By on July 16, 2013

 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Before we dive in, let’s get one thing straight. This is not, I repeat NOT a review of the 2014 RAM ProMaster cargo van. Instead I managed to get my hands on a Euro spec Fiat Ducato van for a few days. The Ducato is the basis for the ProMaster, but the ProMaster is more than just a Fiat with a RAM on it. Fiat’s Americanized cargo van might just be the biggest shakeup to the domestic commercial vehicle segment in our lifetime. Why? Front wheel drive, that’s why. Intrigued?

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The American commercial market is very different from most of the world. In America, our vans are based on pickup trucks, usually a generation (or two or three) behind the consumer product. The benefit is a stable platform that’s been tested. The downsides are: a large and heavy ladder frame undercarriage causing a high center of gravity, thirsty V8 engines, old 4-speed automatics, engines located under a “dog house” between the front seats, poor fuel economy and a general lack of innovation. Even the newcomer to this segment, the Nissan NV, follows the same formula with a chassis and drivetrain very loosely based on the Titan.

In Europe things are different. Even if manufacturers had large trucks to base vans on, fuel economy is a huge deal. Because of this Europe is a sea of large unibody vans sporting small diesel engines, manual transmissions and [comparatively] aerodynamic shapes. How small? The Ford Transit sports a 100HP 2.2L diesel and a 6-speed manual. In America the only diesel cargo van on sale at the moment is the Chevy Express with a massive 6.6L V8 engine.

2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Exterior

Form follows function. Fiat boasts the squarest, boxiest cargo area on the market, not a claim you would hear at a “normal” press conference. Up front the awkward nose is a nod to practicality. Because the Ducato is front-wheel-drive, Fiat located the transverse engines under the hood, not between the seats like you see in GM and Ford vans. Crash structures and radiators are located in the black plastic section of the nose while headlamps are positioned above the usual fender-bender zone. Fiat claims the three-piece front bumper cover reduces minor accident repair costs.

As with other entries, glass is optional. Base vans come with a windshield and two front windows. If you pay, you can get rear barn-doors with glass and partially or fully-glazed van sides. Somewhat unique is an optional driver’s side sliding door. Much like the Mercedes Sprinter and Nissan NV cargo vans, rear doors swing nearly 270 degrees and lock in place almost parallel to the side of the van.

2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Three Seat Van, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

I have been told some of the Ducato’s unique seat options will make it across the Atlantic. The standard driver’s seat is height-adjustable with lumbar support. There is also an optional suspension seat (think city-bus) and three-abreast seating. Our Euro model was distinctly lacking in the cupholder department, an omission that will be remedied for America.

Starting several inches lower than the passenger cab of the Ducato is the cargo area. Yes, several inches lower. That’s because the gas tank and battery are under the passenger compartment floor. Despite this the cab is about the same height as an Express or E-150.

The load floor is 7 inches closer to the ground than any American van. That’s what FWD does for you. Without the driveshaft to worry about, Fiat tucks the suspension and exhaust close to the load rails in the chassis making the floor of the Ducato much “thinner” than the competition. Don’t let that fool you, the Ducato’s load capacity is 3,472lbs, which positions it between the Chevrolet Express 2500′s 3,095lb capacity and the 3500′s 4,394lb maximum payload. When the Ducato becomes a naturalized American, payload increases and ranges from 3,922-4,417 lbs in the regular van configuration to 5,189 in the chassis cab and cut-away models.

2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Cargo Hold, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Cargo Hauling

Based on pickups, American vans are branded 1500, 2500 and 3500. In Europe these naming conventions don’t exist. When purchasing a Ducato, you first decide if you want a cargo box or if you want a chassis cab or cut away. Huh? How does that work in a unibody van? Easy. Unibody is becoming a generic descriptor and in the purest sense of the word the Ducato is not a true unibody vehicle. Instead it’s more of a hybrid having fully-boxed steel load rails. When the cargo box is put on top, the two are welded together to increase strength, but the Ducato doesn’t need the body to haul cargo. Next you select between three wheelbases and two roof heights. If you choose the longest wheelbase you have the option to extend the body an extra 14 inches. Each wheelbase has a range of payloads which you can select somewhat independently of drivetrains.

Because Fiat didn’t have a parts bin to raid for axles and chassis components, the Ducato was designed from the ground up to maximize cargo room. That meant pushing the rear wheels out as far as possible giving the Ducato 4-6 inches more room between the wheel wells than the competition. Fiat combined the low load floor with a standard cargo box that is nearly a foot taller inside than GM or Ford while maintaining roughly the same exterior dimensions. Opt for the factory high roof and you get 72 inches of floor-to-ceiling height. Because the high-roof version starts 7-inches closer to the ground, the Ducato is 7 inches shorter overall than the high-roof NV. This made the difference between fitting through a drive-thru and parking and walking in for my burger. Yes, I am that lazy.

The picture above shows the optional bulkhead between cargo and passenger compartments. If that was not in place, you would see the passenger area is 7 inches higher than the cargo area making it unlikely that liquids from your cargo would slosh around your feet. When in place, the bulkhead allows the cabin A/C to more effectively cool the driver, makes for a quieter ride and keeps your cargo from smacking your head. Speaking of liquids, the Ducato sports a double-sealed load floor to prevent liquids from rusting the welds from the inside out, a common problem with the Mercedes Sprinter. If you’re counting cubes, the Ducato shifts between 283 and 530 depending on the body. The E-Series ranges from 237 cubes to 278 while Nissan’s NV swallows 234 to 323.

