Maybe the new Ulysse provides a foretaste of better things to come. The Italian equivalent of the French Peugeot 807 and Citroen C8 rolls off the same assembly line but the distinctive front styling marks the Fiat down as belonging to the same family as the Stilo.
The Ulysse looks smart and, on the move, is significantly better to drive than the original.
Our long-termer is the 2.2 JTD Prestigio, £24,435 on the road and £26,500 with all the bells and whistles (and a klaxon or two) thrown in. That's a lot for a Fiat MPV, regardless of the compre-hensive equipment.
Residual value over three years/60,000 miles is 30% of list price new, says CAP, which means a newly-registered Prestigio with 2.2-litre diesel engine will be worth only a little over £7,000 by spring 2006.
Assessing such a well-endowed version of a mainstream model can often tempt journalists to be too gushing with their words. With the Prestigio, the opposite applies: the gadgetry swamps the pleasing MPV at the root of it all. The range starts at £17,335 for the 2.0 (petrol) 16v Dynamic and something sub-£20,000 makes far more sense. Stripping off (metaphorically) the remote-operated powered sliding doors, a Prestigio option that delights onlookers, the six separate captain's chairs and leather trim, the Ulysse is a practical people-mover with a flexible interior and decent driving characteristics.
Prestigio makes most sense as an airport VIP collector and converts into a mobile boardroom. The two front seats can be swivelled to face rearwards and each of the four rear seats may be folded flat, shifted to one side or removed.
The Prestigio has the feel of an executive jet and packs a big-byte-size of electronic driver aids. A mid-fascia clock-size circular control panel with central joy-stick is the portal to satellite navigation and a mass of other information.
There's more: you push the tip of the left-hand steering-column stalk to activate audio voice command.
Say 'CD player' when the radio is on, get a Dalek-voice saying 'sorry…sorry…sorry' and you know more time must be devoted to swotting up all the instructions in the manual.
On a more positive note, the Peugeot 807 has scored the maximum five-star rating for occupant protection in the latest round of Euro NCAP crash tests. With identical basic design and safety systems, this also applies to the Fiat Ulysse, which has to be good news for anyone choosing the Fiat, Peugeot or Citroen C8.
Company car tax bill 2003/04 (40% taxpayer): £210 per month