The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 3.0
The long-established Fiat Ducato is starting to feel long in the tooth. It retains the ability to do the basics well, with economy and practicality both strong, but the cabin and driving experience lag behind the more sophisticated and newer rivals in a high-quality and competitive class.
Reasons to buy
- Good payload
- Decent economy
- Strong engines
At a glance
Cargo & practicality
You can throw loads of technology at a van, but payload and cargo space are the two things gadgets can’t generally improve.
Despite it not being the newest model on offer in the large van class, the Ducato provides an excellent loading space in terms of size and capacity. The whopping 2100kg maximum payload is a real bonus, as is the 17 cubic metre maximum loading capacity. It’s worth noting that the maximum payload is on a van that has a gross vehicle weight of more than 3.5 tonnes, though, so it won’t be accessible to those with a standard car licence.
The maximum for a 3.5-tonne model is still a decent 1,655kg on the shortest, lowest model.
There are two lengths on offer, with a maximum loading length of just under 4.1m in the longest model. This is slightly shy of the best in class, with the Mercedes Sprinter (4.7m) and the VW Crafter (4.8m) both longer.
The loading space is square and even, though, which will make filling the area to its capacity that bit easier.
The cockpit is not the Ducato’s strongest point, with a mixture of ergonomics and outdated design combining to make it feel like it’s lagging behind rivals a bit.
The touchscreen for the infotainment looks decent but is quite small, particularly compared to the big and clear versions in rival vans.
There are a few niggles in terms of layout. The high-set gear lever and the indicator stalk are remarkably close to one another when you are in the higher gears, for example, while the driver’s seat has a short bolster that makes it less supportive than the highly engineered alternatives rivals are coming up with these days.
All that said, the basics remain strong once again. There is a decent amount of storage in the form of cubby holes and cupholders. The exposed screw heads in the latter shows the Ducato falls a bit behind the quality levels of the Crafter and Sprinter.
Running costs are where the Ducato really shines, with a series of economical diesel engines promising official figures that come close to 48mpg. This makes it the joint most economical van in the class, with only the Peugeot Boxer offering a similar level of efficiency.
Servicing costs should be well spread apart at the very least, as intervals are a widely spaced 30,000 miles apart, while the Ducato shares many of its parts with the Citroen Relay and Peugeot Boxer, which will help with the economies of scale and keep parts prices a little lower.
The engine meets Euro 6 requirements without the need for AdBlue, which is another small bonus when it comes to running costs. Buying a Ducato in the first place should be a bit cheaper than the German rivals, with starting prices notably cheaper if you are not after any frills.
The Ducato has been around largely unchanged for a fair old while, which gives an insight into the faith both Fiat and owners have in its reliability. The engines at the lower end of the range are also shared with the PSA equivalents – the Peugeot Boxer and Citroen Relay – as are many of the components. This safety in numbers means parts will be easy to come by, as will knowledgeable repairers.
Disappointingly, the official warranty only runs for two years, but it does allow for unlimited mileage.
There is a choice of four engines in the Ducato range. There is a solitary 2.0-litre diesel with 115 horsepower and a trio of 2.3-litre diesels with 130, 150 or 180 horsepower.
The most powerful model is well suited to those hauling huge loads, or towing, on a regular basis – expect to see it feature in many a motorhome conversion. It’s a powerful beast, so will make short work of a mobile home or indeed a more conventional large load.
The lower powered version of the 2.3-litre diesel will be the one that many will go for, and there is little between it and the 150-horsepower unit in terms of economy, so the higher-powered version is worth considering if there is a decent deal to be had.
The diesel engines might be fully compliant with the latest Euro legislations, not require AdBlue and be impressively economical, but they are a little loud on the move, although that is in part to a lack of insulation in the cabin.
Ride and handling
The Ducato has a decent weight to the steering, meaning it handles well enough, and the suspension keeps the ride on the right side of comfortable, even when the loading bay is empty.
It lets itself down in a few key areas, though, with visibility in particular not great because of the large pillars on the side windows that mean you have to lean forward and back to get a decent view out.
The door mirrors do help, though – they are tall and offer a good view out back. The wide-angle section down the bottom is handy for enhancing that field of vision, even if it does take a little moment for your eyes to adjust from the standard mirror to the wide-vision section.
As with most vans, the basic level of safety kit is fairly simplistic, with ESC anti-skid control and a driver’s airbag included, but there are some notable extra elements that help boost the Ducato’s offering.
A hill-hold system is also offered, while a clever load-weight detection system identifies how much is in the rear loading bay and calculates how much the various systems should intervene.
There are some oddities in the safety list, too, with a lane departure warning system offered as standard only on the higher gross vehicle weight versions – it is a cost option only on the 3.5-tonne models that standard licence holders are able to drive.
The levels of equipment on offer in the Ducato are fairly simple to understand, given that there are just the two trim levels: standard and Tecnico.
Standard really is basic, though. It does come with a couple of desirable things, such as heated door mirrors, a dual passenger seat, Bluetooth, a driver’s seat armrest and lumbar support and a speed limiter.
Tecnico brings a selection of desirable kit like air conditioning, satellite navigation, rear parking sensors, cruise control and an alarm.
Special editions are a common theme in the Fiat range, with the likes of the Sportivo offering visual upgrades, too. The black alloy wheels, black grille, chrome details and red stickers help set the van apart from the more workmanlike versions, but you do get a couple of luxury and practical additions too. Leather interior details are joined by a rear-view camera. It isn’t quite enough to lift the Ducato to the levels of luxury offered by top-end rivals, though.
The Fiat Ducato makes a lot of sense on paper: it offers a great payload, has economical engines and offers good value. It’s little surprise it has proved popular over the many years it has been on sale.
That longevity is its biggest downside, too. It is now up against rivals that offer far superior interior comfort, greater connectivity and more technology in almost every area. The Ducato is good, but unless maxing out the payload is a priority then there are more sophisticated options available.