180 MultiJet EngineDrivetrain

In most countries the Ducato sports an all-diesel, all-Iveco engine lineup ranging from a 2.3L 110 HP four-cylinder to the 3.0L 177 HP four-cylinder we will be getting in America in the ProMaster. (Iveco is Fiat’s commercial engine subsidiary.) Hauling is more about torque than HP and that’s where these oil burners shine. The base 2.3L engine delivers 221 lb-ft and the 3.0L engine cranks out a GM 4.8L V8 matching 295 lb-ft. Some markets have an optional Iveco compressed natural gas mill, but I’m not holding my breath for an American version. Exclusive to the US/Canadian market will be the 3.6L Pentastar V6 tuned to 280 HP and 260 lb-ft of twist.

Motivating 7,000-10,000lbs with 177 ponies may sound like a disaster, but you should remember that horsepower wars are a recent affectation and 295 lb-ft is enough to motivate the Ducato without a problem. The base engine sends that power to the ground via a 6-speed manual transmission. Yes, manual. No, I don’t think that’s a good idea for American commercial drivers because I have seen them drive. Thankfully Fiat offers an “automatic robotised gearbox” on the other diesel engines and that’s the only transmission on the American-bound diesel.

What is a “robotised” gearbox? This is not an automatic transmission. This is not a dual clutch gearbox and it is NOT an automatic transmission with a “manual mode”, it is a manual transmission with an automatic mode. You won’t find any planetary gears or a torque converter.  Instead you’ll find dog clutches, syncromesh and shafts. The reason is simple: torque converters and planetary gearsets are less efficient. Fear not, the computer controls the clutch and the shifting. Anecdotal evidence from a friend in the UK that runs a commercial repair garage indicates you should expect at least 100,000 miles out of the clutch even with heavy loads since the computer is more skilled at slipping the friction material than you are. Worried? The ProMaster’s gasoline V6 will have a regular old automatic with a torque converter and planetary gearsets if you can’t handle change.

2013 Fiat Ducato, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

I’m no stranger to commercial vehicles. I do fleet consulting on the side and I built my own home with my own two hands. Since I’m also a cheap bastard, everything that is my home arrived in a truck, van or trailer that I drove up and over a 2,200ft mountain pass, on gravel roads, in home improvement parking lots and unloaded myself before carrying said items down the hill to the building site. Some day if this construction nightmare is ever complete, I may write about it. What does this have to do with the Ducato? Easy, I had promised some friends we would have a patio party by the end of July. Except I didn’t have a patio yet. To complete the job I needed 26,400lbs of pavers and 22,000lbs of retaining wall blocks. A perfect test for the Ducato. The cheapest way to get the items was to pick them up at the store. To get the quantity I needed, I had to visit every location from Daly City to Watsonville multiple times.

Basalite puts pavers and wall products on 48×40 pallets, the most common size in North America, and loads them to between 3,000 and 3,3300lbs. Loading pallets in the Ducato was a breeze thanks to a generous 56-inches between the rear wheel wells, four more than the Ford. The forklift operators obviously need this extra width because despite being told repeatedly to move the pallet left or right they would invariably place it one millimeter from a wheel well. If you are brave enough, you can also insert a standard 48×48 pallet in the side door of the Ducato, although I don’t recommend it because the opening is 49 inches wide and I don’t trust forklift drivers that much. Still, it is possible which is more than can be said of the GM/Ford vans.

2013 Fiat Ducato, UP Connected button, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

After overloading the Ducato with 4,200lbs of cargo (something that is supposedly within the design specs of the ProMaster) I noticed the curious button in the picture above. I incorrectly assumed that pressing the button would drill into the earth to provide a stable platform for catapulting the load overhead. What the “UP Connected” button actually does is tell the robotic manual you have something heavy in the back. This causes the transmission to hold lower gears longer, downshift automatically when going downhill (engine braking) and most importantly, severely delay upshifts from 1 to 2. Why is that critical? Let’s look at the overall 1st and 2nd gear ratios on the MT40 robotic manual. 1st: 19:1 2nd: 10.7:1 (including the final drive ratio of 4.56:1.) 19:1 is a very low first gear (the ProMaster’s gasoline and automatic transmission will be around 15:1 in first) which means the Ducato had no problems starting on steep inclines despite having to slip the clutch. That was a relief because I would be lying if I didn’t say I was worried. However, there were a few problems.

The van we got our hands on did not have “hill hold assist” so you start rolling back when you lift off the brake. Again, this is a manual transmission, so it behaves just like one. This problem was easily remedied by using two feet and holding the brake gently while taking off. The second problem was less of a problem than I assumed it would be. With 9,000lbs of total vehicle weight climbing up a steep gravel road, I had expected the FWD Ducato to have traction issues. Despite this model lacking the electronic locking front differential offered in Europe, the FWD Fiat scrabbled its way up the hill with less drama than I feared given its Euro-spec crazy-small 215/70R15 tires. The third problem, and the only one that truly annoyed is caused by the huge delta between first and second gears and the leisurely rate at which the transmission shifts. Going up a steep incline, as the engine approached 3,500 RPM in 1st gear (about 15MPH), the transmission would shift into neutral halting forward progress. At this point one of two things would happen. Either the Ducato would slow down rapidly enough for the transmission to change its mind and re-engage first gear, OR it would engage second gear briefly, decide 10:1 wasn’t really low enough, then shift back to first. The only remedy is to anticipate the incline, command the gear manually and keep an eye on the tach to be sure you don’t hit 4,500RPM (about 25MPH). If you do, the transmission will shift into 2nd rather than let you hang out at a “high” RPM. Also, keep in mind that manual transmissions don’t have “Park” and this robotic unit is no different. Fiat does not program the unit to shift into any gear when stopped either, making that parking brake essential.

