Rob GanleySee other News articles filed in ‘Base vehicles’ written by Rob Ganley
Fiat have decided to celebrate its Ducato's 30th birthday with an overhaul of its cab interior and engine line-up. More than 2.2 million Ducatos have been sold since production began in 1981, and two-thirds of all new motorhomes built in Europe today are based on the Ducato.
The last major revision was five years ago, when Fiat launched the fifth-generation Ducato. To recap, it was a major leap forward for motorhome manufacturing, thanks to its lightweight chassis, wider track, and cab with pre-cut roof ready to accept a caravan body’s overcab mould. At the time, Fiat also introduced a Europe-wide breakdown service, with 1500 specialist Fiat Camper Assistance workshops. It’s now added a dedicated Fiat Camper website and call centre to this, which owners can use to check for updates and upgrades to their chassis. And now it’s just taken another leap forward.
In the cab, the dashboard has been completely redesigned. The radio is fully integrated into the dash, with four speakers, and a three-hour switch-off delay, so you can continue listening to your favourite station after you’ve pitched up on site.
Then there’s the impressive new ‘infotainment’ system, ‘Blue&Me’, which connects to this sound system and is an option we understand will be made available to UK motorcaravanners. The system was developed in collaboration with Microsoft. While driving, you can connect to your mobile phone or iPod by Bluetooth or USB, and make calls, play music and navigate, using a hands-free system that uses speech technology. For example, if you receive a text while driving, push a steering-wheel button to have it read out to you over the speakers. There’s also an ‘EcoDrive’ that records your fuel consumption and CO2 emissions onto a USB key, so you can plug it into your computer to check how efficiently you’ve driven.
On top of the dashboard, there’s a TomTom sat-nav port with a solid plastic mount. It’s a neater, tidier solution than the usual suction-cup and power leads, and is part of the optional ‘Blue&Me-TomTom Live’ package, enabling you to manage phone calls, navigation and media via its touch screen.
Three new interior trims complete the overhaul: basic, techno (chrome-effect plastic inserts) and wood (walnut-look inserts). Despite all this impressive technology and ergonomic touches, I was disappointed that Fiat hadn’t added more drinks holders, as Ford has in the Transit.
Under the bonnet
For the right-hand-drive UK market there are three new engines, and news of a fourth promised in time for the October NEC show, when
a raft of motorhome manufacturers’ new-season models, based on the re-vamped Ducato, will take their public bow. The original MultiJet units are replaced by MultiJet II engine technology, which means the engines contain faster injectors that carry out multiple injections of diesel fuel closer together.
The new units are: a 2.3-litre 130 MultiJet II; a 2.3-litre 150 MultiJet II, and the top-of-the-range 3.0-litre 180 MultiJet II. See our fact box on the right for the power and torque outputs for each new engine.
All of the new engines meet Euro 5 standards for emissions, and are characterised by greater fuel economy, plus lower emissions. Fiat claims the 130 MultiJet II cuts fuel consumption by nine per cent over the current unit, while the 2.3-litre 150 unit uses 19 per cent less fuel than the 3.0-litre outgoing 160 unit.
Fiat’s Comfortmatic transmission – the same robotised, automated manual transmission – will continue to be available only with the 3.0-litre unit, though.
On the road
We drove panel-van versions of the new Ducato on Fiat’s Balocco test track. Each van carried an 800kg load to simulate motorhome handling.
I found the 180 a hugely powerful unit, quieter on the road than the outgoing 160, thanks to improved noise damping, with impressive acceleration through the gear ranges, and power and torque to burn.
But I reckon the real star for mid-size to larger ’vans will be the 150. It felt particularly torquey at low revs through the gear ranges, was quicker in the important rev bands than the current 160 and, as such, is a genuine and more frugal alternative to the current range-topper. I reckon it’ll make a fabulous engine for motorcaravanning.
One other feature worth flagging up: there’s a new ‘Traction +’ system, an automated system that delivers more torque to slipping wheels. It’s a welcome addition, especially for ’vans on wet pitches or rally fields.