A Car Rolled Over Not Yet Matters

What’s the big IDEA?

Fiat Idea. carinpicture

Turinese ideas have flowed many a year, largely with a great deal of success – on paper at least – diminishing returns, alongside awkward timing often diverting the flow. Having the relative novelty of seeing a perfectly unkempt example in person recently and referencing Mr. Editor Doyle’s take on the Lancia version, we must rewind the clock to 2004. A time when Fiat actively sold a wide array of distinctive, smaller, handsome-enough cars we arrive at today’s subject – the Fiat Idea.

The junior-MPV was very much en-vogue in early February of that year at the Idea’s UK launch. Designer Fabrizio Giugiaro of Italdesign (son of Giorgetto) shoehorned five seats into an almost kei dimensioned car: 1.70m wide, 1.66m high and 3.9 m long, with a wheelbase and package from the Punto of just 2.51m.

Alongside attractive pricing sat simple trim levels – Active, Dynamic and Eleganza – prices starting at £10,000 and rising but two and half thousand more. The Italian carmaker’s targets included Vauxhall/Opel’s Meriva, Renault’s Modus, Colt from Mitsubishi, the Citroën C3 Picasso and the Hyundai Getz. That final mention coinciding with one F. Giugiaro (allegedly) penning said Korean. 

Parkers

As with their Japanese brethren, the technicians had to think outside the one-box shape to conjure up much needed internal space. Much was made about Idea’s 32 possible seating configurations or the 27 storage areas whilst managing to squeeze in the (then) world’s smallest and most advanced second generation common rail direct injection turbodiesel, according to Fiat. That engine being a 1.3 litre, 70bhp and 133 lb ft unit with sixteen valves – good for 99mph. Petrol power came in with the long established 1.4 FIRE engines, good for 95bhp, 94 lbs/ ft and a spirited 109mph v-max. Did such bolides samples such highs? No shadow of a doubt! 

The Idea’s seats emerged from the furtive minds of the CONI Sport Medicine Institute, the Rome based Olympic committee. With a biometrics team headed by Professor Dal Monte, efforts prioritised passenger posture, comfort and support. Which sounds positively amazing – almost as if no-one else had considered these parameters before. Where did the competition procure their mini-MPV seats – the granite supplier?

The road tests conducted on HM. the Queen’s highways some seventeen years ago proffered encouraging results. Internal affairs rightly praised. The exterior lauded for its simplicity. Chris Chilton’s January 4th summation for Autocar gave the reader a clear (ahem), idea of what to expect; the car rolled a bit when hustling B-roads and understeered at seemingly any given moment, wet or dry. Clearly not your usual Ferrari then, Chris. But the steering wheel city (or dualdrive) button made tight manoeuvres the proverbial doddle.

Honest John called the Idea a spade, awarding the car just one star out of five. Comparing the drive to Fiat’s other pocket-sized machine, the Panda, the former is again found lacking in the fuel mileage and driving entertainment departments, whereas thumbs up are once more for the clever interior and dashboard. HJ favoured the latter all round.

London’s Royal Automobile Club pinned the score of a solidly mid-table 61/100 to the Idea’s lofty (and optional glass Skydome) roof. Andy Enright is also the first to allow a little more love for this Italian novelty to flourish. Eloquently using the word brio alongside personality, he extoled that yes, the Idea is different but all the better for it. He places the car’s styling as highly as the space and versatility. Good egg.

Autoevolution

But as we all know, the reviewers’ opinion is but a broken lightbulb when the thorny issue of sales leap forth. European buyers taking more of a shine towards Idea, the continent including Blighty snapped up a total of 61,293 in the first full year on sale. This would be Idea’s best for as time ticked by, those numbers ebbed faster than their flow; mid thirties gave way to mid twenty thousands, tailing off rapidly – 2012, just less than 3,000 sold. Seventeen for 2013 and one solitary example for 2014 which one hopes was spectacularly discounted. Over its twelve year lifespan, a total of 210,000 Idea’s challenged neither Punto nor Panda’s mantle.

Fiat’s UK branch pulled the plug on Idea exactly three years in, but not before a mild facelift and small price hike in 2006. British buyers could hardly contain themselves with the chrome-effect grille and indicators now cozying up inside the headlamps. Internally, a few plasti-chrome trinkets were added. 

The scourge of the SUV put paid to the mini-MPV market as tastes grew exponentially. The Idea and its contenders stood little chance of being anything but a used purchase. Who wanted a clever interior perched within a decent enough exterior when you could now have height, space and aggression in a single package? That any survive borders a miracle.

The author.

With British roads hardly awash with Ideas, (Autotrader had just two examples at time of writing, both well under a thousand pounds with a mere Mille overall still registered, we’re lucky to have found a specimen with the highest Eleganza spec motioned by petrol power. First registered in the Bristol area and covering almost 116,000 miles in its lifetime, the car sports some unusual purple splashes to bonnet and roof. One is at a loss as to what caused these between red and blue slops to seemingly lay eternally on the typically city patinated orange paintwork. A ding here, a scrape there are perhaps best seen as badges of honour.

