BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Fiat are rarely short of ideas when it comes to appealing small cars and with the explosion in MPV-style utility vehicles, it was only a matter of time before they slotted in a model beneath the Multipla. Although other rivals beat the Punto-based Idea to the punch, few can come anywhere close to its sense of fun and style. A used Idea may be a little tricky to track down, but if you want a small MPV-style vehicle but don't want to forgo a little personality, this is one Idea well worth further investigation.
Models Covered: Idea - 2004-to date 5-door hatchback (1.4 16v petrol [95bhp] / 1.3 Multijet Diesel [80bhp, 70bhp, 90bhp] [Active, Dynamic, Eleganza] )
The Idea doesn't pack a whole lot of history into its curriculum vitae. Basing it on the Fiat Punto, a car whose fundamental underpinnings can be traced back to 1994, didn't seem the most effective way of introducing a fresh face to the supermini-MPV arena but the results were a good deal more effective than expected. The Punto had long been one of the more effervescent cars to drive in its class and the Idea took that 'spirito' and translated it to a class notably lacking such qualities. Two engines were offered from launch, a 1.4-litre petrol and the preferable 1.3-litre Multijet diesel. The petrol was offered in Active, Dynamic and Eleganza trim levels though the diesel was never available in Eleganza specification. In the Spring of 2006, the Idea got a facelift. The more recent cars are easily spotted by their chrome grille and the indicators integrated into the headlamp clusters. Inside, they feature a two-tone dash and lots of chrome detailing. The 1.4-litre engine was revised to reduce noise in the cabin at this stage and two versions of the 1.3-litre Multijet became available, buyers could choose 70bhp or 90bhp power outputs. The last UK market Ideas were sold in the early part of 2007.
What You Get
Unlike the Multipla, the Idea doesn't turn heads, its lines resembling a rather sleeker Hyundai Getz. This is no coincidence as Giugiaro is responsible for penning the Getz and also had a hand in the shape of the Idea. Fiat's internal design house contributed to the car and for a car effectively designed by committee, it's a very accomplished effort. It's certainly a good deal easier on the eye than the Multipla, a car that melded design brilliance to hugely unconventional looks and which failed to net the sales in this conservative market that it deserved. Fiat rightly chose to adopt a more sober approach with the Idea, slotting the car into the range somewhere just above the Punto line up. Think of it as being to the Punto what a Ford Focus C-MAX is to a Focus hatch and you'll probably get the gist of it. No, it doesn't offer any additional seats but you can pull some intriguing moves with the seats you do get - thirty-two of them to be precise. The rear seats are split 40-20-40 and can move back and forth either together or individually, prioritising either legroom or luggage space. The seat backs can also be reclined for comfort which is a distinct rarity at this price point. The rear seat backs can fold forward as does the front passenger seat to allow you to carry some very long items. You can even fold all the seat backs flat to create a double bed effect. This is all very well, but it does make one wonder why Fiat - which is partly owned by General Motors - never got access to the even cleverer FlexSpace seating system as used in the Vauxhall Meriva where the seats fold flat to the floor. Three across the back is a bit of a tight squeeze, especially as the firm centre pew looks guaranteed to numb the posterior over longer distances but there's certainly no problem as far as headroom goes, the Idea boasting a roof that soars overhead, prompting one to consider sparking a stovepipe hat revival. The interior otherwise benefits from Fiat's huge experience of building MPV-style vehicles, with a multitude of storage bins, cubbies, pockets and compartments. The dashboard is beautifully styled in a spare, almost minimal fashion with centre-mounted instruments and clean lines.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
If you're expecting the Idea to highlight the gulf in quality between Italian and Geman marques, think again. The cabin of the Idea is well appointed and very nicely finished. Both engines have proven reliability while fitted to the Punto and the rest of the running gear is also tried and tested stuff. Distributor caps on the petrol car have been known to go on the blitz, but other than that there's little to beware of. Just check the service book has been kept up to date.
(approx based on an 1.4 Active inc VAT) An alternator is around £78, front brake pads are around £35 for a set, a rear exhaust section should be about £61 and a headlamp is around £82. Expect to pay around £7 for an air filter and about £15 for a fuel filter, about £6 for an oil filter and about £4 for spark plugs. Servicing is required every 10,000 miles.
On the Road
The Idea had the pick of the Punto's engine range and plucked two of the best in its 94bhp 1.4-litre petrol unit and 70bhp 1.3-litre Multijet turbodiesel, although this was later supplemented by a 90bhp Multijet option. Of the two engines, the Multijet is where the smart money goes, returning excellent fuel figures and boasting enough torque to really punch the little Idea forward even when it's fully laden. The petrol unit comes to the fore when you've got the Idea to yourself and there's a twisty road ahead. Around town, you can toggle the Dualdrive button to take the effort out of twirling the wheel. Expect to see 45.6mpg around town in the 70bhp 1.3-litre car with a sprint to 60mph detaining you for 15.2 seconds and a top speed just nudging three figures. Opt for the more powerful 90bhp version of the same engine that arrived later and you'll be looking at 44.8mpg, 0-60mph in 12.3s and a 108mph top speed. The petrol-engined Idea is a bit quicker, zipping to the benchmark sprint in 11.3 seconds and on to a top speed of 109mph. Fuel economy is a bit heavier in the urban sprawl and crawl, the 1.4 seeing 33.2mpg but it can't match the diesel car when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions, chuntering out 157g/km of CO2 versus the Multijet's 135. The ride is firm, courtesy of a very stiff chassis and the chunky windscreen pillars obscure visibility when negotiating tight roundabouts but aside from that the driving characteristics are much as you'd expect from a Punto - in other words lively but strangely loveable.
If you like the way the Punto drives but could use a little more acreage in the back, the Idea is the perfect solution. With a little more personality and brio than many of its rivals, it makes a decent used choice, as the public hasn't really cottoned onto this one yet. Way merrier than a Meriva and less laughable than a 1007, the Idea has a lot going for it.