The Volkswagen Transporter may have a richer, more nostalgic history, but when it comes to modern-day camper vans, the Fiat Ducato is the reigning king of base vehicles. Fiat goes so far as to call it "the only base created to be a camper." For this year's Düsseldorf Caravan Salon, Fiat Professional teamed with the 4x4 specialists at Dangel to give the Ducato a bit more capability. The Ducato 4x4 Expedition Camper Show Van opens up new possibilities, letting the Ducato driver stake his overnight claim well off the beaten, paved track.
This year has proven an interesting one for 4WD camper vans, with Mercedes receiving the lion's share of attention thanks to the North American release of the Sprinter 4x4, used as the base for campers from the likes of Sportsmobile and Winnebago, and the debut of the smaller Vito 4x4.
With the Ducato 4x4 show van, Fiat Professional pulls a bit of that spotlight away from Mercedes. It says the van is its first exploration of a segment that accounts for 25 percent of the camper van market, and while it doesn't have immediate plans for production, it is watching that part of the market. Given the Ducato's extreme popularity in the camper van market, a Ducato 4x4 seems like a natural choice for motorhome buyers looking for something a little more rugged and off-road-capable.
When Fiat decided to experiment with an off-road-ready camper based on a high roof, long wheelbase Ducato, it already had an obvious partner in place. French company Dangel specializes in equipping 4x4 systems to Fiat, Peugeot and Citroën vehicles, including the Ducato. We saw some of its work at last year's Paris Motor Show.
Dangel adds its permanent all-wheel drive system with viscous coupling to the Ducato base, giving the 150-hp, 2.3-liter Multijet II engine some help in the slick stuff. To complement that system, it also raises the ride height and bolts on new wheels and wraps them in oversized tires, giving the van more capability in managing variable terrain and clearing obstacles. The track is also widened and a front skid plate added.
The Ducato 4x4 Expedition Camper gets an elevated look to match its enhanced capabilities, courtesy of a partnership with Olmedo Special Vehicles. Added equipment includes an LED light bar, a front winch and some serious carry capacity atop the high roof. Even with included gear like the two spare tires and traction mats secured down, there's plenty of room for other essentials. The rack is reinforced with a walking platform, making gear access easier.
Aesthetically, there's a two-tone paint job, red "Opening New Roads" designations teasing the Ducato camper's newfound off-road capability, and plenty of "Ducato 4x4 Expedition" badging.
While rugged outside, the Expedition is calm and cool inside, where an understated, neutral-color cabin invites folks to relax. The interior is the work of the Italian RV and yacht interior specialists at Tecnoform, who have filled out the van with a state-of-the-art entertainment system with dual retractable flat-screen TVs and multi-speaker audio. The interior also has a furniture-integrated lighting system.
Fiat hasn't detailed the complete ins and outs of the interior, presumably because this is a one-off concept van focused mostly on exterior upgrading, but photos show that there's a multi-panel fold-out bed running the width of the cabin, a kitchen with stainless steel sink and glass-top stove, and a dining table between the rear seats and swiveling front seats. The double rear doors and central aisle in back seem optimized for cargo hauling.
Fiat says outright that there's no future for the Ducato 4x4 Expedition beyond making appearances at a few other shows after Düsseldorf. The show van does demonstrate that Fiat is at least thinking more about the off-road camper van market, and with a 4WD converter like Dangel already there, a production Ducato 4x4 camper would be a fairly straightforward journey. The suits upstairs will have to figure out how good it looks on the balance sheet, though.