In defense of the Fiat Multipla

Updated: Apr 1

The best minivan ever designed deserved much, much better than being the butt of too many bad jokes...


It's time for me to make my own "coming out": I love the Fiat Multipla, and I'm sick of seeing it vilified for a cheap laugh by less-than-educated individuals.



The commercial failure of the Multipla is one of the saddest things ever to happen to car design, because it showed to car companies that "clever cars don't sell"

I sometimes wish I lived in a world where family cars have cute, non-threatening "faces" and are actually designed to be space-efficient according to their purpose: "honest" vehicles that don't pretend to be other than what they are.

The Fiat Multipla comfortably seats six adults, takes their luggage in the boot, provides good, safe handling characteristics and a comfortable ride... And all in 3,99 meters! That's less than most current B-Segment cars today.

as the Multipla is perhaps the best minivan ever designed, brilliantly overcoming the packaging compromises typical of its competitors: cars that may have offered seven seats, but two of them were cramped, difficult to access, and came at the expense of luggage space.

Fiat designed a car around the practical needs of the average family but underestimated just how much of an irrational, emotional purchase a car still was.

Fiat's solution was brilliant: six places of identical size in a three-abreast configuration. But that meant ripping the car design rulebook to shreds because we're used to seeing cars with a fuselage-like cross-section: wider at the base on the windows and gently tapering upwards. Which is lovely but also impossible if you've just decided to sit comfortably three people across instead of the usual two, given the vehicle can only be widened so much before it becomes impractical: that's why the Multipla's sides go up as straight as a wall.

A wall mostly made of glass, letting tons of light into the spacious cabin, whose dashboard, for once, didn't look like the butt of an elephant thanks to its brightly colored textile covering.

Before the advent of LED technology, car headlights could become quite large items. Still, I love the Fiat designer's thoughtful solution: instead of one big unit, each lighting function had its own smaller module. This coherence through every aspect of the Multipla's design is what makes it truly special, one of the few cars to have been holistically designed around its intended function. Clever but in a laid back, playful way: the Multipla doesn't take itself too seriously.

Yet it bombed.

Needless to say, the Multipla I love the most is the original 1999 one, with its funky, animal-like front end design

Fiat designed a car around the practical needs of the average family but underestimated just how much of an irrational, emotional purchase a car still was. The Multipla was too bold a statement for many, as a majority of people find reassurance in conformity.

That's why Multipla sales stayed below 50.000 units per year while Opel sold almost four times as many Zafiras.

Needless to say, the Multipla I love the most is the original 1999 one, with its funky, animal-like front end design: that part of the car was another example of great design, the traditional headlight unit is separated in three smaller elements, whose placement on the body is relative to their function.

But there's a group of people who've always loved the Multipla: those who owned it. Not only for its space and comfort but also because it drove much better than it had any right to do, thanks to its wide stance and low center of gravity.

By 2003 Fiat was nearing bankruptcy and, in a clumsy attempt to broaden the Multipla's appeal, it gave it a lame conventional-looking front end that stayed with the model until its final demise in 2013.

Yes, 2013.

Italian production of the Multipla ended in 2010, but Fiat sold the tooling and rights to Chinese company Zotye, which sold the car in China for three more years.

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