2013 Fiat Ducato Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

So we have a ginormous Euro van with a funky transmission. What’s the benefit? If you can get past the transmission, the diesel is a gem. The Ducato had no problems maintaining highway speeds on mountain roadways with a full payload. The four-cylinder diesel is also quieter and more refined than you might expect and the fuel economy is nothing short of amazing. Over 850 miles the Ducato averaged 29.6 imperial MPG which translates to 24.6 US MPG. Keep in mind the Ducato had 3,300lbs of cargo in the back and the van climbed from sea-level to 2,200 feet every trip. These are impressive numbers. Based on local gasoline and diesel prices of 3.99 and 4.10 per gallon respectively, the pay back time for the diesel’s expected $4,000 premium would be just over 2 years at 20,000 miles a year. That’s without factoring in the increased reliability of a diesel engine, longer transmission fluid lifetime in the robotic unit and lengthy engine oil replacement cycles.

Although not normally a consideration with a cargo van, the Ducato the most civilized ride in this segment. It’s also the easiest to parallel park thanks to an incredibly small 36.3-foot turning circle in the short wheelbase model, smaller than many mid-size sedans. The largest Ducato carries nearly twice the cargo as Chevy’s extended express while being more maneuverable with a 46.8 foot turning circle compared to the 54.6 for the Express. That’s the difference between making a U-turn or a 3-point turn downtown.

Driving the Ducato gave us the best insight so far into the upcoming ProMaster, a van that redefines American cargo hauling. Whether or not the ProMaster will be a success remains to be seen. In this notoriously stagnant market, the Ducato’s (and therefore the ProMaster) biggest feature is that robotic manual and the resulting fuel economy. But will fleet buyers accept the inherent compromises? Although Ford has delayed the highly anticipated T-Series, we can’t discount its impact on this segment. Part of that has to do with Ford’s sales domination, but plenty has to do with the T-Series itself. With a broader range of options, a RWD chassis that fleet buyers are comfortable with, a twin-turbo V6 and their 3.2L diesel 5-cylinder diesel the T-Series covers all the Ducato’s bases except for that low load floor and possibly fuel economy. Even so the Ducato is an interesting and attractive alternative, especially to those old GM vans. Be sure to check back with us in a few months when we get our hands on the 2014 ProMaster for comparison.

 

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116 Comments on “Review: 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van (Video)...”


  • avatar
    RobertRyan

    @Alex L Dykes
    The AMT ( what a Automated manual is called) on the Ducato improves it operation on the extended frame of the “dually’ Motorhome conversions.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      Automated layshaft transmissions is what we were taught to call them. They were considered an impractical curiosity, along with CVTs. Times have changed, what was impractical is now practical. Lock-up torque converters and overdrive were impractical to the generation before mine, now they are routine. The LePelletier gear-train was adopted nearly over night in gear train evolutionary terms- now they’re moving beyond that too. It makes me feel old.

  • avatar
    segfault

    Nice review. Those are narrow tires for something that heavy. Coupled with the FWD platform, I wonder how long it will take to burn through a set of front tires, since they’re doing all of the steering and accelerating and most of the braking?

    I like the red/black seats. A little more style than what you’d normally see a GM/Ford van.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      One of the gripes about the Sprinter was that its undersized tires wear out quickly on vans that are driven around loaded. Maybe durable truck tires are like reliability, just one of those things Europeans don’t know or care about.

      • 0 avatar
        RobertRyan

        CJinSD
        Did not notice the “reliable vehicles” running around where you live.You exaggerate problems that do not exist.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        When I was doing fleet maintenance the Sprinters that the customer bought ate through their 6 expensive Continental tires in about 12,000 miles about the same time it took to wear out the brake pads and rotors when used in door to door delivery service.

      • 0 avatar
        cornellier

        “reliability, just one of those things Europeans don’t know or care about” Data source please? Or your own opinion? If that latter based on what experience? Whatever. It’s a small sample.

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          Anything pointing to European cars being reliable is a small sample, generally just one person with a shoddy memory and over-developed rationalization skills, or a paid off editor.

          • 0 avatar
            Sam P

            And you still leased an A6? Way to take your own advice.

            http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/sense-or-nonsense-should-upscale-hyundais-become-lincolns/

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            And I still get blamed for that decision even though suggesting the A6 was just a hail mary to avoid the S4 that my business partner was about to lease. I wanted to wait for a GS350. The A6 has now gone several consecutive weeks without a warning light, for the first time since it was less than a month old. The transmission completely lost the plot quite a while ago though, and it shows no indication of ever reverting to its more decisive self.

    • 0 avatar
      cornellier

      Considering the overall operating costs, tires are trivial. You could also ask about the price of those tires for the American competitors.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        You mean 900 per year for tires on a Sprinter is a trivial cost? For an Econoline or Express of the same capacity you are looking at spending $600 for 4 years of use.

        Then you have $800 or so for that brake job after the first year since it will need new rotors, then $400 the next year since the aftermarket rotors will last for 2 years. So $2400 for 4 years worth of brakes while that Econoline or Express will need $300 worth of brakes for 4 years of operation.

        Throw the fuel filter replacement at $275 per year, the more expensive oil change and that Sprinter costs an extra $1500 per year vs a gas powered Econoline or Express. Most fleet operators do not consider that a trivial cost at all.

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          Don’t ruin the fun. I love watching people that ignore my counsel setting piles of their own money on fire.

        • 0 avatar
          Jellodyne

          8 to 10 mpg difference adds up pretty quickly, too.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            In the real world it is not that high. Sure if all you are doing it running around empty the Sprinter can beat those numbers. On the fleet that I used to work on that tried a whole bunch of Sprinters before they got wise the real world difference was only about 4 or 5 MPG. Then you add in the fact that in our area diesel runs 10~15% more and the Sprinter was much more expensive overall and that was before they started needing many repairs. As they age and start needing repairs the difference will get even larger. Which is why they stopped buying Sprinters.

