Driven: 2020 Fiat Ducato Professional 2.3 140PS Automatic

Published 05 July 2019

Fiat is renewing its efforts in the large van market, with a refreshed line-up spearheaded by the 2020 Ducato. But will it be enough to chip away at the dominance of the Ford Transit and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter?

The Ducato range is one of the longest-serving nameplates in the large van sector, with the first version arriving as far back as 1981. Although it is the best-selling van in 12 European countries, in the UK it is usually in competition with Renault and Nissan for fourth spot in the sales charts.

Fiat will be hoping that this wide-ranging update for the third-generation model will improve its fortunes and build on the good value proposition of the outgoing version. Mechanically the Ducato benefits from a number of updates, with significant changes to both engines and transmission options.

A new 2.3-litre Multijet 2 range of engines come in three power outputs, each fitted with a new design of variable geometry turbocharger that Fiat says increases smoothness and improves low-rev torque. The range comprises of a 120PS, 140PS, 160PS and 180PS versions, plus the 3.0-litre natural power engine that delivers 136PS. The mid-range 140PS delivers 350Nm of torque, an improvement of nine per cent over the outgoing 130 Multijet.

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Introduced for the first time on Ducato is a new nine-speed automatic transmission, available with the top three engine options, with three driving modes and a manual shifting option for demanding conditions. All Ducatos also come with Fiat’s latest EcoPack, which includes automatic stop/start, a smart alternator that disconnects automatically and an electronic fuel pump, all designed to reduce emissions and fuel consumption.

Fire up the 2.3 Multijet 140 and refinement is not at the level you might hope for, with a faint tremble at idle. On the move, there is some noise transfer into the cabin, particularly when the upper rev range is used, and on this front it is a little behind the best in class. However, even with a 500kg payload and one of the lower-power options, the Ducato offers brisk and easy acceleration from low engine speeds.

Better still, the nine-speed automatic is far superior to the standard six-speed manual. It shifts smoothly and quickly, and is happy in town traffic as well as at motorway speeds. The three gearbox modes - Normal, Eco and Power - appear to make little difference to the shift points, but drivers will be more than happy with how well it works with the engine options.

There are no changes to the Ducato’s suspension design, and it remains easy to place on the road with consistent weighting and feel through the power steering and brakes that are easy to modulate, regardless of the gearbox choice.

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The 2020 Ducato is also available with an increased range of safety systems, with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and blind spot assist now optional depending on the model, while the cabin occupants will benefit from the 7-inch touchscreen including Apple Car Play and Android Auto for the first time.

The interior receives some detail improvements with some silver detailing, the option of a centrally-mounted document holder that can also accommodate an iPad and clever touches like a roof-mounted grab handle for the central passenger. Even so, the Ducato’s cabin is feeling its age a little, with materials that are hard-wearing rather than pleasing to the touch.

In the load area a new LED central light offers improved brightness and is a sensible addition that shows Fiat understands the needs of van users. On the outside the Ducato has had the mildest of facelifts, with a little less black plastic and more colour-coding around the nose depending on the specification, but it remains a recognisable design.

The Ducato’s key strength has always been value, and the numerous improvements for the 2020 model year make it easier and more pleasurable to drive as well as more practical. It may be easy to ignore it in favour of more obvious options, but its durability, efficiency and long-term good value makes it worthy of further consideration.

Essential stats:

Prices start from: £24,670 (excluding VAT for 2.3 Multijet 120hp panel van), claimed NEDC economy (M2 H2 140hp): 38.1-37.1mpg, claimed WLTP economy: TBC CO2 emissions: 193-200g/km, payload: up to 1540kg, towing capacity: TBC, length L2H2: 5413mm, width: 2050mm (excluding mirrors), height L2H2: 2524mm, engine: 2287cc four-in-line turbodiesel, power output: 140PS @3500rpm, 350Nm @ 1400rpm.

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