The car’s mechanical history follows suit, MOT failures are rather too familiar but maladies appear easily rectified; lights, brakes, tyres, etc. Only in later life do we hear of oil leaks and perishable rubber problems which highlights the robustness of the Idea in the first hand. 

The author.

Family picnic-induced sticky fingers, parents driving under duress, typically British weather and a life mainly confined to urban environments are scarcely the exponents of a cherished motor car. The interior seemed to be holding up but for obvious reasons one cannot assess too closely, although our Idea has managed to hold its own over the salty winters. 

For how long though is unknown. Stoic thriftiness may see a sudden change of heart come the next expensive annual check-up; this left field choice sashaying into a Bratachian, per chance? Shame, for this purple-spotted, Italian rarity sits as well today as it did all those years ago.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

41 thoughts on “A Car Rolled Over Not Yet Matters”

  1. Good morning, Andrew. I can find 87 examples for sale in the Netherlands ranging from € 440 to € 4,250. By the looks of it these are around, but I really can’t recall when I last saw one.

  2. Wow – I had forgotten about these completely. There ought to be a National Lottery grant available to preserve rare models.

  3. Morning Andrew. I’d forgotten about the Idea completely, can’t remember when I last saw one either. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. I quite like little FIATS. You never know, you may see the odd one turn up a classic car show one day and we’ll wonder what it is.

  4. The Idea always struck me as a neat looking perfectly acceptsble small MPV, but it never seemed to gain much traction in the UK market, unlike the Meriva which was heavily promoted to be the market leader (although I haven’t checked the numbers). Likewise Fiat’s B-segment crossover offering, the Sedici, a joint-venture project with Suzuki, which is another almost forgotten car of the same era:

    I had to Google ‘Suzuki SX4’ to find the name of the Sedici, so poorly did I remember the Fiat. I have no recollection of Fiat actively marketing it in the UK.

    1. And there I was, innocently walking the dog on this fine West Cork morning, when what do I happen upon but an 09-reg Sedici in absolutely pristine condition. They do exist.

    2. No further Sedicis today, you probably won’t be surprised to learn, but two SX4s – within an hour of each other.

      Here endeth Sediciwatch for today…

    3. The Suzuki version of this car is not rare in Denmark. As far as I can determine, Danes really like Suzuki.
      However a look at the facts shows that it´s not in the top ten (for any one model). That honour goes to the Ford Kuga.

    4. Sediciwatch update: Today’s sightings brought forth three Sedicis – yes, three – all in fine fettle and all in the same West Cork town. Perhaps there was an owner’s club meet or similar. In the interests of balance, I also sighted four SX4s.

      I might make this a regular thing.

      Meanwhile, as I’m certain you’re asking: no Ideas. No IDEAs either, for that matter…

    5. In this post are mentioned two other cars, the Fiat sedici and the Suzuki sx4. They are very popular, especially the sx4. I think the mechanics are identical, not sure about it. I have traveled in these cars that belong to friends or colleagues. The sx4 in the back seats is a little cramped. Strange, from the outside it is a wide and tall figure.

  5. My (extremely) limited Italian language knowledge to the fore: sedici equates to sixteen – four times four. Well, it makes me smile…

  6. Thanks for reminding us of more innocent, pre-SUV times, Andrew!
    I still prefer this type of vehicles to all of today’s output by a large margin. MPVs are close to my ideal with their airy cabins, large windows and intelligent packaging. If they come in a pert, compact package like the Idea, what’s not to love? Unfortunately, aggression has taken over completely, and looking at the last two years, I don’t see it getting any better.

    I wonder when I saw the last Idea. No idea, actually… But there’s a Musa parked close to my workplace that I see almost every day. As much as I like Lancias, its design doesn’t have the Idea’s purity, though.

  7. On the subject of MPVs being eclipsed by SUVs, General Motors tried to pass off one of the former as one of the latter with a heavy facelift. Here’s the 2001 Chevrolet Venture MPV:

    Which was facelifted to become the 2004 Chevrolet Uplander SUV:

    Needless to remark, very few were fooled by GM’s sleight of hand and the Uplander “Crossover Sport Van” was widely ridiculed.

  8. When the Idea was launched, I remember thinking it was a fine piece of styling, but I don’t remember ever seeing one – was it actually sold in Ireland?
    Glad to read that Giorgetto has a son who has inherited some of his fathers’ talent though.
    By chance I stumbled across my first Musa a few weeks ago in Mallorca – quite a few Lancias still live there – and I immediately recognised it as an Idea variant .

    1. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the odd Idea, so I presume they were actually sold new in Ireland. Very rare, though…

    2. Fabrizio is also credited with this incredibly sexy Mustang concept, shown in 2006.

      It’s nothing at all like the Idea, but some of its features appear to have resurfaced in the more recent Sibylla concept (which garnered some divergent opinions amongst the DTW cognoscenti : https://driventowrite.com/2018/03/01/2018-gfg-sybilla-concept-car-geneva-motor-show/ ).

