Author: John Oxley
Lots of people have told me they hate the styling of the car. But it's cute in a way, with the look of a dolphin at the front from certain angles.
And it IS great to drive, and very versatile, although it DOES take you a day or two to get used to its high stance and the strangely-mounted gearshift, protruding from the centre control centre like a ... well, you put the name to it.
That the Multipla has weird styling only goes to prove that there IS some life left in today's vehicle designers. As so many wise people have said, don't judge a book by its cover.
For it?s a fact that those who choose to scorn the Multipla because of its offbeat looks are missing out on one of Fiat's finest offerings. The Multipla is a superb family vehicle, and its interior is just as unconventional as the outside.
Most small MPVs strive to offer seating for seven by adding a third "row" of seats right at the back, limiting luggage space to enough for a carrier bag and a bottle of Coke.
The Multipla solution is different. Instead of seven, it caters for six. And it arranges the seats in two rows of three so there's still enough space for a proper boot at the back.
You might think that putting people three abreast front and rear would result in limited elbow room up front, but the slightly staggered seating, allied with the space liberating slab sides, means there's more than enough room for all three to sit in comfort.
The Multipla is powered by a 1.9 litre common rail turbo-diesel engine. Strictly speaking it's not the same as that found in the Alfa 156 JTD - the Alfa engine is bigger, and produces more power - but it IS a fact that Alfa was the first manufacturer to introduce common rail diesel technology into a production car.
It has four cylinders with two valves per cylinder, driven by a single overhead camshaft, and combined with an intercooler, the variable geometry Garrett turbocharger boosts the 1.9 JTD engine power to 85 kW at 4 000 r/min, with an impressive 203 Nm from just 1 500 r/min.
In the United Kingdom the Multipla has been winning accolades since its introduction in 2000, and every year thereafter. Awards include Car of the Year, Best MPV, Best mini-MPV and Best Family Car to name but a few.
Fiat says the Multipla was styled around the needs of six passengers and their luggage, with practicality uppermost.
Multipla, says Fiat, offers many cars in one package - a station wagon, an MPV, a saloon or a van. It "Multiplies" (hence the name) inventive use of its interior space.
The design is essentially two modules - a low, streamlined basic body, with a generous roof panel superimposed on top. A band-like design element running towards the front of the car separates the two design modules.
The side view is neat and elegant one thanks to that very low waistline and large, clean surfaces, and also allows for windows and doors to be opened during rain without water dropping from the roof onto the seats.
The almost vertical windows ensure that the Multipla maintains a lower interior temperature on hot summer days.
Three pairs of rounded lights, arranged at different levels in the front of the Multipla, are responsible making the Multipla look distinct, especially since the uppermost ones are level with the wing mirrors.
The fog lights are nearest the bottom, dimmed lights form the second row of lights, and bright beams are positioned just under the windscreen, offering improved visibility in all driving conditions.
Taillights, too, are arranged in a vertical pattern.
The interior, like the outside, is also somewhat quirky, with the instrument panel placed on the fascia to the left of the steering wheel, angled towards the driver to ensure that concentration on the road never wavers, and the placed alongside the steering wheel on a centre fascia "pod".
At first one has to think about where the gear lever is, as one's hand naturally falls between the seats - but the design DOES allow for a lot more space in front, and, of course, room for the feet of a centrally-seated front passenger.
Once used to it, you find it's slick and easy, with well-chosen ratios that allow one to get the best out of the smooth - and high-revving (for a diesel) engine. Fifth is NOT an overdrive-type gear, being useable most of the time.
The driver sits high off the deck so he (or she) can stare down those pesky taxi drivers! Kind of like a 4x4 without the agro.
The centre seats fold flat to make oddments tables, or you can take out the rear seat altogether. Chuck in your camping gear, or a bike or two - even a surfboard.
All in all, the Multipla can offer a luggage area of between 430 dm³ and 1 900 dm³, depending on the rear seating arrangement.
There's also the luxury of air conditioning, electric windows, alloy wheels and a one-touch electric lock for the tailgate.
Other features include power steering, ABS, dual front air bags for all three front passengers, remote central locking with alarm, folding door mirrors, a front-loader CD audio system, steering wheel radio controls, fog lights, 15-inch alloy wheels and headlight washers.
Rear suspension is based on a classic independent configuration with tie rods and a sub frame suspended flexibly from the body. There are MacPherson struts and an anti-roll bar up front, and coil springs with trailing arms at the back
This set up ensures good stability and minimum oversteer under heavy braking, and limits pitching. Reduced dimensions of the rear suspension allow for a more spacious luggage compartment load area.
On the road
On the road the car feels safe and VERY sure-footed, with understeer only coming in right at the ragged edge.
The car stops quickly and safely thanks to ABS and big brakes (284 mm vented discs front, 251 mm drums rear) and the high-geared steering, with 2.8 turns lock-to-lock, coupled with well-weighted power steering, makes the car easy to place, while its 11 metres turning circle makes it equally easy to park.
Noise levels were remarkably light for a diesel, and the car felt very nippy both around town and on the open road. It was also remarkably frugal, sipping away at its diesel fuel at the rate of around 8 litres/100 km in conditions that included a LOT of stop-start motoring.
In the words of Top Gear magazine, headed up by Jeremy Clarkson, presenter of the Top Gear programme on BBC television - a man who minces no words when it comes to telling it straight:
"It's the undefeated champion of the world. Three times winner of the family car gong in the annual Top Gear Awards.
"The Multipla didn't just break the family car mould; it smashed it to smithereens."