience features and a class-leading two-tonne-plus payload capacity, which we recently put to the test.

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

Our white test vehicle is the MWB MR, which translates to Medium Wheel Base Mid-Roof. It’s one of four Ducato van configurations featuring medium, long and extra-long wheelbases and two roof heights.

They’re all powered by a new 2.3 litre turbo-diesel engine, with a list price of $48,300 for the MWB MR with standard six-speed manual or $51,190 with the optional new nine-speed torque converter automatic like our test vehicle. It also has an extra side-sliding door that adds another $1190.

Our white test vehicle is the MWB MR, which translates to Medium Wheel Base Mid-Roof. Our white test vehicle is the MWB MR, which translates to Medium Wheel Base Mid-Roof.

A few of the standard features include 16-inch steel wheels with heavy-duty 215/75 R16C tyres and a full-size spare (16-inch alloys optional), infotainment system with 5.0-inch touchscreen, USB/AUX connectivity and steering wheel controls, power-adjustable and heated exterior mirror, dual passenger seat with three-point central seatbelt, single cargo bay side-sliding door, twin rear barn-doors with 270-degree opening, reversing camera/rear parking sensors plus an upgraded safety suite headlined by AEB.

There’s also a wide choice of colours and other options including the Comfort and Tech Pack which for an additional $2190 brings a larger 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with DAB digital radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, plus sat-nav, LED daytime running lights, automatic climate control and tyre pressure monitoring.

Standard features include 16-inch steel wheels with heavy-duty 215/75 R16C tyres. Standard features include 16-inch steel wheels with heavy-duty 215/75 R16C tyres.

For the same price you can also get a Safety Plus Pack comprising rain/dusk sensor, auto high beam, traffic sign recognition, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, fog lights, traction control and all-season tyres.

Design – is there anything interesting about its design?

The MWB MR's front-wheel drive chassis rides on a 3450mm wheelbase with 12.5-metre turning circle. It’s 5413mm long, 2050mm wide and 2539mm tall, so like numerous van rivals in this GVM class it can’t access shopping centre and underground carparks which typically have a 2.2-metre height limit.

The MWB MR's front-wheel drive chassis rides on a 3450mm wheelbase with 12.5-metre turning circle. The MWB MR's front-wheel drive chassis rides on a 3450mm wheelbase with 12.5-metre turning circle.

Underpinnings are simple and rugged, combining coil-spring strut front suspension with a leaf-spring rigid-tube rear axle that’s well designed for heavy load-carrying, with compressible rubber cones between body and axle that provide a second stage of support. There’s also four-wheel disc brakes, power-assisted rack and pinion steering and ample hard-wearing black plastic protecting the most vulnerable areas of the bodywork from scrapes and dents.

A sealed steel bulkhead separates the cabin from the cargo bay, insulating driver and passengers from load area noise and doubling as a robust cargo barrier. Its sliding window is ideally positioned to allow the driver or passenger to make a quick over-shoulder glance to check that their load is secure. Leg room for the centre passenger is unusually generous, even for tall adults, which would be appreciated by a crew of three.

Leg room for the centre passenger is unusually generous, even for tall adults. Leg room for the centre passenger is unusually generous, even for tall adults.

Interestingly, the rear barn-door windows are heated but there are no wiper/washers fitted. At first this appeared to be an oversight, but having driven the Ducato in heavy rain we were surprised at how spray-free the rear screens remained and how clean they were afterwards.

Our only gripes are that the driver’s left footrest is so short you can only rest your toes on it. It’s a shame the excellent full-length one that resides in the passenger footwell (which of course is the driver’s footwell in LHD models) can’t migrate across the cabin for RHD versions. Driver comfort would be further improved with more rake adjustment in the base cushion.

The small 5.0-inch infotainment screen also makes it difficult to see much detail in the vision provided by the reversing camera. The optional 7.0-inch screen would be an improvement here, but is only available as part of the Comfort and Tech Pack.

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

The all-new drivetrain features Fiat’s latest 2.3 litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel with Multi-Jet 2 electronically-controlled common rail direct injection, variable-vane turbocharging, intercooler and Euro 6-emissions compliance using AdBlue. It produces 130kW at 3500rpm and (in automatic models) 450Nm of torque which peaks at 1500rpm. In case you’re wondering, the red ‘180’ body badges denote European metric horsepower.

The all-new drivetrain features Fiat’s latest 2.3 litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. The all-new drivetrain features Fiat’s latest 2.3 litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine.

The new ZF nine-speed torque converter automatic is a sweet-shifting transmission which Fiat claims is designed to optimise the engine’s torque delivery and fuel economy. It has a sequential manual-shift function if required, which could be useful if hauling big payloads in hilly terrain, but works most efficiently when left alone.

Fuel consumption – How much fuel does it consume?

Fiat does not publish a combined average consumption figure for the Ducato, but the dash display was claiming 10.2L/100km at the end of our test, which covered almost 300km of which more than a third was with a heavy payload. We also had the auto stop-start function switched off. That consumption figure was very close to our own, calculated from fuel bowser and tripmeter readings, of 10.6L. So, based on our numbers you could expect a real-world driving range of around 850km from its 90-litre tank.

Practicality – How practical is the space inside?

The Ducato’s 2060kg kerb weight and 4250kg GVM results in a huge 2190kg payload rating which dwarfs rivals we've tested including the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Ford Transit and its Peugeot Boxer sibling. It's also rated to tow up to 2250kg of braked trailer but given that Fiat does not publish a GCM (Gross Combination Mass) number, we can’t confirm if it can tow that weight while carrying a full payload.

