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Future Classic Friday: Fiat Multipla

Published 13 October 2017

There are many adjectives that can be applied to Fiat's 1999 revival of the Multipla name, perhaps the most complimentary of which would be 'brave'.

It certainly beats the Daily Telegraph's comparison of the car to a cartoon duck, or BBC Top Gear's 'Ugliest Car' award, which the fishfaced Fiat won for an astonishing four years in a row, before the Italian firm saw fit to redesign it, and at the same time remove its one USP.

After all, despite its challenging appearance, the Multipla is the only European car ever to feature in New York's Museum of Modern Art, where it was exhibited as an example of 'transport for the next century' in 1999.

Cast aside any prejudices, and the curators had a point. The Multipla, after all, was a pretty unique concept. Based on the platform of the Bravo/Brava hatchbacks, it was both shorter and wider than the compact cars on which it was based. Yet at the same time, it had incredibly useful interior space - seating for six, in two rows of three, with the central passengers on both rows set back to allow legroom and, critically, space for the driver to operate the dash-mounted gear lever and console controls.

Fiat Multipla (1)

Here was an MPV that answered the needs of most. It had the footprint of a small family hatchback, but thanks to high seats and enough headroom to accommodate the guests of a steampunk convention, it was incredibly comfortable and spacious. The ultimate expression, if you will, of function over form.

Fiat knew that the car wasn't going to win any beauty contests. Indeed, it celebrated the fact, with all of the Multipla press cars wearing a rear window sticker that read 'wait until you see the front'.

It was a car that grabbed attention. But unlike other similarly wacky executions, the Renault Avantime being a perfect example, it was also obscenely practical. Indeed, unless you absolutely needed seven seats, it was hard to beat.

Sales were, as can only be expected with such an ungainly face, steady at best. But those who bought Multiplas bought them for a reason, and generally loved them, too. By 2003, just four years after launch, there was an owners' club. And today, the club thrives, with its very own 'Ugly Bug Ball' every year, where Multipla owners convene and compare the beauty of their, well, anything but their cars. 

Fiat Multipla (13)

Sure, the Multipla is an acquired taste - but the it is also an incredibly brave and purposeful piece of design which more than deserves its place in motoring history. And, indeed, in the Museum of Modern Art...

Comments

lammascot    on 16 October 2017

Yes, it was a brilliant design and we loved it - at first.
But bit by bit as problems mounted we got to the stage when we had to get rid of it.
In 60 years of car ownership, it was the most unreliable car ever.
My car was nearly a year old when I bought it.
In the three years I owned it, it spent 6 - yes, that's SIX - weeks off the road for repairs!
The list is long, very long.
Here are some of the problems.
The first, and most alarming, was the engine cutting out completely. After much hassle, the distributor replaced the fuel pump.
As I drove away, the engine cut out - again. Eventually, they had to change the injector pump.
Next, the front springs had to be replaced, under warranty.
After a couple of years or so, the clutch started playing up and engaging a gear when stationary became difficult. Up on the hoist, the garage showed me that not only the clutch but also the flywheel needed replacing.
Finally, the power steering failed. This turned out to be the auxiliaries drive belt failure, due to failed tensioner. It was when the belt etc were replaced for the third time I decided I'd had enough of Fiat engineering and sold the car.
I live in Herefordshire. When I told the boys at the garage it had gone Cornwall they said 'thank goodness for that!'.
I now have a Skoda Roomster 3 TDi. It's done 126,000 miles in ten years from new, with no serious problems whatsoever.
Case closed.

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