Big-volume Fiat aims high
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Fiat's new Ducato is being launched in the UK in June. CM has driven left-hand-drive versions of the long awaited van, and we reckon that it should be more than competitive in the recovering European market.
• Fiat's Ducato, a new Sevel range built in co-operation with PSA Peugeot/Citroen, will be launched in the UK in June. Fiat hopes it will take at least 8% of the European panel van market—around 50,000 vehicles a year.
The Fiat looks little different from Peugeot and Citroen versions: it lacks a distinctive radiator grille, so badging and vents are the only way to tell them apart. It shares a petrol engine, but has its own range of diesels.
The previous model was introduced piecemeal from its launch ii: 1981, hut this time Sevel has a complete new range from the start. British buyers will see 10 vans first, in late June; four naturally aspirated petrol and diesel chassis-cabs will follow soon after, with four turbodiesel chassis-cabs appearing at around the end of the year. A four-wheel-drive version should arrive in 1995, as will an innovative automated gearbox option; the UK will not get minibus models.
The van is front-wheel drive (as was its predecessor) and offers class-leading loadspace volume, ranging from 7.5m3 for the short-wheelbase, standardroof version to 12.0m3 for the high-roof Maxi, with payloads from 1,000kg to 1,515kg. The Ducato 10, 14 and Maxi—as at present—correspond to gross weights of around 2.8, 3.2 and 3.5 tonnes.
The engine range concentrates on diesel power, the only petrol variant being the Peugeot-sourced 2.0-litre catalysed unit, at 80kW (110hp) an engine for speed rather than economy. The UK range covers 1.9-litre and 2.5-litre IDI diesels and a 2.5-litre DI turbodiesel (with the option of a catalyst), from 51kW (70hp) to 85kW (116hp); we will not see the turbocharged 1.9-litre model.
The new model is styled by Giorgio Giugiaro: it looks smooth and massive, almost toylike, but the biggest change for the driver is that the van is far more spacious than before. The broad cab has plen ty of room for three seats, while the dash-mounted gear lever leaves the floor area free. The driving position is good, though the wheelarch intrudes into the left-hand-drive footwell—this may not be a problem with RHD models. Safety features include seatbelt tensioners and "antisubmarining" seats, and ABS brakes are optional.
The cable-operated gear shift felt precise, if a little stiff—the position is good, and might become standard (Mercedes is testing a similar setup). Performance of turbodiesel and petrol models felt vigorous on the motorway, and road and wind noise were impressively low. Fiat claims a drag coefficient of less than , 0.35, and correspondingly good fuel economy.
Unladen, the ride was choppy: suspension is via independent MacPherson struts at the front, with a beam axle/leaf spring arrangement to the rear. The van was stable and easy to drive, but the optional power steering may feel too light for some tastes.
The load space is impressive, with easy access: the rear doors are as wide as any, and the side opening is particularly large, with a full-height, extra-wide door in some high-roof models. Loading doors are available on both sides.
Overall the Ducato is not a great leap forward—it lacks the excellent handling of the VW Transporter, for example—but it is competitive in all important areas: loadspace, payload, cab comfort and performance. Build quality is improved—the test vans seemed rattle-free, though one appeared not to be charging consistently—and the new Ducato may share the new Fiorino's three-year warranty.
Prices have yet to be set, but if Fiat is competitive (the previous model was among the cheapest in its class) the Ducato could be a great success.
E by Toby Clark