FIAT Multipla

Debut: 1998
Maker: FIAT
Predecessor: no
Mulitpla, what does it mean ? Multi-purpose vehicle ? Multi-seat in the first row ? I don't know, but at least this name sounds smart and easy to remember.

Some people might feel uncomfortable with its distinctive front end design - I call it "Cab Upward" - but I don't. Who say MPV should be one-box ? Who say the company logo must be in the nose ? The designers in Turin always prove themselves as the most imaginative people in the world. Trust me, Multipla is going to be one of the most distinctive designs in our 100-plus automobile history.

Big windows is another special feature of Multipla. Its side windows are nearly as big as the doors, thanks to the extra high roof and the low waistline. This provides a world-beating visibility and benefit the subjective spacious feeling of the cabin.

And it IS SPACIOUS inside ! Although the 4 metre length is no longer than the Brava on which it is based, its 1871 mm width easily exceeds Renault Scenic's1720mm and even BMW 7 Series's 1845mm ! All this is because Multipla has to fit 3 full size individual seats in the first row as well as the back row to make itself a real 6-seater.

Obviously, the ultra-wide Multipla need a completely new chassis. Instead of the conventional monocoque, Fiat chose space frame chassis for its lower manufacturing cost for small quantities, as well as flexible upgrading. This is not a new idea, as Matra has been building the space frame Espace for Renault for one and a half decade.

However, new chassis doesn't prevent the Multipla from sharing components with other existing models. The 103 hp 1.6 litres 16v engine, 105 hp 1.9 litres common-rail turbo diesel, 5 speed gearbox and suspensions all come from Brava / Bravo. This ensures Multipla can be priced competitively against Renault Scenic.

Fire ball it surely isn't, as no one would have expected from a budget MPV. However, handling is suprisingly good for its width and runs close to Scenic, that means it drives like cars rather than vans, thanks to the rigid chassis, precise and snappy gearchange and direct steering. Furthermore, perhaps because of the extra weight (it weighs 1300 kg), it rides even more supple than the Brava.

When come to interior space, comfort and functions, Multipla is simply unbeatable. Firstly, unlike Mercedes A class, you "walk in" the cabin rather than "climb in". Secondly, the large windows and high driving position offers unmatchable all round visibility and a feeling of freshness. Then, you'll noice the cute door handles, the stylish multi-function center console which places the speedometer, vent/cool controls, sound system, cup holders and gear shifter. Like Fiat Ulysse, the position of the cable-operated shifter is easily accessible and provides remarkable shift quality. All the texture and plastic in the cabin are colored smartly.

The most impressive is how people sit. As already mentioned, the front row has 3 individual seats, in which the center one slide several inches behind so that the driver could operate the shifter without obstruction. All three occupants in the first row sit comfortably without touching each other, thanks to the width of the car. When the center seat fold down, it becomes a small table with 4 cup holders. Seats in the back row are the same individual seats and in the same size. All 6 seats can be detached and frees up a cargo space of at least 1300 litres, well above Scenic's 960. Even without altering the seats, the boot has 430 litres versus Scenic's 220 litres. The winner is clear.

To me, Fiat Multipla is even more ground-breaking than the Scenic, the European Car of the Year 1997. If Multipla has been on sale in at least 6 European countries, it would have been this year's COTY. Let's wait for next year.
The above report was last updated in 1998. All Rights Reserved.


General remarks

Multipla 1.6ELX
Multipla JTD ELX

Front-engined, FWD
Front-engined, FWD

Steel spaceframe
Steel spaceframe
Mainly steel
Mainly steel
Length / width / height 3994 / 1871 / 1670 mm 3994 / 1871 / 1670 mm
Wheelbase 2666 mm 2666 mm
Inline-4, diesel

1581 cc
1910 cc
Valve gears
DOHC 16 valves
SOHC 8 valves

Other engine features

Max power
103 hp 105 hp
Max torque
106 lbft 148 lbft
5-speed manual
5-speed manual
Suspension layout
F: strut
R: trailing arm
F: strut
R: trailing arm

Suspension features
Tyres front/rear

Kerb weight
1380 kg
1495 kg

Top speed
105 mph*
101 mph*

0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)

Performance tested by: *Autocar

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