With a growing appetite for downsizing, you might think that the market is playing into Fiat's hands, particularly when it starts doing variations on a theme such as the new Idea.
The Idea is Fiat's first entry into the increasingly-popular mini-MPV market, but like the Vauxhall Meriva, it is aiming at buyers looking at the most compact area of the sector.
Small MPVs are experiencing massive growth across Europe and sales figures for January show they recorded a rise of more than 31% year-on-year.
Aimed squarely at young families, the newest kiddie on the mini-MPV block, the Idea – and before we go any further let me tell you its name stands for Intelligent Design Emotion and Architecture – is also expected to find favour with niche segments of the fleet industry.
User-choosers downsizing into more tax-efficient cars are potential Idea drivers and Fiat says driving schools are already expressing an interest.
Fiat bosses say the car is ideal for nipping in and out of city traffic and will also perform effortlessly on motorway cruises.
Based on the Punto supermini, the car is bigger than you would initially think at first glance. Its design means that exterior dimensions are only slightly bigger than the average supermini, but inside it's almost Tardis-like with enormous headroom and ample space for four people.
Five versions have been available since launch, with three trim levels, Active, Dynamic and Eleganza, and the choice of engines are a 1.4-litre 16 valve 95bhp petrol or a Euro IV 1.3-litre 16-valve 70bhp Multijet diesel.
This, says Fiat, is the smallest and most advanced second generation common rail diesel injection turbodiesel in the world.
Prices range from £9,995 to £12,495 on the road and competition will come from cars such as the Vauxhall Meriva.
The Idea also comes with a choice of either a five-speed manual gearbox or, later in the year, Dualogic transmission, a clutchless 5-speed sequential manual shift with automatic mode.
Standard specification includes ABS, driver and passenger front airbags, electric front windows, power steering and 'follow me home' headlamps.
Options include a Skydome glass sunroof, which takes up nearly 70% of the Idea's roof area, rear parking sensors, side and window airbags and a CD sound system which can play MP3 music files.
Fiat expects to sell 6,500 units this year, with about 20% going to fleets, most of which will be diesel models.
Fleet operations manager Tony Dittli said: 'There are some niche fleet opportunities that we can target with this vehicle, such as driving schools. Estate agents will also like this car, as will the public sector. It's good for sales personnel and ideal suited for nurses. 'User-choosers will also like this car, particularly those who downsize for tax-efficiency reasons but who still want plenty of space. 'Fiat is very committed to the corporate sector and it's vehicles like the Idea and Punto who serve us well in that area.'
Behind the wheel
THE winding roads of Sardinia may be best suited to testing the latest sports cars rather than a mini-MPV such as the new Fiat Idea. But when the vehicle in question behaves as impeccably as the Idea you realise choosing such a setting was not as brave a decision by its makers as you might imagine.
This car is aimed at the young family but about 20% of those sold in the UK will also serve as fleet workhorses, particularly with user-choosers keen to save a bit of money on tax.
It's unlikely that this car will turn them into Michael Schumacher the moment they climb aboard. But no mini-MPV will do that.
What drivers will find is a perfectly decent vehicle that offers a great deal of interior space, and there's plenty of glass so it always feels light and airy.
Mini-MPVs are not renowned for ultimate driving pleasure – but that's not what they are about. Their role is to transport occupants from A to B the best they can. The Idea may not be the most exciting model out there but it sits nicely within the sector and performs well.
I favoured the 70bhp 1.3 Multijet turbodiesel over the 95bhp 1.4 petrol. It provided a smoother ride with quick and easy steering and the acceleration felt brisker, although be prepared to use the accelerator hard to get it going to its maximum. It's an impressive enough engine though, particularly considering its 1,242cc capacity.
Although perfectly adequate, the petrol engine seemed less refined as more revs were needed to access its power.
For such a budget model the car offered a reasonable amount of comfort and the interior is upbeat enough for this type of vehicle. Its seats are versatile – a must in a car aimed at young families as any parent who has attempted to cram kids' paraphernalia into a car will know.
The front and centre rear seats fold forwards to form table tops and this system offers 32 different seating configurations, including the facility to fold the front and rear seats so two people can lie down – if they so desire of course. I'll leave it up to readers' own imaginations as to why this might be useful.
The rear seat base can be fully slid forward to increase luggage capacity by 92 litres from 320 to 412 – 62 litres more than the Meriva, Fiat says. Folding all three sections of the seatback fully forwards provides 1,420 litres of luggage space.
Storage space is sufficient but some of the cubby holes are too small to be useful.
However, you get 24 as standard on all versions so there are plenty to choose between.
The Idea represents good value for money with a decent amount of space and relatively comfortable interior. Styling is easy on the eye and company car drivers meeting customers regularly can choose the vehicle knowing they will project a smart image.
|Model:||1.4 16v||1.3 16v Multijet|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||95/5,800||70/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||94/4,500||133/1,750|
|Max speed (mph):||109||99|
|Fuel economy (mpg comb):||42.8||55.4||CO2 emissions (g/km):||157||135|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||47/10.3||47/10.3|
|Transmission:||5-sp man||5-sp sequential|
|Service interval (miles):||12,000|