RAC

Fiat Multipla range

Introduction

Fiat's Multipla May Still Look Strange But It Makes A Whole Lot Of Sense - As Vanessa Hinkley Discovered'

Will It Suit Me?

If your family's anything like mine, then it doesn't need something the size of a glorified van. But nor does it really want a family hatchback with an inflated roof. The current crop of mini-MPVs either offer no more passenger capacity than an ordinary saloon or they try and cram seven people in like sardines. As far as I'm concerned, neither approach is ideal. Hence the need for an alternative. A car that's compact enough to fit in the tightest supermarket space. Yet a car than can carry six in comfort. A car that can double as a removal van if required. Yet a car that drives and handles like the most responsive family hatchback. In creating the Multipla mini-MPV that I'm trying here, somebody at Fiat has thought long and hard about what families really want. In our case, that doesn't include seven seats - six for us are perfectly adequate. Roadburning performance is equally unnecessary in a car of this type, so either of the two mainstream engines on offer (a 1.6-litre petrol or the 1.9-litre turbo diesel that I tried) would be quite sufficient. But engines aren't going to be what the neighbours talk about if a Multipla appears in your drive. Despite the most recent styling revisions, this still has to be one of the strangest looking cars on the road. When I first saw one, I thought it very ugly but the longer you look at it, the more it grows on you'.

Practicalities

Though it doesn't have the seven seats of Vauxhall's rival Zafira, the Multipla manages to be arguably the most practical of the mini-MPVs on the market. This is thanks to a unique three-abreast seating layout front and rear. Since six people can therefore be accommodated in only two rows of seats, the overall length of the car can be kept short - four metres to be exact, half a foot less than a VW Golf. Yet try to picture three full-sized adults sitting alongside each other (or a child sitting between two adults - they love this at the front) and you'll find yourself picturing a very wide car indeed. Sure enough the only car you can buy that's wider than this little Fiat is a Rolls Royce Silver Seraph. That three-abreast design approach meant that whichever way the designers cut it, they were going to have to produce a very unusual-looking car indeed. In which case, someone in Turin must have decided, we might as well go all the way - and sure enough they have. The Multipla is, without doubt, the most unusual car you will ever have seen. It's as if someone has driven a family hatchback under a low bridge, stripped the top half of the body away, then added a square glassy box on top of what remains. Unusually for an MPV, that means a conventional flat bonnet on top of which sits what can only be described as the cabin podule. This overwhelms the lower part of the body, spilling over the edges of the waistband below the front screen. It also features an unusually low waistline, with glasswork so deep that onlookers can admire the elbows and knees of occupants as they pass by. It all sounds very strange - and it is, at least until you've lived with the shape for a few weeks. By then, you will have learned to ignore all the stares and probably begun to rather enjoy those futuristic looks. And with that out of the way, there really aren't too many other reasons to dislike this little Fiat. For a start, getting in and out is easy, courtesy of high, wide doors and seats that are comfortably but not excessively high. All six seats are identical and equally comfortable, all have three-point seatbelts and all are light (16kg) and easily removable. The middle seat up front can be folded flat (to give three extra cupholders) or replaced completely by a console including an 18-litre cooled or heated box. It's the same in the rear, where the middle seat can be either folded or removed to accommodate a small fridge. Rear seat leg and headroom is outstanding for such a small car - almost limousine-like in the rearmost of the two mounting positions on offer. Even with the seats set this far back, there's still as much luggage space (430 litres) behind them as you'd find in a Mercedes C-class, or 540 litres if you click them forward a notch (sacrificing little in terms of ride comfort). This is, in other words, the only mini-MPV you can buy with a decent amount of luggage space - as much as 1300 litres if you treat the Multipla as a three-seater.

Behind the Wheel

This is arguably the only mini-MPV that's really good to drive. All the mechanicals come from the Brava family hatchback but the wide stance, the long wheelbase and the more rigid body mean that if anything, the Multipla handles better. Certainly, the direct, beautifully weighted steering helps, as does a slick, snappy gearchange manipulated via a stick protruding from the fascia. And what a fascia: it looks like something from Alien, with various satellite areas for the ventilation controls, the air vents and the built-in stereo. Perched on top is a crescent-shaped speedometer incorporating a fuel gauge, warning lights - but no rev counter. There is a bulge next to the speedometer where it looks as if an embryonic rev counter is about to burst through. Fiat think most buyers won't want one - and they're probably right. Most customers will opt for the 120bhp 1.9-litre turbo diesel that I tried - and understandably so. It's just as fast as the alternative 1.6-litre petrol unit (0-60mph in 12.2s on the way to 111mph) yet much torquier and considerably more frugal (45.6mpg on the urban cycle). There's not too much of a price premium either. Nice touches include split door mirrors that enable you to watch the kerb at the same time as oncoming traffic and storage compartments everywhere, including neat bins that fold out of the roof above the sun visors. Drawbacks include a slightly high level of wind noise at speed and a steering wheel that adjusts for rake but not for reach.

Value For Money

Prices of course, mimic those of obvious Renault Scenic-class mini-MPV rivals - expect to pay between £14,045 and £17,885, depending on your choice of engine or trim level.

