Theme: Brochures – 1998 Fiat Multipla

I picked this brochure up at the Birmingham Motorshow in 1997 or 1998. 

1998 Fiat Multipla brochure
1998 Fiat Multipla brochure

The graphic design goes with the fun theme of the car’s design. You could even call it populist and it is soaked in the carefree feeling of that period. Even today the exterior and interior aesthetics are fresh and novel. What must not be forgotten is the ingenuity of its flexible framework architecture which was usefully cheap, meaning Fiat broke even at 40,030 units a year.

While the public had mixed feelings, most of the press disdained the eye-catching style. And yes, it is not conventionally beautiful; in contrast it had formal originality underwritten by engineering innovation that we don’t see today.

The brochure shows off the remarkable cloth-covered dash, the various colourways (redolent of the Citroen palette in the 1970s) and the flexibility of the interior space. This is the back page. Note the evolution of the design theme:

1998 Fiat Multipla brochure
1998 Fiat Multipla brochure

And here is the page showing the Fiat’s shortness compared to a Marea estate. If memory serves, the car covered a little less ground than a Ford Ka though it was wider. The cheerful script adds a lively note to the layout.

1998 Fiat Multipla
1998 Fiat Multipla

The graphic design, mixing an abstract background with a studio photo, is not what one would do today. Web-pages seem to have exactly the same style regardless of the brand: cars in neutral urban settings with few people about or else the car standing on a plain background. Particularly, the photography is very overworked but also quite uniform and faintly unrealistic, as if made up very good digital renderings.

1998 Fiat Multipla

The dashboard is the strangest since the Lancia Trevi and nothing that has come later is more singular in its vision. The current style is very complex and not very readable: it photographs poorly, as far as I can see.


Finally, one of three overhead shots showing the different moods and uses of the interior. In this one, two business women are apparently using the car as a mobile showroom. The rich red cloth is sumptuous: modernity meets a classical feeling.

1998 Fiat Multipla interior
1998 Fiat Multipla interior.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

31 thoughts on “Theme: Brochures – 1998 Fiat Multipla”

  1. I had this very brochure, resulting in us leasing a Multipla for work for 3 years. Fiat were obviously pleased with what they had done and took a lot of effort to showcase it with this comprehensive brochure – and a companion one showing a plethora of accessories to maximise your Multipla lifestyle.

    They obviously really felt they were on a roll with this car. So did I. We were both wrong though, really, I still have no idea why. Although the events of the past year have made me realise that a lot of people are not as rational (I just stopped myself from typing ‘smart’ – oops, I just have) as I used to think they were.

    1. Fiat seemed to think it was 1975 again when wilful imagination would be accepted. The Multipla is a wonderful machine in so many ways. It´s often said the customer is king. That´s true but kings can be king ignorant, can´t they? Fiat didn´t lose money on this car, I am sure. They did possibly lose a customer base. The car did however do the right thing by exploring a markedly different form language. What we see in car interiors is a more complex version of the same uniformity prevalent in the 1980s. Without badges it is quite hard to see which one is which. I will say this for Peugeot, their interior design is more daring or distinctive than most. It´s faint praise though. Nearly all of them are interchangeable. Audi stands out for being a bit simpler than the others and with the usual fine quality. What I like about very small cars at the moment is the fact the price constrains the design in a good way. They are visually quite easy to read. I wish someone other than Rolls would be brave enough to do a prestige car with a pared down interior. Half the component number, say, and spend the extra on really, really good materials and assembly.

    2. It was in production for 12 years (the majority in its somewhat unsatisfactory facelifted form) so it was obviously not losing money or the plug would have been pulled. But then it was obviously not making enough money for Fiat to take it on another step with a Series 2 (or Series 3 if you include the original 600 Multipla). The ill-defined 500L has taken its place and is selling far, far better. Why is that?

    3. When I consider my one time desire to become a car designer, and whether I wish I had persisted, I imagine a life catalogue of working on forgotten hatchbacks and I convince myself that I made the right (in)decision. However, had I produced nothing at all in my hypothetical career except the Fiat Multipla, I would be inordinately proud.

    4. Sean, I can entirely subscribe to everything you write with respect to the Fiat Multipla! And yes, it’s an excellent summary of the thought why becoming a car designer might not have been the right decision – something I also frequently contemplate…

  2. Sean: indeed. I think that whoever designed the car can be pleased with the result. First, owners loved them. Second, it´ll be remembered long after the peers are forgotten. For the most part is a good design is one customers can accept. Sometimes great designs are too much for the layman but still worth doing because of things above the mechanistic need to sell stuff. The lack of a direct replacement has as much to do with the management of Fiat as the attributes of the car itself. A more thoughtfull man than Marchionne would ask his designers to have another go and see if they can find a balance that tilts a little more towards acceptability but still stays on the outer fringe. The correct reaction to this car was not a wholesale retreat but a fine tuning.

