God knows where such a car came from, but in spite of its love/hate looks, the car was both critically acclaimed and highly successful for the Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV) market, becoming one of the most famous MPV’s of the late 1990’s to early 2000’s.
The FIAT Multipla was the Italian company’s first venture into the world of People Carrier MPV’s, a lucrative market established in the 1980’s by the Renault Espace, essentially taking what is for the most part a small van, and fitting it with enough seats
for you and your extended family. Though technically the FIAT Ulysse of 1994 was the first of FIAT’s MPV’s, this car was in fact a badge-engineered Citroen Evasion/Peugeot 806, built to compete with the likes of the Chrysler Voyager.
The FIAT Multipla made its début in 1998, and put on display in 1999 at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York during its “Different Roads – Automobiles for the Next Century” exhibition. Yes, the first thing you’ll notice, and indeed everyone else notices, is the external styling. Designed by a group of people of who obviously never met, the looks of this car have been one of the biggest
points of contention for car enthusiasts for the past 17 years, often topping people’s ugliest cars lists. Indeed the styling isn’t exactly my favourite, looking an awful lot like the car was made of Bread Dough that was allowed to set wrong. But I will say however, the car even today will still make heads turn for its outrageous, alien looks, so I suppose the Multipla has won on that front. Internally though the car is incredibly proficient, being comfortable with nice spongy, seats and a gigantic dashboard, all of which is very well equipped with all the comforts of a regular saloon car.
The biggest party piece of the Multipla however is not the looks, but the design of the car itself. The car is built onto the same platform as the FIAT Bravo, although 4 inches
shorter, giving it a short-wheelbase. For an MPV that would normally be considered a blow of death seeing as most MPV’s choose to be longer for more internal space. But the Multipla makes up for this by making the car wider by 5-inches, allowing for rows of 6 seats on two rows of three abreast. This not only makes the car spacious and have grand capacity for the family, but also means that, unlike most other MPV’s, there’s no need to have fold-up seats or benches in the boot, a highly dangerous practice as one rear end shunt and some family members will probably not be coming home that evening. At the same time it also allows for more bootspace so you don’t have to park bags of shopping on your kid’s, and their school-friend’s, laps. At £13,000 it was also a comparative bargain, with other MPV’s of similar size and practicality going to the sound of at least £20,000.
Either way, with looks taken into account and all, the car was a huge success, garnering acclaim wherever it went. The Multipla would go on to win Top Gear’s Car of the Year in 1999, and would win Top Gear’s Family Car of the Year award right up until 2004. In 2004 the car underwent a facelift that removed its original squidgy looks and replaced them
with a more crisp and serious styling, but changing very little in terms of internal practicality. Engines came in the form of a 1.6L 16V Inline-4 engine at a base power of 102hp, to the 1.9L Multijet engine introduced in 2006 to give it a bit more grunt at 120hp.
The Multipla ended its days in 2010, being replaced by the FIAT Freemont, a rebadged Dodge Journey. As mentioned, the styling is frequently laughed at for its sheer stupidity, and one can’t help but wonder who came up with it and why, but internally the car is probably one of the best MPV’s of all time, being spacious, safe, comfortable and well-equipped, a true family car.
And no, I wasn’t paid by FIAT to write this, I’m just voicing my own true thoughts.