        • 0 avatar
          Charliej

          Scoutdude, I don’t know where you got your figures. I bought a 2006 Sprinter 3500 cab chassis and had a 15 foot box body put on it. My business did not require a high amount of weight to be loaded, I did need room. The first set of tires did not last two years, but they did go 70,000 miles. I replaced the brake pads at 50,000 miles. The second pad replacement was at 100,000 miles and also required discs. I did not buy replacement pads or discs from the dealer. I bought from NAPA. The original discs are made from fairly soft iron to control squeaking. After market discs lasted through three sets of pads. The engine seemed to be bullet proof. I changed oil when the computer said it needed changing, average about 12,000 miles between changes. The fuel filter was nowhere near $275.00. I changed the fuel filter every two years or 100,000 miles. The truck was not perfect, the transmission failed at just over 200,000 miles. The AC clutch also failed about that time. The vibration damper also failed. All in all, I liked the truck. I kept it until I retired at the end of 2011. It had nearly 300,000 miles when I closed my business. I found that over all it was less expensive than the Fords that I had been using before. On vehicles that are are driven a thousand miles a week, fuel economy is paramount.

    • 0 avatar
      Blaz

      As long as they will keep tires that meet euro spec, that should not be a problem. As we know here in Europe tires are on average of a much higher quality than tires our American friends are getting.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @Blaz
        WTF? Tires are univeral, unless you are trying to get a rise out of our NA friends.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        The factory Continental tires that came on the Sprinter from Germany were bald at ~12K. The cheapo Les Schwab tires they put on as replacements would actually go ~20K but that was still a far cry from getting 60K out of the same model of Cheapo tires when put on a GM or Ford.

        Though I do agree that a lot of the tires that are sold in the US are pretty crappy. For some reason many Americans are willing to spend top dollar for a loaded luxury car with a prestigious badge, and then when tire replacement time comes along they buy the cheapest no name tires they can find.

        Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t buy top quality tires in the US just that many people think as long as they are black and round they are all the same.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    Interesting. Even more interesting when it hit the market.

  • avatar
    RobertRyan

    The AMT(Automated Manual transmission) actually improves its performance on the extended wheelbase”dually” used for Motorhomes.

  • avatar
    bam210135

    Alex,
    Good review, but you forgot about the 3.0 diesel (OM642) available in the Sprinter…

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      I didn’t forget about the Sprinter per se. The Sprinter is very much a niche vehicle in the USA because of its price tag. The MSRP of the Sprinter is $10,000 more than the ProMaster which is priced more-or-less identically to the Nissan NV, Express/Savanna and E-Series. The ProMaster is also likely to be discounted in small volume (25-50 units a year) in the same manner as GM and Ford vehicles which widens the delta to more than $15,000 for base models.

      • 0 avatar
        RobertRyan

        @Alex L. Dykes
        I can it would not compete with that “box on wheels” going by thos prices. MB has to be a bit more realistic with its pricing.

      • 0 avatar

        Not only the initial price difference, Alex. From the 2 or 3 fleet operators I know who have largely changed over to the Ducato line, maintenance is much lower as is down time. I’ve seen a lot of people going from Sprinter to Ducato. Never seen people moving back to Sprinter.

        • 0 avatar
          RobertRyan

          @Marcelo,
          They have to compete with Japanese and korean Vans here who do outsell the Ducato. do you have similar in Brazil?

          • 0 avatar

            Of Japanese makes that tried vans here only Mitsu tried and failed IIRC. The Koreans had a good run with their Hyundai Besta and the much smaller Asia (now Kia) Towner van when Brazil suddenly opened up to imports in the early 90s. Then the Sprinter came along, the Ducato (and the French twins), Renault Master and lately the Ford. The higher tariffs helped kill the Koreans but so did the Euro vans with their much more consolidated and penetrating network. Of course, we still have the old VW Kombi on sale. That holds half the market. Another form of competitor comes in the form of Fiat Doblos and Fiorinos, based on cars and the small Chinese microvans. Much like happened to the larger Korean vans, raised taxes and better on the ground presence have helped Fiat and VW stave off and, of late, reverse the Chinese invasion.

            You also have to remember that Brazil is the land of the car based mini pick up (used commercially and privately). The Fiat Strada alone sells as many units as all the other light commercial vehicles (small trucks and vans) and pickuplets. In absolute sales the Kombi comes next. But in the van sector we talk of the Ducato is king. Pretty funny that a brand much maligned for reliability should be king of the commercial market here.

            Where the Koreans have made in-roads is in the small, urban truck. Limited to a certain tonnage their Hyundai Bongo and its Kia equivalent made a killing. From purely my eyeball POV, I’d say that recently the Iveco Daily has given good combat to the Korean twins and is mounting a challenge. From what I see though, that segment does belong to the Koreans.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          All the Sprinters I see here in Ohio USA have big rust issues already. Doesn’t seem to matter if they’ve got the MB badge or the RAM badge, lol.

      • 0 avatar
        RobertRyan

        @Alx L Dykes
        You would think MB would become realistic with their pricing.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          When they were sold a Dodge dealers and carried that $10,000 premium the line that the salesmen used was that since you are going to keep it for 10 years that is only $1000 per year and you will save $1500 per year on fuel so you’ll still come out ahead. Of course they neglected to state the fact that tires, brakes, fliters and oil were going to cost an extra $1500 per year.

      • 0 avatar
        RobertRyan

        @Alex L Dykes.
        You would think MB would be realities about their pricing.

      • 0 avatar
        jz78817

        Hey, the higher price of the sprinter is justifiable. It costs a lot to make a van out of compressed rust.