The cargo bay, with a competitive 11.5 cubic metres of load volume, has an unprotected load floor that’s 3120mm long and 1870mm wide with 1422mm between the wheel housings. Therefore, it can easily carry two 1165mm-square standard Aussie pallets or three 1200 x 800mm Euro pallets, held in place by eight sturdy load-anchorage points.

There’s also ample forklift access through either the rear barn-doors, which can swing open to 270 degrees with a combined 1562mm-wide opening, or the sliding side doors with their 1250mm-wide openings.

All doors and walls are lined to mid-height and the raised roof cavity allows even tall adults to stand inside without stooping. It also provides a large and very useful storage area over the driver’s cabin, which is ideal for stowing ropes, straps, load-padding etc.

There’s plenty of cabin storage too, with large-bottle holders and two levels of storage bins in each front door. The dashboard offers numerous open storage bins plus small-bottle/cup holders, a glovebox, large overhead map shelf and storage tray under the driver’s seat. The centre seat’s backrest also folds forward to reveal a handy work desk on the back of it, complete with a spring-loaded clip to hold documents in place, a pen holder and two more small-bottle/cup holders.

There’s plenty of cabin storage too, with large-bottle holders and two levels of storage bins in each front door. There’s plenty of cabin storage too, with large-bottle holders and two levels of storage bins in each front door.

What’s it like as a daily driver?

There’s a commanding view for the driver thanks to a panoramic windscreen and clear eye-lines to the truck-sized door mirrors. There’s also reasonable but cluttered vision through the central rear-view mirror, which is partly obscured by the centre seat’s headrest.

The cabin bulkhead is effective in all but eliminating cargo bay noise and engine/wind noise volume is commendably low even on the highway. The highest audible intrusion at those speeds comes from the front tyres, which is acceptable on smooth bitumen surfaces but increases on coarser grades.

Its leather-rimmed steering wheel is nice to use and thanks to the driver’s door moulding and fold-down in-board armrest, there’s evenly balanced elbow support to relieve strain on the neck and shoulders.

The engine and nine-speed auto transmission are well matched, providing energetic performance when prodded and crisp, decisive shifting. Long-legged highway gearing allows 100km/h at 1500rpm (which is also bang on maximum torque) and less than 1700rpm at 110km/h. Ride quality when empty or lightly loaded can get bouncy on bumpy roads, which is not unexpected from suspension with a two-tonne-plus payload capacity.

Our main criticism is insufficient rake adjustment in the driver’s seat base cushion. There’s not enough angle available to stop the driver sliding forwards, requiring constant repositioning that becomes tiring after a while. More rake in the base cushion, combined with a decent-sized left footrest, would solve this issue.

Also annoying is the audible lane-departure warning, which is too loud and sounds like you’re being zapped by a ray-gun in an old sci-fi movie if you step out of line. A less confronting warning would be welcome.

 

What’s it like for tradie use?

We more than met our match trying to test the Ducato’s massive 2190kg payload capacity, as it far exceeded the number of weight-blocks available for GVM testing. The highest we could go, including a 40kg Aussie pallet, was 1700kg in the cargo bay; with driver our payload totalled 1800kg which was still a whopping 390kg short of the limit.

Even so, it was enough to engage the front and rear suspension which both compressed only 26mm, resulting in a level ride height with ample wheel travel remaining. Given that hauling big loads is what it’s primarily designed for, the Ducato handled this task with admirable ease, floating over bumps and maintaining a sure-footed feel that instilled confidence.

Our payload totalled 1800kg (including the driver) which was still a whopping 390kg short of the limit. Our payload totalled 1800kg (including the driver) which was still a whopping 390kg short of the limit.

The quartet of disc brakes had plenty of bite when required and the engine had ample pulling power, with the nine-speed auto keeping the turbo-diesel on or near its rpm sweet spot. The non-adaptive cruise control also worked well on the highway, maintaining set speeds with discipline.

When faced with our 13 per cent gradient 2.0km set climb at 60km/h the Ducato’s responded with zeal; the auto deciding that fourth gear at 2700rpm was the best option in easily powering its way to the summit with 1.8 tonnes on its back.

However, engine-braking was virtually non-existent on the way down. After manually selecting second gear for the descent, the engine only reached 3800rpm on overrun (tacho reads to 6000rpm with no redline) before it overrode our manual gear selection and shifted up to third. It did it again from third into fourth further down the hill, requiring heavier reliance on the brakes to restrain our big payload.

These shift protocols, which are common in European vans, are no doubt effective in avoiding potential engine damage. However, they can also give a nasty surprise when you’re relying on engine retardation to assist on a steep descent and the transmission suddenly shifts up a cog (which feels like it’s been knocked into neutral) and the vehicle starts running away from you.

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

There’s no ANCAP ratings for this GVM division and above, but the latest Ducato is equipped with AEB, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, rear parking sensors, reversing camera plus driver and dual-passenger airbags as standard. Buyers can also option the Safety Plus Pack mentioned earlier.

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

Three years/200,000km warranty looks undercooked compared to the five years/unlimited km offered by some rivals. Scheduled servicing, though, is excellent for hard-working vans at 48,000km/12 months whichever occurs first. Five years of Fiat Professional servicing, based on a total distance of 240,000km, equals $6756.99 or an average of $1351.40 per year.

The latest Fiat Ducato, in MWB MR configuration with optional nine-speed auto, is a competent competitor in the 3501-8000kg GVM segment. Its class-leading two-tonne-plus payload rating would have considerable appeal for those who need to carry exceptionally heavy loads and we couldn’t find any major flaws in its design and performance. However, the warranty is short and there are niggling issues in terms of driver comfort, which if addressed would increase the Ducato’s appeal.

$51,190

Based on new car retail price

Daily driver score

4/5

Tradies score

4.4/5
Price Guide

$51,190

Based on new car retail price

This price is subject to change closer to release data
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