As a fan of the old car, I had many conversations with people extolling the virtues of its interior where you can sit six people and carry a useful amount of luggage. I could argue, and often did, about its airy interior, reassuring handling and willing diesel engine, but it was no good.
‘But I couldn’t drive something that looked so ugly’ usually ended the discussion. One friend even wondered whether the flat bonnet and ledge at the base of the windscreen might be the ideal position to display window boxes. While sales of the Citroen Xsara Picasso, Renault Scenic and Vauxhall Zafira soared, the Multipla sold in modest volume.
In the meantime, Fiat has worked on toning down the eccentricities of the exterior while retaining the many advantages of the interior.
The result is this calmer-looking Multipla with headlights similar to the Fiat Idea, giving the Fiat MPV range a family face, and a more conventional sloping bonnet.
Specification has been upgraded so now, instead of SX and ELX, customers can choose between Dynamic, Dynamic Plus and Eleganza.
The Dynamic Plus we had on test included electronic climate control, front (driver and two passengers) and side airbags, electric front windows, trip computer, electrically-adjustable driver’s seat, reclining (and removable) rear seats and a sliding front centre seat. We drove the 115bhp 1.9 JTD variant, which is beginning to feel its age compared with more modern, smaller-capacity engines in some rivals.
Performance is still decent, but it is noisy compared with, for example, the 1.6 TDCi in the Ford Focus C-MAX.
The Multipla’s wide stance means that, despite its height, it handles quite nimbly for an MPV. The ride is on the firm side and can become unsettled over bumpy surfaces, but the steering is nicely weighted and the dashboard-mounted gear lever provides short, slick gear changes.
Some of the controls in the Multipla are difficult to find. The switches for the electric door mirror adjustment are sited overhead and the radio controls are a bit fiddly. The handbrake is on the right, which can be confusing.
Nearly five years on from its launch, the Multipla no longer has the six-seat market to itself.
Honda has launched the FR-V, based on a similar principle to the Fiat: two rows of three seats. Being newer and influenced by Honda’s desire to produce ‘quality’ cars, the FR-V has a lot more finesse about it. Honda had already followed the Vauxhall Zafira down the seven-seat route with the Stream and failed to register on the UK sales radar.
It goes to show that while the Multipla is beginning to show its age, it can still teach other manufacturers a few things about maximising passenger and luggage space.
Fiat Multipla 1.9 JTD Dynamic Plus
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £15,302
CO2 emissions (g/km): 170
BIK % of P11D in 2004: 23%
Graduated VED rate: £155
Insurance group: 8
Combined mpg: 44.1
CAP Monitor residual value: £5,325/35%
Depreciation 15.22 pence per mile x 60,000: £9,132
Maintenance 2.91 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,746
Fuel 9.32 pence per mile x 60,000: £5,592
Wholelife cost 27.45 pence per mile x 60,000: £16,470
Typical contract hire rate: £294
Three rivals to consider
THERE is not much to choose between the prices of our quartet, although you do seem to get a little more for your money with the Fiat Multipla. Here, in Dynamic Plus specification, it is just a step down from Eleganza, while the other three are furnished with trim at the lower end of the range. The Grand Scenic and the Touran offer an extra seat over the Fiat, while the Focus C-MAX has five to the Multipla’s six.
At £1,746, the Multipla is significantly more than the Renault at £1,320, while the Ford and Volkswagen are closer to the Renault than the Fiat. Longer service intervals for the Touran and Grand Scenic are only part of the story, as the Focus C-MAX must visit the dealer every 12,500 miles, compared with 12,000 for the Multipla, and yet its costs are similar to those of the Grand Scenic that goes 18,000 miles between services.
WHILE the Fiat’s 44mpg on the combined cycle might seem acceptable in isolation, it isn’t good enough in this company. Both the Focus C-MAX and the Grand Scenic are well ahead, both exceeding 50mpg on the combined cycle. The Touran achieves 47mpg, and suddenly the Multipla looks a little out of touch. In fact the gulf between the Multipla and the C-Max in pounds is £1,308. Although we’re dealing with theoretical costs based on the combined figure, there will surely be a negative impact for choosing the Fiat over the Ford.
THE Fiat does much better than the Renault and Ford in depreciation costs, and partly thanks to its relative rarity compared with the thousands of Scenics and C-MAXes expected to appear on our roads in the next few years. CAP Monitor predicts the Multipla will retain 35% of its value over three years/60,000 miles – much better than the 33% expected for the Renault and the Ford, but not as good as the towering 42% for the Touran. The difference between the Touran and the Multipla is £612.
THE Multipla’s late rally in the depreciation battle is not enough to save it from last place when the costs are added up. The Volkswagen wins, with the Focus C-MAX working out £312 more expensive. The Renault Grand Scenic is about another £300 further adrift while the Fiat Multipla finishes almost £1,300 behind the Volkswagen at a total cost of about £16,470. Effectively, you could buy 13 Tourans for the price of 12 Multiplas.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
THE Multipla’s first generation common rail diesel engine shows its age here. A 22% taxpayer can expect to hand over about £65 a month for having this Multipla as a company car. The same driver in the Focus C-MAX would have a monthly bill of £52, just about the same as someone driving the Renault. The Volkswagen has a Euro IV compliant engine, so, for now, escapes the 3% diesel supplement. However, relatively high emissions mean a monthly bill of £52 until April 2005, before rising to £55 afterwards.
WITH the highest pence-per-mile costs, thirstier engine and higher BIK liability, there is no way we could recommend the Multipla over the other three, despite its packaging advantages. While the exterior make-over gives it more appeal, the engine is playing catch-up. The Volkswagen Touran would be the safer choice for fleets. WINNER: Volkswagen Touran 1.9 TDI S 7-seat
At a glance