Vintage wine, new bottle

Stunning looks may reside near the bottom of the average MPV buyer’s wish-list, but the first Fiat Multipla still had a ‘don’t fancy yours much’ feel about it. As good to drive and original to look at as it was, the oddball face did it no favours, which is clearly something Fiat has taken on board with this, the facelifted version.

The Fiat Style Centre boffins have removed the bulbous front end and the lights in the windscreen pillars, replacing them with a much more conservative look, akin to that of the company’s Idea mini-MPV. Rectangular headlights surround a honeycomb mesh grille, while the rear lights are now conventional square items.

Thankfully the cabin, an area where the previous version really stood out from its rivals, has been left largely untouched. The ingenious layout of two rows of three seats remains. In the rear, each seat can be folded forward, slid forward or back, or completely removed.

Up front, the three seats can be moved forward or backwards individually, while the back of the centre seat can be tipped forward to double as a picnic tray and drinks holder. The downside of Fiat’s decision not to tamper with the interior, however, is that some switchgear remains haphazardly sited. Who decided that putting the door mirror adjuster on the roof console was a good idea?

The Multipla’s huge glass area offers superb visibility for the driver, a real boon when threading that extra-wide body through narrow streets, and also means that passengers can see out easily, which means there’s less chance of the kids being sick in the back. The large, boxy exterior still isn’t exactly a thing of beauty, but it offers massive space and practicality.

Half a dozen members of a basketball team will have no bother fitting into the Fiat, and there’s enough room in the boot for at least three of them to stash all their kit. The others will have to carry their stuff in the cabin. That said, there are plenty of cubby spaces dotted throughout the car’s interior, so there need never be things rolling about on the floor.

If those things are left untethered or unpacked, roll around the floor they will, because the Fiat offers a decent drive, its wide track and well-contained body roll resulting in tidy handling. The car we tried was a 1.9 JTD model with 115bhp, and a useful 151lb ft of torque. This propels the Multipla to 60mph from rest in 12.2sec and on to a top speed that’s a shade under 110mph.

So while performance is definitely more pedestrian than dramatic, keeping up with inner-city traffic is no problem. The gearshift is light, if slightly notchy, but you won’t be needing to make downshifts on motorway inclines, thanks to the engine’s torque. However, on twistier backroads, the car’s sheer bulk, the relative dearth of feedback from the power steering and the weediness of the engine when pushed prevents anything approaching rapid progress.

But refinement is reasonable. Wind and road noise are kept firmly in the background, although the diesel engine provides an ever-present soundtrack, no matter what your speed.

Prices are yet to be announced, but expect them to remain roughly as they are. Which means you get just as much for your money as before, but won’t look quite so odd when you’ve spent it.

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Chris Chilton

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matsoc 1 April 2012

Re: Fiat Multipla 1.9 JTD

It was a concert of rattle inside but it wasn't bad to drive as an MPV, I rented some of them over the years. And it's a shame that the ambitious project for the Multipla replacement have been first frozen and then cancelled. Back in 2003 Fiat was working at a full hybrid powertrain for Multipla replacement. A combination of electric power plus LPG and CNG was planned. The idea was that the Multipla successor could have become a car to test all future green solutions, but then Marchionne arrived and it was the end of all that projects. I know that the financial situation of the company was critical so hard choices had to be made but...

humphrey the pug 1 April 2012

Re: Fiat Multipla 1.9 JTD

Loved the original one, we almost bought one however at the time we went for a Zafira due to the extra seat, it's a shame that the facelift made an interesting car meh!