      The Giugiaro Mustang concept is also notably prescient of several details found in subsequent iterations of the production Mustang. However, for me the design is let down by a lack of consideration for a boot lid opening, seemingly omitted to favor a very creative and original, yet respectful and plausibly evolutionary tail light design. Unsurprisingly, it is an element of the design which Ford have thus far declined to explore further, though I still wonder if there could be a workable solution to this puzzle?

  9. Given the FIAT/GM tie up of the early 2000s, and their similarity in shape and dimensions, I was amazed the IDEA and Meriva were not joint developed twins but unique cars.

  10. In comparison to the Mk1 Meriva, the Idea looks bland. The Meriva also has a flexible seating layout. I tend to stop and look closely at Merivas when I see them – they are very satisfying. However, slap a Lancia badge on the Idea and it´s a whole other story (as we have discussed).

  11. I had no idea that the “Idea” even existed until now which is strange because we have owned a number of Fiat Punto’s in the past and thoroughly enjoyed them. Where have I been???

  12. My father owned the Lancia version for a while – the Musa. It was an OK car I suppose. Absolutely nothing memorable about it, apart from the ridiculous stuck-on Lancia fake grille that appeared to do absolutely nothing, either functionally, or for the looks…

    1. The Musa looks much nicer inside and out compared to the Fiat. I am sorry you were disappointed though and I can´t get away from that.

    2. I rather like that. I’m also a sucker for the Renault Modus – especially if it has the ‘chute boot’.

  13. Daniel and team – is there any way to edit our comments, or remove them and start again? I appear to have messed up the copy-paste of the Imgur images, and I’d like to rectify that. Thanks!

    1. No worries Ric. You cannot edit or delete comments after they are posted, but I’ve fixed the images for you. 🙂

      FYI, the correct Imgur URL for displaying the image in full (without the Imgur frame) can be recognised because it will have i. between the // and imgur, and will have .jpg at the end after the unique code. Below is an example (with some extra spaces inserted so that the image doesn’t display).

      https:// i.imgur.com / gMnDOS4.jpg

  14. I couldn’t help noticing the “What’s the big IDEA” strapline above and wonder if Andrew or Eóin is subconsciously channelling their inner Alan Partridge:

  15. Fiat’s White Goods period was quite peculiar.

    It’s quite obvious that the Idea, Sedici and 2003 Panda were styled to a similar brief as the earlier Stilo, yet for some reason, and unlike that car, they weren’t designed in-house. But why? Did Centro Stile not have sufficient manpower available?

    The same questions apply to the later Grande Punto (by Bertone/ID) and Chroma (ID), of course.

    1. Hello Christopher – I wonder if the in-house teams put forward proposals, but lost against the external ones.

    1. Me too! Massively underrated. See ‘the new untouchables’ article elsewhere on this site.

    2. Kia Venga is a pleasing one and the electric Kia Soul looks as if it has a BMW front-end (which it doesn´t as it it´s nicer than an actual BMW front end).

    3. Dear sv robinson, thank you very much! I have missed that article. Besides i have a physical problem, my legs are long my torse is short. Mpv were perfect for me.

  16. Sadly, the interior of the European Idea did not cross the Atlantic and we had to deal with a makeshift based on the Palio.

    In an interview to a Brazilian magazine back then, Luca di Montezemolo dared to say that the South American Idea (powered by a then 20-year old Chevrolet engine and with such a dashboard) was a better car and an improvement from the European original.

  17. Other vehicles of this ilk that are considered attractive tend to look like a sci-fi space pod (A2, some of the 2000’s Civics come to mind). Else they evoke cute, adorable kawaii puppies (Mini, Be-1), or seem toy-like (Gen1 Panda). The Idea however is attractive in a mature, heartfelt, adult human way, a car for grown-ups despite its size and proportions. I think that’s quite an achievement and serves as a good example of Giugiaro’s greatness.

    1. It’s interesting isn’t it, gooddog – Marcello Gandini (for the most part) found his most eloquent expression in the genre of the mid-engined hypercar, whereas for Giorgetto Giugiaro, his defining works have been compact, rational, modest cars. It is this human-centric approach that for me makes Giugiaro the greater talent, the more significant designer.

  18. Fiat idea was a lovely little car that was a clever idea. Also the Lancia Musa that was the same car in a “richer” version. I have seen many in the streets. I still see them around often. The most common colour that you may see an idea, is a light blue. The Musa usually is in metallic beige.

  19. Their position in the market and the public imagination is as follows:before the dreaded economic crisis of 2009, people were spending easily a lot of their hard earned income. It was the big jeep time. For some reason, the term suv is not used in Greece. They do not like how it sounds, maybe. Well, big Chrysler suvs and other peculiar expensive vehicles were commonplace. The potential buyers were searching for suvs and were buying everything that was offered in this market, according to the money they had. The sx4 was a desirable car to their eyes. Japanese quality, enough space to cater for a family, good dynamics. Most of them wanted something more upmarket, but hadn’t the money to pay. And then came the crisis and suv sales dropped.

  20. A Musa is the only Lancia I have ever been into. A white taxi in Milan, Italy, as I have mentioned in an other post. I remember the beautiful seats, and great all around vision from the windows.

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