In the tough volume sector, estate car manufacturers struggling to differentiate their products from the competition have come to rely on badges such as SW and Tourer for added panache.
The latest car to gain a variant named by the marketing men is the Fiat Stilo Multi Wagon. It may look and drive like an estate but Fiat insists it is 'a Multi Wagon aimed at combining MPV-like versatility and saloon car ride'.
The main difference between the Multi Wagon and its five-door hatchback sibling is the fact that it is 40mm taller and 266mm longer, with 140 litres of extra load volume. However, the case for the wagon might be more convincing if it really was a multi-purpose vehicle. But it is not. The seats do not fold flat and they are not removable.
At least they are split 60/40, move independently of each other and slide backwards and forwards, but then so do the seats in the hatchback.
Launching a wagon does give Fiat the opportunity to 'reposition', which has meant a cut in Stilo prices by up to about £500. The car is available in three trim levels including a new Active Air-Con, which offers air conditioning for £300 above the price of the basic Active.
Four engine options are available: petrol 1.6 (102bhp) and 1.8-litre (131bhp) units and two versions of the 1.9 JTD in 79bhp and 114bhp states of tune. Prices start at £12,095 on-the-road and rise to £14,395.
With fleet buyers making up 50% of new car sales in the lower-medium sector and fleet sales of estate cars double the level of private sales, Fiat plans to win more company car business and bolster disappointing early Stilo sales.
It believes 20% of Stilo sales will be Multi Wagons, with 65% of those diesels. Consequently, the Multi Wagon is aimed at meeting the changing needs of the essential business user – the sales rep or engineer who clocks up high mileages but still has a small family to transport.
It's difficult to underestimate just how important the new Fiat Stilo Multi Wagon is for the struggling Italian car maker. Nine months into its restructuring plan, Fiat Auto is still losing money. No doubt turning the corner must include extending model variants to include more niche vehicles such as this.
Behind the wheel
DRIVERS might appreciate the more manageable dimensions of the Multi Wagon over an MPV. However, the Stilo still has much to do before it matches the all-round competence of the Ford Focus. The ride is fine on motorways but feels poorly damped over more challenging British B-roads, which could make for slow progress and an uncomfortable journey.
The turbocharged 113bhp JTD diesel is a willing enough unit and makes the most of its 188lb-ft of low range torque while returning 50.4mpg and emitting an ultra-low 149g/km of CO2. This puts it in the lowest benefit-in-kind tax band for non-Euro IV diesels at 18%. It might not be quiet at idle, but things settle down when the needle heads towards 70mph.
Fiat claims it will make 62mph from standstill in 11.2 seconds – a fraction of a second quicker than Volkswagen's 1.9 TDI 100bhp Golf estate but almost a second slower than Ford's 1.8 (113bhp) TDCi Focus estate. Despite the height adjustable driver's seat and reach/rake adjustment on the steering wheel, I found the driving position uncomfortable.
THE Multi Wagon translates the versatility of the Stilo hatchback into a practical estate without being a true multi-purpose vehicle. It offers little to excite keen drivers, but is a decent motorway cruiser.
|Fiat Stilo Multi Wagon|
|1.6||1.8||1.9 JTD||1.9 JTD|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||107/4,000||119/3,500||145/1,500||188/2,000|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||102/5,750||131/6,400||79/4,000||113/4,000|
|Max speed (mph):||114||124||106||118|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||37.2||34.0||50.4||50.4|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||181||197||149||149|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||58/12.8|
|Service intervals (miles):||12,000|
|Prices (OTR):||Approx: £12,395||- £14,395|