Refinement, power, added economy and cleaner emissions – all are part of the common rail revolution, but until recently the technology has been restricted largely to cars rather than vans. Now, though, many LCV ranges feature common rail and Fiat has joined the fray with common rail JTD engines as standard on all diesel Ducatos.
The newest of these is the 2.3-litre JTD unit, packing a 110bhp punch at 3,600rpm and a solid 199lb-ft of torque from 1,800rpm.
The 2.3 JTD engine replaces the old naturally- aspirated 2.8D engine and betters it with more power, greater refinement and fuel consumption reduced by 16%. Added to that are reduced service costs, thanks to a service interval that has risen from 6,000 miles on the 2.8 to 18,000.
The 2.3 sits between the existing 84bhp 2.0 and the 127bhp 2.8 JTD units, while a 2.0-litre petrol unit is also available offering 110bhp.
But as with all LCVs, the vehicle is only as good as the service back-up it receives.
In response, Fiat Auto UK has appointed 50 specialist van dealers to handle some fleet deals, although every Fiat dealer nationwide sells and services commercials.
The 50 specialist dealers are supported by a team of fleet sales specialists at Fiat Auto's UK headquarters, which should give a much more solid infrastructure than before.
Paul Knowlson, Fiat national fleet CV manager, said: 'We have a stunning line-up of vans and we need to support these models with the right infrastructure. The 50 dealers each have a dedicated display area with all the models on show and there will be dedicated trained staff on hand to deal with enquiries.'
To sample the new-look Ducato, we tried the 2.3 JTD in the biggest Ducato version available – the Maxi LWB Gran Volume at £18,945 (ex VAT and delivery charges).
The sight of the new-look Sevel vans – Citroen Relay, Peugeot Boxer and Fiat Ducato – is becoming more familiar after over a year on sale, and there is not a great deal of difference in the way each looks.
That said, the Ducato seems imposing with its well-defined grille, massive front bumper, generous door mirrors and side rubbing strips. Thicker steel in crucial load-bearing parts, plus greater depth of paint on high-wear areas such as door thresholds and a generally stiffer structure answer the criticisms of the previous model and give the new Ducato a much better prognosis for a long service life.
In the front
One of the best parts of the Ducato is the cab, where plenty of thought has gone into the dash design and general layout. The twin passenger seat (a no-cost option) with two triple-point belts doubles as a table when folded forward, and the dash is well provided with cubbies and storage bins as well as a handy document clip on the top.
Unusually, the steering wheel adjusts for angle and gives a wide range of seating positions with the excellent driver's seat, which moves in every direction. Our test van was fitted with a full steel bulkhead with window (a £260 ex-VAT option) which limits rear travel, however, and proved a bit of a problem: taller drivers – me included – will find this causes discomfort in the accelerator foot after even a short time at the wheel.
Although central locking and electric windows are standard on Ducato vans, our test vehicle included remote locking operation at an extra £265 ex-VAT, a boon for multi-drop work, while air conditioning (£985 ex-VAT) is desirable but pricey.
In the back
With a payload of 1,505kg, the Ducato Maxi offers more than the 1,480kg of the 2.8 JTD, with load volume of a handy 12 cubic metres.
There is an extra high roof option available at £800 (ex-VAT), but I found the standard high-roof was easily capable of accommodating my 6ft 4in frame with headroom to spare. The single side sliding door and twin rear doors extend nearly all the way up to the roof line, which helps access. Inside the slider is a useful 12v socket which can be used to augment the load bay light – handy because the light itself is on the feeble side.
At the back, a useful step is built in to the rear bumper and the loading height, at 1881mm, is comfortable with the full-height doors. There are numerous lashing eyes, though side protection is limited to a meagre-looking fibreboard panel on either side. Full lining would be essential to maintain your residual values.
On the road
There's plenty of punch from the 2.3 JTD engine – 10bhp more than its 2.2 HDi PSA stablemates – and it is surprisingly quiet on the move, with muted engine roar and good wind noise suppression. Both door casings include substantial and very comfortable armrests located at just the right height to wedge yourself in against body roll.
The steering is light – great for low-speed manoeuvring, a little vague at speed – and the view out is commanding, thanks to big windows and the massive door mirrors with 'panoramic' feature. These, together with the handy dash-mounted gearshift, really do make light work of reversing.
With its 18,000-mile service intervals, plus a fine three-year/100,000-mile warranty, the Ducato is clearly designed for hard work.
With its enhanced payload over the 2.8 JTD and punchy performance, the Ducato 2.3 JTD Maxi is a van to be reckoned with, and strikingly good value for money. On the strength of this, and dependent on the promised improvement in Fiat's service backup based on the new dealer network, choosing Fiat from the Peugeot/Citroen/Fiat Sevel van line-up is a much more enticing proposition than before.
Price (ex-VAT): £18,945
Power (bhp/rpm): 110/3,600
Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 199/1,800
Load volume (cu m): 12
Payload (kg): 1,505