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    I’m curious abut Nissan’s decision to go the more traditional van route. How far into the NV’s design phase might the Sprinter have been demonstrating a case for more modern designs in the US?

    If these new (to the US) types of van continue to capture market share, I suppose we might yet see a Nissan badged Renault Trafic or Master become available here.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      I think the NV’s conservatism was a reaction to the high running costs and resulting US market abandonment of Sprinters.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        The NV’s conservatism is the result of the fact that Nissan HAS to amortize the sunk costs in the slow selling Titan’s production facilities.

        They have other vans, why not federalize those?

        The real question is why did GM choose the NV200 for it’s ‘city’ van? GM has plenty of vans, too…

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          That sounds very plausible about the Titan tooling. The odd thing is that pre-carmaggedon, Nissan was talking about cutting their Titan losses and selling badge engineered Dodge trucks.

          The GM NV200 is a mystery, but obviously someone involved in moving NV200s is a master of corrupt political regimes.

          • 0 avatar
            geozinger

            IIRC, I think that was the official line about the big NV vans. IMO, they would have been better off re-badging Dodge Rams, at least if they wanted to compete in the North American pickup truck market.

            I can’t imagine that they can effectively compete in the (relatively small) van market in NA without big incentives, although this is speculation on my part.

            I admit to an odd fascination with this part of the market… Something about light utility vans interests me. I guess it was the exposure to vans back in the 1970′s, when everyone customized them…

  • avatar
    ajla

    That transmission sounds terrible.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      @ajla,
      Despite what an AMT sounds like they are used by European HDT truck makers like Volvo, Mercedes . MAN and Scania as well as Isuzu, Hino etc.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        It sounds a lot like the SMART’s transmission. Or, the Fiat Dualogic. Neither of those get much love among North Americans.

        As a manual transmission replacement the AMT might be great, but as an automatic substitute, I’m not sure it’ll gain much traction with the behavior that Alex described.

        I think most American van/RV operators prefer the “set it and forget” mode of transportation.

        I expect the vast majority of US-sold Promasters to use the gas V6 anyway.

        • 0 avatar
          RobertRyan

          @ajila,
          They are basically like an Automatic put it into manual when you want it. We have full automatics as well but people like these for Van based motorhomes as you can change into manual when you want too. not so with an automatic.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Many US market automatics can be manually shifted so they can start in higher gears in slippery conditions or hold a lower gear for pulling or braking power.

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            @Scoutdude,
            Same here with Automatics on pickups and Vans, but an AMT gives more precise shift points like a true manual and HDT Drivers can use it as an “automatic” on their normal runs. i know Manuals are the norm on HDT trucks in the US.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            @ Robert, on MD trucks up to GVWs up into the 30~50K range Automatics are becoming the norm. Only in the Semi truck size range are manuals still the norm and the automatic is quickly gaining acceptance in that market.

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            @Scoutdude,
            I noticed Freightliner is offering the DD(Mercedes) ATM, the Allison Automatic and a Hybrid drive.
            http://www.freightlinertrucks.com/Trucks/Components/Transmissions

            Your right the takeup of manuals is still high with US/Canada HDT’s non-existant with European HDT’s and a some manuals in Australia.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      I don’t see what not being able to handle change and not wanting a transmission that tries to execute unnecessary shifts that it can’t actually pull off have to do with one another. This is some pretty progressive-quality change we’re talking about, throwing out what works for what doesn’t under the guise of being greener. Give me a manual transmission any day. If I ever wear out a clutch, then I’ll pay for the privilege and it will still have been worth it. It hasn’t happened in the roughly 25 years I’ve been driving vehicles with manual transmissions though.

      • 0 avatar
        RobertRyan

        @CJinSD
        Unless you have driven a AMT it is hard to see how they are better than a manual in a fairly heavy vehicle. They are chalk and cheese over a old style manual.
        Manuals have been disappearing at a great rate for heavy Commervcial vehicles outside NA. the Ducato is not really a “heavy commercial vehicle”

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          “They are chalk and cheese over a old style manual.”

          A bad workman always blames his tools. A FWD van is an unlikely choice for heavy towing, so there’s no need to forfeit control of the gearbox to a computer that doesn’t know what you’re trying to do. In college, I had a job that involved driving a UD 1300 19′ box van with a 5-speed manual. The cumbersome size of the thing was sometimes an issue on winding, overhanging-tree-shrouded driveways, but the gearbox was never an issue for me. I don’t see how having a misguided robot trying to upshift into a too-tall second gear while maneuvering in tight quarters would have improved the experience.

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            CJinSD
            I have driven both you have not and I can tell you there is no comparision. I have a 85 yr old Uncle with a 2.2 Litre Ducato based class B, he said it drives” like a car’ He would abandon a clumsy beast fairly quickly.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          Again you show how little you know about the NA market, it has been a very long time since you could get a manual trans in a vehicle in this class. In MD trucks Automatics account for a large part of the market, and automatics are gaining popularity in the HD truck market too.

          • 0 avatar
            Hank

            “…it has been a very long time since you could get a manual trans in a vehicle in this class.”

            A very long time, indeed. I’ve been driven Ford E-Series vans since the ’80s…never encountered a manual. I drove GMC diesel “short buses” in the ’00s…never encountered a manual. I drove these with trailers (including hauling cattle to market with a E-350/460V8/towing package-equipped 15 passenger Ford), in the Rockies, in the desert, and in the dead of Northeastern winters. Autos were never a liability. Ever.