Could I Live With One?

Rather to my surprise, I found the answer to be yes. All told, the Multipla makes more sense than any MPV yet made. It may still look unusual - but then, so does every great design when it first arrives on the market. Try one and see if you could live with it: like me, you might be in for a shock.

There will be many who miss the old frog-eyed Multipla but it made sound financial sense for Fiat to tone down the exterior styling as sales were modest to say the least. Since its restyle, the Multipla has done reasonably well, but this is a fast-moving market sector and there's always a rival that's box fresh and has come up with a new eye-catching gimmick. Only now, nearly a decade after the Multipla was first unveiled, are customers starting to embrace less conservative designs in meaningful numbers. One thing that hasn't changed is the Multipla's sheer practicality. It's a car that works very well as family transport. It's rugged, spacious, cost effective and has some personality which is always welcome. It also feels like no other car to drive. Fiat went out on a limb with the Multipla when it could have played safe, as it did with the rather more forgettable Idea. It's not too late to reward that audacity.

There will be many who miss the old frog-eyed Multipla but it made sound financial sense for Fiat to tone down the exterior styling as sales were modest to say the least. Since its restyle, the Multipla has done reasonably well, but this is a fast-moving market sector and there's always a rival that's box fresh and has come up with a new eye-catching gimmick. Only now, nearly a decade after the Multipla was first unveiled, are customers starting to embrace less conservative designs in meaningful numbers. The Multipla's key proposition is still alive and kicking insofar as it offers three-abreast seating layout front and rear. Since six people can therefore be accommodated in only two rows of seats, the overall length of the car can be kept short - four metres to be exact, half a foot less than a VW Golf. Getting in and out is easy, courtesy of high, wide doors and seats that are comfortably but not excessively high. All six seats are identical and equally comfortable, and rear seat leg and headroom is outstanding for such a small car. This is one of the few mini-MPVs you can buy with a decent amount of luggage space - as much as 1300 litres if you treat the Multipla as a three-seater. One thing that hasn't changed is the Multipla's sheer practicality. It's a car that works very well as family transport. It's rugged, spacious, cost effective and has some personality which is always welcome. It also feels like no other car to drive. Fiat went out on a limb with the Multipla when it could have played safe, as it did with the rather more forgettable Idea. It's not too late to reward that audacity.

Fiat's Multipla may not be the newest mini-MPV out there but genius doesn't get old quickly. It's still a very capable car that's cheap to buy and run and which can take the pasting young kids dish out. Now available with just a 1.9 Multijet diesel engine, the Multipla remains a decent choice. Although keen drivers will prefer something like a Ford C-MAX, the Multipla is nevertheless great fun to drive. Although all the mechanicals come from the old Brava family hatchback, the wide stance, the long wheelbase and the more rigid body mean that the Multipla handles better. Certainly, the direct, beautifully-weighted steering helps, as does a slick, snappy gearchange manipulated via a stick protruding from the fascia. The two engines previously on offer have been rationalised down to one, and it's the one most customers opted for anyway, the 120bhp 1.9-litre turbo diesel - and understandably so. It's just as fast as the now deleted 1.6-litre petrol unit (0-60mph in 12.2s on the way to 111mph) yet much torquier and considerably more frugal (45.6mpg on the combined cycle). Drawbacks include a slightly high level of wind noise at speed and a steering wheel that adjusts for rake but not for reach. You'll be aware of the width of the Multipla in tight city streets or when trying to ease it into a multi storey space, but the flipside of having a wide car is the feeling of security it gives when cornering. For such a tall car, the Multipla handles surprisingly well and the steering has enough weight to it to make stitching together a series of bends good sport. The Multipla's key proposition is still alive and kicking insofar as it offers three-abreast seating layout front and rear. Since six people can therefore be accommodated in only two rows of seats, the overall length of the car can be kept short - four metres to be exact, half a foot less than a VW Golf. Getting in and out is easy, courtesy of high, wide doors and seats that are comfortably but not excessively high. All six seats are identical and equally comfortable, all have three-point seatbelts and all are light (16kg) and easily removable. The middle seat up front can be folded flat (to give three extra cupholders) or replaced completely by a console including an 18-litre cooled or heated box. There will be many who miss the old frog-eyed Multipla but it made sound financial sense for Fiat to tone down the exterior styling as sales were modest to say the least. Since its restyle, the Multipla has done reasonably well, but this is a fast-moving market sector and there's always a rival that's box fresh and has come up with a new eye-catching gimmick. Only now, nearly a decade after the Multipla was first unveiled, are customers starting to embrace less conservative designs in meaningful numbers. One thing that hasn't changed is the Multipla's sheer practicality. It's a car that works very well as family transport. It's rugged, spacious, cost effective and has some personality which is always welcome. It also feels like no other car to drive. Fiat went out on a limb with the Multipla when it could have played safe, as it did with the rather more forgettable Idea. It's not too late to reward that audacity.

Scores
Performance 7
Handling 6
Comfort 8
Space 8
Styling 8
Build 5
Value 8
Equipment 7
Economy 7
Depreciation 6
Insurance 7
Total 77

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