    1. That’s a good point about owner’s attitudes to the Multiplas (e?) I get the distinct feeling that the people who have a lot of the old, but usually very well kept, Multiplas that I see around Europe, have them because they really like them, not for the same reason a large family might buy an old Chrysler Voyager.

    2. And an interesting Multipla point is that, whereas the Wikipedia entry for the 500L lists Chief Designer, Chief Designer (Exterior), Chief Designer (Interior) and Designer (Color and Materials) – I shall spare their blushes by not naming them – the Multipla entry leaves the designer(s) entirely uncredited.

      Roberto Giolito is credited elsewhere as the Multipla’s designer. So I’ll no longer spare his blushes by pointing out that he also takes overall responsibility for the 500L. So, the Multipla brickbats didn’t do his career any harm but, were I he, I’d be editing that Wikipedia entry for the Multipla and making sure I was credited. Take a bow Roberto!

  3. We own a version of Honda’s copycat – the FRV.

    Now, the FRV does not have the Multipla’s wonderfully low side windows, so the rear feels a bit more claustrophobic (the cabin in ours is trimmed in a dark blue cloth (including most of the doors) with black dashboard. However, on the plus side, it was built in the old Japanese NSX factory, so is presumably rather better constructed than the Multipla.

    However, the advantages and limitations of the package apply to both. It is incredibly roomy and kids enjoy travelling up front. But the driving position is rather van-like and if that middle front seat is occupied for longer journeys, that feeling is exacerbated. Much better to fold that middle seat down, which creates a wide, comfortable armrest for both front occupants and facilitates easier communication with those in the back – so you are back to a five seat car.

    That middle front seat also means no fresh air vents for rear passengers, which is a real demerit.

    The squat but wide proportions are interesting but I find it hard to park (I am sure this is my failing, however).

    So, what you have is a very practical and adaptable family van, but not a car well-suited to long journeys. For us, it meets many of our needs – but I can understand why the format has not gained wider popularity.

    1. Your comments about the central front seat reflects my experience of the Multipla. It was suited around town for short journeys, although we did a few long hauls that way. Possibly the rear ventilation aspect was less obvious in the Fiat because all the light pouring in made you feel you were in the open air. Another point is that, bearing in mind its very small footprint, even if you packed your two spouse, four kids family into the Multipla for a holiday, you would have had to be very creative with your luggage since, with seats up the boot space was not huge. But an acceptable compromise to echo last month’s theme.

    2. This is a real functional improvement for the FRV then – lots of boot space.

      It’s got something else on the Multipla too – the strange curved rear window. This creates wonderful distortions in the rear view mirror – like a House of Mirrors at a fun fair. For some reason, it makes a following Evoque look particularly ridiculous, like the glasshouse has been pulled up to twice the height. Ho ho.

    1. That’s what I thought. 1998 was hugely more pleasant. Who’d have thought just two years later it’d start to crack up like it has.

    2. All this nostalgia. I’m just getting worried that in 20 years time we’ll be saying “2016. Now wasn’t everything easy going and reasonable back then?”

    3. I honestly think that the people of the future will look back at this period and think, Christ, how did they manage to f**k that up?

    4. Very well put! Why, 20 years on, has the world turned into a place crowded with people desiring nothing more than gliding through the (supposedly hostile) outside world in a fortress-like SUV, rather than in something cheerful, optimistic and funny?

  4. The Multipla is a great idea hamstrung by slightly too way out execution. It is as if Fiat were asking potential buyers to digest too many strong flavours. Perhaps people would have been more receptive if the car did not have that awkward dewlap at the bottom of the glasshouse? The facelift expunged that, of course, but also made the rest of the styling far less interesting too.

    1. I really liked that. Particularly the way the driving lights were incorporated as though they served some exciting new purpose. I mean it’s only radical because the output of the motor industry is usually so bloody boringly unambitious.

  5. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I wonder if the Multipla would have been more comfortable sold under the Autobianchi brand. For some reason, I feel that might have been more acceptable.

  6. I always liked the pre-facelifted variant of the Multipla shown here. The body-coloured badge at the back is great too.