            Great review. I look forward to seeing how the ProMaster works out in the real world. My suspicion is there will me much crow eating, and much success.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            That’s such a non-sequitur here that I don’t know if you’re calling me out or RobertRyan. This article says that the Ducato is available as a manual in other markets, but that we’ll get the dreadful sounding robotic gearbox. I’d rather have the manual than the robotic mistake described by Alex or a Chrysler minivan automatic with the Porouscastingstar V6. I have driven MD manuals and I drove fleet Econoline 350 automatics about three years ago. Just because transmissions have been dumbed down for the LCD doesn’t mean that I don’t want what I want.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            @CJ if you are referring to my comment it was directed at Robert, not you. While we may disagree on a lot of things I think we are both on the same page when it comes to this or likely any automated manual transmission.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            Okay. I was the one arguing in favor of offering the manual transmission though. I know they’re going away. I know that even the Ram-Cummins trucks take a serious torque haircut when paired with the only manual available in a medium duty pickup. I just think that the AMT sounds terrible for certain things that I very much had to do in my fitness equipment delivering days, like slowly navigating access roads, rural driveways in the mountains, and gridlocked traffic. A good automatic would be better for much of it, but it would also take something I enjoyed doing and turn it into a chore. I loved driving that silly 2.5 ton with its 67 mph top speed at redline in 5th gear, except when I was using it to move back and forth to college up and down I81 in Virginia. Then it was just slow and loud. Climbing mountains on the interstate in south-western VA wasn’t something for the faint of heart. I was probably lucky I didn’t have a CB to hear what the real truckers were saying about me.

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            @Hank “My suspicion is there will me much crow eating, and much success”
            A whole lot better than described in the main article.

    • 0 avatar
      Maintainer

      It can’t be any worse than a 90s vintage AOD in an Econoline.
      Or the electrics controlling them..

      • 0 avatar
        LeadHead

        AODs are hydromechanical. No electronics there.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          He must be talking about the AOD-E or 4R70. Which while they had some common problems, weren’t bad gearboxes as far as reliability went by that stage.

          I specifically looked for a truck with a 4R70 when I bought my F150. Whatever does break will be cheap to fix.

  • avatar

    Wicked! Unfortunately, the problems of Sprinter were not entirely imagined by xenophobes. Everyone loves the lower loading floor and lower fuel consumption, lower reliability – not so much.

  • avatar

    Pretty spot on review Alex, thanks. I even watched the vídeo!

    Despite the usual naysayers, the Ducato/ProMaster will be a revelation for most Americans who use the vans commercially. Here, in Brazil, the Ducato totally dominates the Market and the Sprinters, Renault vans can’t even start to compete. The Ford seems to have been off to a good start, but Fiat has been able to stave that off.

    The motors. In comercial applications nothing beats a diesel. Like Alex said, hp is low, but in this application the torque more than compensates. It keeps speed easily and it even doesn’t sound all that bad. Commercial operators I know says both engines are all but impossible to kill.

    As to the transmission, they’re common in Fiat cars and vans in Brazil as well as VW and GM cars. One of the reasons they last so long is that the computer does block you from doing things that’d hurt the system. The first itineration in Brazil was more intrussive, but the last generation of the Fiat system has been praised in that it allows the driver more leeway. I don’t know which system Alex had in his van.
    The advantage is, besides the fuel economy, the general low price and maintenance. If you blow it, it’s like changing a manual system and not na automatic or double clutch. It’s like Alex said, a manual in which the computer changes gears for you. Here in BRazil the driver can row the gears for himself if he so wishes.

    In Brazil you can buy this car with all kinds of factory adaptations. From airport courier of 8, 9 12 or 16, to ambulance, to hot dog stand, to ice cream truck, the factory can do it all. I wonder is flexibility in the US will be so great?

    I’m very curious too. Let’s see what is good for and a smashing hit in Brazil, and not too shabby in Europe, can replicate their success in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      In the US diesel has been losing popularity since the introduction of the 2010 diesel emissions regulations that have cut the fuel economy and increased the maintenance and repair costs. There is a reason that UPS and FedEx have been switching to gas powered step vans and that is due to lower overall cost.

      • 0 avatar

        Won’t dispute you. I’m just pointing out that the Fiat diesels have a stellar reputation. If it makes economic sense in the US or not, you should know better than me. In Brazil, for commercial applications it sure does.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        This may be an issue for the commercial sector but in the consumer sector, we have a freakin’ bounty of diesel powered cars and it doesn’t seem like diesel is losing popularity among non-business users at all.

        Hell, BMW just introduced an AWD diesel station wagon for anyone who has 42 grand to blow or can afford the lease payment.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @Scotdude
        I’m almost thinking you are trolling with your comments. Almost 2/3 of your comments are trolling in nature.

        Light diesels last year have increased by over 27% in sales numbers in the US.

        Can TTAC staff talk to this guy.

        • 0 avatar
          Jimal

          @BAfO,
          I think you might be confusing your Scotdudes with your CJinSDs, because while I feel a zenophobic trolling from the later, the former is making a couple valid points.

          Diesel emissions standards in the U.S. have been tightening the past few years. Add to that the loss of the seasonal pricing advantage that Diesel used to have and the result is some push back on Diesel adoption. A 27% increase sounds impressive until you realize that Diesel only accounts for about 1% of new car sales in the U.S. and that the wider spread adoption of the Diesel option has as much to do with CAFE standards as it does market demand.

          For the record, I’m a Diesel proponent.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @Jimal
            Since you are such a diesel fan, feast your eyes on this link. Maybe your friend Scoutdud and your information might be tainted or even biased:)

            Also, go back and read other articles that Scoutdud has been blogging in on this site. You’ll see where I’m coming from.

            http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2012/12/13/massive-increase-in-us-diesel-light-duty-vehicles-expected-in-2013-14/

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            @BAF0 – Diesels are gaining some ground in autos, but more likely cannibalizing hybrid sales. Which ever it is, for commercial and government fleets, it just comes down to dollars and cents.

