Called the Multi Wagon, it is intended to appeal to those who need the flexibility of an estate while adding some of the clever features found in the Stilo hatchback. And it perhaps offers a lifeline to those for whom the Multipla is just too weird.
However, the Stilo Multi Wagon is a little too conservatively designed for most people's tastes. Based on the Stilo hatchback, the front end is too plain against the likes of the Ford Focus and Peugeot 307.
Taller than the five-door Stilo (which itself is a little taller than the more attractive three-door model) the driver has an MPV-like seat position, offering an excellent view of the road ahead.
Although we like the slush-moulded dashboard (made with the same texture as the Stilo's upmarket cousin, the Alfa Romeo 147) there are some places where the materials feel less appealing.
Some of the trim and fittings on the doors and elsewhere on the dash feel cheap with a shiny appearance.
But by far the worst features of the interior are the uncomfortable front seats. All the support seems to be in the centre and lower back area, with nothing around the shoulders. There is also a considerable distance between your head and the head restraint.
I dreaded the occasional long journey in the Stilo because it was so difficult to find a driving position that would be comfortable, or indeed tolerable, for a few minutes.
I accept that people shorter than me might not have such a raw deal, but would be interested to hear if any readers have the same trouble.
Luggage space is a generous 510 litres with the rear seats in place, and like the Stilo hatchback there is added flexibility thanks to the rear seats sliding forwards and backwards along the 60/40 split.
And there is also the independently opening tailgate glass which proved useful when someone parked too close in a car park.
Standard equipment in the Dynamic tested here stretches to automatic climate control, 16-inch alloy wheels, cooled glove box, trip computer, remote central locking, ABS with electronic brake force distribution, emergency braking assistance and four airbags.
One thing I couldn't seem to work out was the audio system in our test car. It was fitted with the optional colour screen monitor for the sat-nav and came on automatically on starting the car. Although it could be switched off, I didn't know how to start the car without the radio coming on.
The overall driving experience is more positive, thanks to the punchy engine. Although it is only slightly more powerful than the 2.0 HDi in the Peugeot it feels much livelier, and its slick gearchange ensures brisk progress.
The Stilo rides quite well, but the top-heaviness caused by being taller than the hatchback and the extra weight of the estate body results in wallowy handling as well as the occasional 'nose-dive' under heavy braking.
Being fun to drive is not an essential requirement in this sector, but if Ford can do it with the Focus, Peugeot with the 307 and even Toyota with the Corolla, it does seem to be an oversight.
standard car (P11D value): £14,260
CO2 emissions (g/km): 149
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £110
Insurance group: 5
Combined mpg: 50.4
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,225/30%
Depreciation 15.09 pence per mile x 60,000: £9,054
Maintenance 2.41 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,446
Fuel 7.68 pence per mile x 60,000: £4,608
Wholelife cost 25.18 pence per mile x 60,000: £15,108
Typical contract hire rate: £303 per month
All figures based on 3yrs/60,000 miles. Monthly rental quote from HSBC Vehicle Finance
Three rivals to consider
FIAT'S Stilo JTD has always stacked up well in terms of P11d price and this is the case here with the Multi Wagon, undercutting its mainstream opposition by £700 to £1,000, and even making the Skoda look a bit pricey at £14,720. The Peugeot breaks the £15,000 barrier by £25 with the Focus the most expensive at £15,210. Even in the mysterious arena of fleet discounts we suspect Fiat would still maintain its advantage over the rivals selected here.
USING these figures the Fiat would cost about £96 more than the Peugeot over three years/60,000 miles for servicing, maintenance and repairs. The Focus brings up the rear – the 0.62ppm difference to the 307 results in a total of £372 extra over the same period. You might argue that the age of the Focus works against it, with newer rivals building in lower SMR costs, but the Octavia is no spring chicken either.
THIS calculation is possibly the one that is most unlike the real life figure because in reality economy varies from driver to driver. However, based on official combined economy figures it offers a benchmark to compare the cars, and although the Fiat offers more than 50mpg, it is still the least fuel efficient car here. Ford's equally powerful Focus is next with a 0.15 pence per mile saving. The Peugeot and Skoda fight it out for first place although the Skoda has the advantage.
PEOPLE familiar with Fiats in the past might be surprised to find the Stilo Multi Wagon at the top of the tree for depreciation. However, with its highly competitive list price and a respectable RV figure of 30% over three-years/60,000- miles according to CAP Monitor, it just edges ahead of the Peugeot 307 which has a higher percentage RV figure of 33%. With the highest list price and lowest RV figure (CAP Monitor quotes 29%) the Ford Focus performs badly, proving nearly a penny per mile more expensive than the Skoda Octavia.
ADDING up all the figures, the Multi Wagon just misses out on top honours thanks to the all-round abilities of the Peugeot 307. What is most surprising is the Fiat's full two pence per mile advantage over the Ford Focus, which lags behind all three of its rivals. In fact the Stilo beats the Focus in every area of running costs except for fuel consumption, and isn't far behind the Focus on that score. The Skoda Octavia proves a good mid-table contender in all areas.
Emissions and bik tax rates
LITTLE to report on the carbon dioxide emissions and company car tax front. None of these engines achieve Euro IV emissions requirements so they are all saddled with the 3% diesel supplement. They all fall below the limit for the BIK tax threshold, so this year and next year their drivers will be taxed at 18%. However, we now know that in 2005/06 the lower limit is reduced to 140g/km, meaning drivers of the Stilo and the Focus would begin paying more in tax.
SCORING well on running costs, the Stilo Multi Wagon is a car that can be chosen on sound financial arguments. It offers strong straightline performance and is well equipped. However, it doesn't drive as well as a Focus, and it is still beaten on running costs by the Peu