    1. They did a nice job on the model badge, yes. That was when it was common for a model to have a non-standard badge. Ford´s Ka had a different font to the Puma and Mondeo. Maybe that is still done but I don´t notice it as much. The branding and graphic design people must thinks it confuses the hell out of people who will sway around the showroom, disorientated, and bump into rubber plants.
      The facelifted exterior is acceptable: an expediency. At least they left the wild interior for the entire model run. How long did the CX go before it had its interior watered down? Six or seven years, I think.

  7. Having owned one since new – pre facelift – and still used daily after 270,000 km it is a car that I still look forward to driving every time I get in it. Whether it be my normal daily commute or a regular 700 km round trip I do from one side of the island where I live through reasonably mountainous terrain to the other, quite often going over laden like a truck with a full load of building materials for the cottage I am restoring then returning empty with just myself and being driven like a sports car, it is without a doubt the most satisfying and capable car I have ever owned. All this from a six seater diesel powered people mover that fortunately managed to get through all the various design stages without being sanitised – sadly those days are long gone at Fiat.

    1. Thanks for that insight. It´s nice to hear from owners. How is the upholstery holding up?
      The Multipla emerged during Canteralla´s tenure, if memory serves. There were a brace of interesting designs: Bravo/a, Coupe Fiat, the Barchetta and the first Punto. Something went wrong amidst all of that and after 2000 the company went into design hibernation: the Stilo, the third Punto while the specialty cars dropped out one by one. A friend of mine had a Barchetta: it was very basic, but in a good way and it was far from obvious it had Punto pinnings under it.

  8. Bravo/a, Coupe Fiat, the Barchetta and the first Punto.

    I make that two brace. Although the Bravo/a could be considered a brace on their own.

    1. Ah, no: you’re right. I wasn’t thinking. And I got verb object agreement wrong too.
      “There was a brace of nuns in the cabriolet, speeding to Bolzano.”
      “There were braces of socks lost when the washing machine broke down”.

  9. There are a lot of practical flourishes on the Multipla that only reveal themselves with time and familiarity. One that always bugged me until I had a Multipla as a taxi was the tab on the rear doorhandle that extends past the trailing edge of the door. This always felt like a design oversight to me, until I realised what the point was – to act as a stop for the rear door denting other people’s pride and joy in crowded carparks, especially useful given the Multipla’s unusual width.

  10. Reading this and seeing the pictures from the brochure makes me want one right now. The mix of intelligence and fun inside and out (I recall that Canterella described the rear lights as like a plate of bacon and eggs) is like a breath of fresh air. I love that dashboard – it’s nuts but deeply functional. Makes you wonder whatever happened to the FIAT of then when you look at it now.

  11. Upholstery is holding up fine Richard apart from a small amount of wear on the outside of the drivers seat where the lap belt touches. I have not had the rear seats in situ for at least six years so obviously minimal wear there. Dash and front passengers seat/s similarly as I have trouble enticing others to share my obvious sentiment towards said vehicle. Oh what a lonely life I lead – such are the perils of Multipla ownership …..

  12. They say that if you have nothing good to say then it’s best to say nothing.

    So nothing, nothing, nothing and especially nothing. That leaves almost nothing to say.

    Moving on to the good points, from the superbly friendly, wide cartoon dolphin face with attached greenhouse shed, its high roof supported with whimsically lacelike columns particularly apparent from the rear three-quarter view, to the subtle curves and tailgate, the aesthetic mind melts in admiration. There is the small question of manoeuvrability. Short, wide and FWD is not the recipe for handy parking or general nippiness in the turning circle department so that’s a wee bit of a demerit – but what vehicle is without compromises, after all?

    A family elder might have wished for sliding doors for easy child access in narrow parking spots, but that would be gilding the lily. Besides, the individual seating width appears only slightly less generous, though presumably softer, than coach class on Economy AirWays PLC bar the lack of vestigial armrests, and the silver-grey boombox IP is easily up to Korean standards of the late nineties. Gluing some indoor/outdoor carpet fuzz on the remainder of the dash is pure genius. Who doesn’t like a fluffy glovebox cover? Exactly.

    All in all a fine frontal design update of the 1958 Bedford CA van, first choice of true Dormobilers worldwide.

    Moreover, look at that superb slogan the PR types came up with on page 1 of the brochure: “imagination is an exact science”, lower case all the way, naturally. But didn’t the more celebrally-aligned members of the human race already know this was a truism? Of course they did, and it drove GM designers relentlessly forward to release the classic Aztek a mere two years later.

    What this world needs is a T-shaped two-slice toaster for maximal kitchen convenience. Right-angle singeing. Not being in the electrical appliance business, Fiat gave us this Multipla instead. And for that, huzzahs!

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