            If diesels still make any kind of sense, below heavy-duty class 7 trucks, it’s by the slimmest of margins. Remember commercial vehicles don’t retain residual or trade in value like private autos. They’re base models that get driven into the ground. It’s called ‘salvage value’. So you don’t make it up on the back end like you “might” with autos and private pickups.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @Jimal
            And don’t try and say hybrid sales are being taken by diesels. Maybe use google as well.

            http://green.autoblog.com/2013/06/05/may-2013-green-car-sales-rise-30-compared-to-2012/

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            @BAF0 – I doesn’t matter and you’re not getting the point. An increase in diesel autos could be part of that ‘green’ movement itself. But of course with autos, diesels don’t have to make sense. Some would call it a luxury, but it’s more of a fetish. Do you think diesel BMW buyers are obsessed with economy? Or diesel Cherokee buyers need towing prowess?

          • 0 avatar
            Jimal

            @BAfO, if the best you can do is a couple links and some snark, this conversation isn’t going to go far.
            If my bias is anywhere, it is pro Diesel, not anti Diesel.

            The article you link to speaks only of vehicles in production or in the pipeline. The “massive increase” is in the number of offerings, not necessarily in the number of sales. I can tell you that TDI Audis are arriving at dealers but aren’t moving, at least yet.

            I haven’t said a word about hybrids so I’m not sure why you’re bringing them up.

            It will be interesting to see if Skyactiv-D offerings from Mazda or the Cruze Diesel will move the needle or simply take sales away from Volkswagen. I can tell you that this wider sale of Diesel powered cars would have made more sense 10 years ago, which there was better price parity between Diesel and premium gasoline.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            As Denver Mike state for many commercial customers there is no resale value they keep them for their entire useful life and then send them to scrap.

            UPS for example makes sure that their trucks are crushed. Main facilities will have their own in house “wrecking yard” to occasionally harvest some small parts and then a representative makes sure they are crushed. A local wrecking yard/scrap dealer has the contract for the local UPS trucks. They are driven or towed to the yard and the yard is only allowed to remove the tires, batteries and fluids before the UPS employee watches them get crushed.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          Commercial customers have already put enough miles on modern light duty diesels to know the downsides and are going back to gasoline, CNG, LPG in a big way.

          Light duty diesels are enjoying some revived popularity in the NA retail due to high fuel prices and a reputation than hasn’t been true in about 10 years.

          As the word gets out about lower than expected fuel economy, high cost of maintenance, poor reliability and generally bad ownership experience (who wants to buy aftertreatment fluid to dump in their exhaust, or drive around wasting fuel to complete a regen so the particulate filter doesn’t clog up?), expect to see people veering away from them.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @danio3834
            Why isn’t this relected in diesel sales numbers?

            Come on, its not hard to google information and data like this.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Yeah it is hard to find data that is solely for commercial use. Yes more private owners are buying diesels, though some long time diesel car owners are abandoning them as well.

  • avatar
    Vance Torino

    THIS is the heir of the VW Bus and EuroVan aging hippies have been waiting so long for!
    Can’t wait to see the conversions!
    Someone page Westphalia!

  • avatar
    Maintainer

    I’m really looking forward to the Promaster review now.
    I grew up on a steady stream of E-lines, Rams and G vans in the Plumbing trade.
    I loved my Rams and E vans, not so much the Express or G vans.
    After a few years now I’m returning to being “just a Plumber” and at some point will get to play with one of these.

  • avatar
    Scuttle

    Will it be possible to buy a promaster for personal use or will it only be available to fleet customers? This would be perfect for me to replace my truck with.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Certainly when Chrysler sold the Sprinter the majority of them were sold one or two at a time the Dodge dealers that carried them. I don’t expect that to change. No they won’t likely be at every Ram dealer but there should be a few in most metro areas. Of course you are not as likely to cut as good of a deal just buying one rather than 10 but I’m certain they will be more than happy if you want to buy just one.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      @Scuttle
      The Personal use is as a Class C or B motorhome. Look on Youtube and look for Fiat Ducato

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      You’ll be able to get one for personal use, but as already stated, you’ll have to go to a “BusinessLink” authorized Chrysler dealer to get one. Not all dealers will have them.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Fantastic review, Alex. This van seems to be full of clever ideas, some new, some odd, and some simply not the norm in the U.S, but all of which sound pretty good. It won’t win any beauty contests, but learning so much more about the Ducato and its ProMaster cousin have transformed it in my mind from gigantic ugly duckling to a gigantic white swan. Can’t wait to start seeing them in the wild.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    One question: how were you allowed to legally drive an overloaded European van on American roads?

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      It was imported into the US, one would assume legally. I still am not sure if it was overloaded or not since the instruction manual was in German and I couldn’t really tell exactly which load package the Ducato had on it. If it was overloaded at 4,100lbs it wasn’t by very much.

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      Manufacturers can register and put an “M” plate on a non-certified or non-federalized vehicle for testing and evaluation purposes. After which they have a few choices: 1) re-fit the vehicle and certify it, 2) scrap it, or 3) send it back whence it came.

      • 0 avatar
        Carrera

        Yeah, you’re right on the money JZ. I have a feeling it was brought under a TIB ( temporary importation bond) good for a year normally. Manufacturers do this all the time for cold/hot weather testing. I personally had to go make sure some nice BMWs were destroyed at a local junk yard when the year came up. Most of the time, when the year comes up, the cars are too beat up to be shipped back to the mother country anyway. I strongly doubt it this was permanently imported. CBP is pretty good at seizing, or at least, refusing the imporation of non-comforming vehicles, which this FIAT probably is.

