Fleet News

Road test: Razorback on Fiat Ducato chassis cab

PICTURE this scene. Bill has been in your employ for 10 years and during that time he has proved to be one of most amiable and willing drivers on the fleet.

He is so compliant, in fact, that you tend to take advantage of him and give him the jobs you know the others will moan about.

If there's heavy lifting to be done, old Bill will do it. The others might gripe and groan, but Bill will tackle the job.

Then one day, Bill's wife calls in to say he won't be at work – he has a bad back. Two days later, Bill is in hospital and it becomes obvious that he won't be back behind the wheel for some time.

While Bill is lying in his hospital bed twiddling his thumbs, he happens to read a newspaper advertisement from one of the less reputable law firms offering rich pickings for anyone who has suffered an injury at work. Six months later you are facing a High Court judge, where Bill (or rather Bill's brief) is suing you for £500,000.

Sounds unlikely?

Sorry to disillusion you but this scenario is far from fantasy. Look in the papers every week and you'll find less likely cases where the judge has found in favour of the plaintiff.

In this case, not only would you have to pay Bill's half a million smackers, but you'd also have to cough up for Bill's and your own legal fees. It could bankrupt your company.

Which brings me nicely round to the vehicle on test here, the Razorback fitted on a Fiat Ducato chassis cab. Provide your drivers with these vehicles and they won't have to lift any loads at all. The technology is complicated but the end result is simple. The whole rear of the van drops right down on to the floor so that loads can be wheeled in and out with ease. It couldn't be simpler to use – there are two buttons, one for up and one for down. If you don't put the floor right up before trying to close the doors, a little buzzer rings to tell you.

The upshot is that your drivers could, in effect, do the work of two men – so the potential savings are obvious.

The Razorback bodies are built in their homeland of Australia and then shipped over here to be welded on to Fiat Ducato chassis cabs in the UK. Buyers can choose the 2.3 or 2.8 JTD common rail diesel motor and and single or crew cab. Single cab versions cost from £19,500 ex-VAT and crew cabs with the 2.8-litre engine cost £22,200. A curious looking pick-up is also available at £19,500 and fleet discounts are available.

Razorback used to use the Volkswagen Transporter for its conversions and these vehicles can still be ordered. But when the new T5 Transporter comes on line later in the year, this option will end. Apparently, the T5's fuel tank is in a different place from the old model's and would intrude into the Razorback mechanism.

In the front

Fiat seems to be building quite a reputation for itself in the van world, thanks to its combination of stylish cabs and robust common rail diesel units.

The Ducato features one of the most attractive looking cabs of any heavy van, with lots of stylish swirls and curves in the dash and a very supportive driver's seat which not only adjusts in all directions but has a lumbar support too. The steering column also adjusts for rake so all drivers should be able to find their ideal position.

The twin passenger seats are good, too – none of your old bus-type benches here. With a dash-mounted gearstick and a handbrake on the right of the driver, there is plenty of legroom for a third passenger.

There are also lots of cubby holes and cola bottle bins and a handy document clip on top of the dashboard. Pull the back of the middle seat down and a small desk is revealed, complete with another document clip and coffee cup holders. Neat stuff. Extras can be ordered at time of purchase. ABS brakes, for example, are £660, air conditioning £985 and – amazingly in these days of health and safety awareness – a driver's airbag is extra at £220 (all prices ex-VAT).

In the back

The first thing you'll notice about the Razorback is that it sits lower and wider than the standard Ducato, a necessity to accommodate all the gubbins that allows the load floor to rise and fall. I don't intend to go into the ins and outs of the technology as I don't profess to understand it myself. Suffice to say it works a treat.

I remember testing a VW Razorback some years ago and from this new vehicle the technology has come on in leaps and bounds. The operation of the load floor is much smoother and the old up-and-over tailgate which hooked awkwardly under the floor is replaced by conventional double doors. The body is now made of steel rather than fibreglass.

Inside, the floor has six load-lashing eyes and there is now an ingenious system of metal bars which can be moved to lock loads into place. Vehicle racking firm Bott can also supply a variety of shelves and storage units at an extra cost.

Storage space is more limited than in the conventional panel van but the Razorback offers a good, open loadspace of 2,645mm long, 1,350mm wide and 1,735mm high. Gross vehicle weight is 3,500kg and payload is 1,000kg.

On the road

The van on test here features Fiat's own 2.3-litre JTD common rail diesel powerplant and what a lusty performer it is. With 110bhp at 3,600rpm on tap and 199lb-ft or torque at 1,800rpm, it will pull the van along at a rattling pace, although there are certainly no other rattles to be heard.

Being a chassis cab, you don't hear any of the booming noise that accompanies a normal panel van and the common rail diesel doesn't have any of the old death rattle we used to know and hate in the mornings.

The short-throw dash-mounted gearstick notches into place nicely and a nice light clutch ensures a pleasant driving experience. The box on the back gives the Razorback a rather bizarre feel on the corners. Try anything flash and the rear end bucks like a bronco. But as drivers won't be expected to thrash round bends at speed in this vehicle, such a drawback should not cause a problem.

Verdict

Bearing in mind what you get for your money, the Razorback is a reasonably-priced van. Not only will health and safety issues be addressed but fleets could find themselves recouping the extra cash outlay by better efficiency of operation.

The Razorback should also make good money on disposal too, as these vans are pretty thin on the ground.

My only tip for potential buyers would be to double check that their proposed loads will actually fit in before making the purchasing decision. It could save a lot of tears later.

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