Audi convertibles: most impressive
Model: Fiat Ducato 120 MultiJet LWB 35 van
Bodystyle: five-door van
Engine: 2.3-litre turbodiesel
Transmission: six-speed manual
What is it?
The Fiat Ducato 35 van, long-wheel base, high-roof is quite simply load-carrier's best friend. It's one of the most popular commercial vehicles in the Fiat line-up and is geared around carrying anything and everything this side of an eighteen-wheeler.
We tested the 2.3-litre turbodiesel model which has a nominal payload of 1,485kg, and makes the most sense for power and economy. At £23,425 you're getting a lot of van for the money, but there's no shortage of variants with prices starting at a more wallet-friendly £14,475.
Where does it fit?
The Ducato is to Fiat what the Transit is to Ford and has sold well over two million versions since launch in 1981. It's easy to see what makes it so popular - stylish design, frugal engines, affordable and the key factor with vans like this, space. The Ducato LWB 35 is the second largest load-carrier in an extensive Fiat van line-up and is ideally suited for people who've got big loads to shift.
As for rivals, there's no shortage of competition with more manufacturers getting a foot-hold in a busy commercial vehicle market. The likes of the Ford Transit and Mercedes Sprinter, to name but two, have all raised their game producing vans that are car-like to drive while offering more space in the back. Fiat has done exactly the same with the Ducato, a van that, image-wise at least, is more than a match for any rival.
Is it for you?
With over 2,000 variants of the Ducato to choose from there's a model for everyone, whether it's the short-wheel base or the high-roof, long-wheel base model we tested. Opt for the latter and you certainly won't run short of space in the back. The high roofline and long-wheel base means a massive load capacity.
Up front, the cabin is more car-like too, so once you climb aboard, and you really do have to climb, you could be forgiven for thinking you're behind the wheel of a Multipla MPV. The driver sits behind the wheel rather than on top of it. Fiat has made extra effort to increase space as well as making it more comfortable. After all, for many people who buy this kind of vehicle, it's just as much a means of transporting large loads as it is an office, so it needs to be a nice place to be.
What does it do well?
As the image of the white-van man is changing, so is the chariot they use. Modern vans are becoming more comfortable and that's just the case with the Ducato. The driving position is pretty comfortable and there's plenty of space for three of the burliest builders to sit abreast. Plus there's no shortage of cubby-holes and pockets for stashing that tabloid newspaper, sausage rolls and cheeky stash of Haribo sweets.
It's also surprisingly nice to drive too, whether you're carting around a full load or nothing at all. The twin-leaf suspension absorbs heavy loads and keeps the driver on the straight and level, but when the van's empty it's also extremely manageable too. It doesn't wallow through bends like big vans of old.
What doesn't it do well?
We're not too sure how durable the plastics will prove and can imagine the cabin ageing pretty quickly, especially for builders and decorators who spend most of their time clambering mud and dirt into the cabin.
With only 120hp the Ducato feels a little underpowered with a full load-bay, so if you're looking for more oomph then it might be worth considering the 160hp 3.0-litre version for around £1,500 more. Standard kit is also fairly limited and you'll have to be tick heavy with the options list for luxuries like air conditioning (£960), front fog lamps (£133) and ESP (£391). However, there is an MP3 connector attached to the CD Radio.
What's it like to live with?
The first thing you'll need with a van like this is a big driveway, because finding somewhere to park such a long vehicle can prove tricky. Thankfully reverse parking sensors - an optional £258 - help make the job a little easier and are a worthwhile investment.
The sliding near-side door comes in useful for loading and unloading, while the low ride height means you don't need forearms like Popeye to load heavy items in the back. As we mentioned, the driving position is very car-like, with a six-speed gearlever mounted on the dash right next to the wheel, making changes a doddle.
Would we buy one?
We certainly wouldn't rule it out. If you're in the market for a van with an enormous payload then there's no shortage of choice, but the Ducato long-wheel base is well worth adding to the short-list. It's spacious, well-equipped and competitively priced.
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