Top Gear’s guilty pleasures: the Fiat Multipla

By topgear, 09 January 2023

Top Gear’s guilty pleasures: the Fiat Multipla

The Fiat Multipla has a face that only a mother could love. 

One can only wonder at how it was conceived. A drunken mistake at the Christmas party? Or a joke that went one step too far, perhaps? Who knows, but when it comes to the froggiest of all frog-like cars (no names mentioned here *cough* Tesla *cough*), the Fiat Multipla wins hands down.

It’s the sort of face that causes people to point and stare – for all the wrong reasons. I pity the children whose parents subjected them to the daily torture of picking them up from school in this thing. And the name calling they surely subsequently endured.

Fortunately, I wasn’t endured to such hardship. To my shame, I’ve never been privileged – yes, privileged – enough to ride in, let alone drive, a Fiat Multipla. And yet, for reasons I cannot quite put my finger on, its face still lives rent-free in my memory.

Perhaps it was the fact that it was simply different. Launched back in 1998 when MPVs were all the rage, the Multipla was based on the Bravo but managed the nifty trick of being shorter than the car on which it was based, yet offering more seats and increased bootspace. Ta-da!

See, by extending widthways rather than lengthways, Fiat managed to fit two rows of three seats – making it a true six-seater – plus a minimum 430 litres of bootspace, enough for any four-legged friends to join the party too. In a car with a smaller footprint than a Punto, its maker claims. Smart, huh?

But all that effort meant that Fiat rather sacrificed style in the name of substance. The spherical shape, those bug-eyed headlights, the out-of-sort proportions. I daren’t imagine the scathing comments it would receive in today’s world of keyboard warriors – just look at the grief BMW has got for its recent, er, bold design language.

But so what? Ordinary is boring, and the Fiat Multipla was anything but that.

While it won plenty of plaudits from the automotive media, including our very own Car of the Year 2000, the public voted with their wallets and spent their money elsewhere.

So much so that in 2004 the Multipla had a mid-life crisis and went in for a full facial, coming out the other side just as dull looking as every other MPV out there, before it met its maker six years later. Booo.

Quirky is cool – just look at the acclaim for the Volkswagen ID.Buzz – and that only has a miserly five seats. The Fiat Multipla dared to be different, to go all Nike on you, and we should applaud it for that, not laugh it out the room.

These days, they can also be found for as little as £500 on your favourite auction sites. OK, you might get some sneering comments from your mates, but you do you. They won’t be complaining when you’re on driver duties this festive season.

STORY Peter Rawlins

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