  • avatar
    Mr Butterfly

    Finally something to upgrade my Fiat 500 to.

    (Ducato actually looks better than the ugly 500L, so hey, why the hell not)

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Who knows, of the “Euro style van” trend catches on, we could have the GAZelles in the US.

    http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Газель-Бизнес

  • avatar
    pbxtech

    I really enjoyed this review Alex:)

  • avatar
    niky

    How refreshing… not a single comment about a foreign car being “over-rated” for capacity. But given that huge bay, you’d expect it to have a high capacity!

    A very intriguing product. Too bad we don’t get it here in our part of Asia, though we get Sprinter-a-likes from China.

    I wonder if they’ll offer a mini-RV version when it’s sold as a Dodge… looks big enough to serve as such.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      @niky
      I would have thought you guys are getting the Mercedes vans out of Korea.

      • 0 avatar
        niky

        JAC has an exact Sprinter clone here, not quite sure what the Koreans have… Hyundai and Kia have very light duty vans like the K2700… though Hyundai does sell commercial vehicles like large buses and trucks locally.

        We get the Merc Sprinter on indent, but I’m not sure of the price. But they aren’t that popular. Most businesses use Japanese or Korean box vans for urbanhauling, and light trucks for anything bigger.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          Some of the Merc vans we have here in Australia are made by Ssyangyong.

          We don’t don’t get JAC in Australia. I think Great Wall are going to bring a van and a light duty forward control truck in, or it’s just arrived.

          • 0 avatar
            niky

            Ssangyong’s presence here is very limited, and no commercial vehicles… just SUVs and pick-ups.

  • avatar
    Johannes Dutch

    This Fiat is a result of a joint venture between Fiat and PSA. The Peugeot Boxer and Citroën Jumper are exactly the same.

    Officially the engine is an FPT engine. (Fiat Powertrain Technologies) Iveco is Fiat’s truck division and FPT is the name for all the powertrain components. Not only for trucks but also for farm equipment (Case New Holland, also part of the Fiat Group) and the marine.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    This review was fantastic and a good read, thank you Alex.

    It also provides insight for our North American brothers on what to expect in the future. These vehicles can do most of the light trucking around the world. We have them with 12′ flat beds, refrigerated pantechs and what ever body you can dream of to fit on a chassis.

    These are apparently the RV platform of choice in Europe, and I can say I saw quite a few in southern France this year.

    We have a Fiat Ducato at work, it is used by our catering division to haul food things around the complex where I work.

    Also, these small diesel differ in characteristics as much as gas engines do. Don’t think a V6 will be a better diesel than a in line 4.

    What is great is the FE that can be achieved, particularly under load as was shown here.

    I hope your pickups get these 3 litre class diesels as it would benefit many people who want to tow or use for work.

    Again, good story.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Whenever I read the phrase “Ram Promaster” I laugh like Bart Simpson.

  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    One can trade the convenience of going through fast-food drive in windows, with the occasional backing up the gravel mountain passes with front-wheel-drive.

  • avatar
    Carrera

    Who makes the Dodge’s diesel when it comes to USA? Is it IVECO as well? Or is it VM Motori? I know IVECO makes great diesel engines. Since IVECO is owned by FIAT it would make sense to bring IVECO engines for all of Dodge’s diesel applications ( Jeep GC and the new 6 Cyl RAM). I know that VM Motori makes the RAM and the Jeep’s diesel though. I for one am very excited about the new breed of vans coming to USA with diesel offerings.

    • 0 avatar
      Johannes Dutch

      The Ram 1500 gets a 3.0 ltr. V6 diesel from VM Motori. It’s the same engine as in the Jeep GC. (and new Maserati Ghibli)

      The FPT engine (formerly known as Iveco diesels) is a 3.0 ltr. 4 cylinder. And that’s a true workhorse diesel for vans and trucks only.

  • avatar
    Garak

    My workplace tested replacing our MB Sprinters with Ducatos at one point. After about a year of broken CV joints, constant tire replacement and fizzled electronics, the Fiats went away and never came back. And there was much rejoicing.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Brisbane

    For your conservative countrymen who want a traditional van with rear wheel drive and a hood. How about the Hyundai iload? it is everywhere here and is the van of choice for the police. Try the 160 hp diesel. Baby steps to move on from the ancient E-series. Check out iload at http://www.hyundai.com.au

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      Yes they are everywhere in Australia. The European developed diesel males them pretty good performers.
      http://www.pgc.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/hyundai-iload-signage-2.jpg
      http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8451/7910829310_cb8494bbaa_z.jpg

      http://www.pgc.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/hyundai-iload-van-signage-1.jpg

      http://www.seabreeze.com.au/Img/Photos/Windsurfing/5715182.jpg

  • avatar
    RS

    “it is a manual transmission with an automatic mode.”

    Is that used in any cars?

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The smart car is the best-known example. Conventional manual gearbox, with one stepper motor to drive the clutch fork, and another pair of stepper motors driving a slotted drum, which receives extensions from the shift rails.

  • avatar
    That guy

    Will there be a high roof version? If so, can a Polaris RZR fit in the back alongside a motocross bike?

  • avatar
    orobertscab

    Thanks for the great Ducato review! I am interested in updating my 2003 Express 2500 van & the Promaster has some appealing features. I think the front wheel drive will have wide acceptance from most van users in the frozen parts of the U.S., for most applications I think it will provide better traction than rear wheel drive. The lower load floor & better fuel economy are also likely to be well received. I will also be looking at the Transit when it arrives next year. The Transit Connect’s success is evidence that there is a market for alternatives to GM & Ford’s traditional full size vans. I hope GM is not too late to the party once again, they make a good van but it is in need of serious updating.


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