Bizarre, just… bizarre

One might think a picture of this vehicle is sufficient fodder for discussion.

Design Notes: Fiat Multipla

It is. Better, however, would be a look at some of the steps that led there.

Ah, the face that only a mother could… actually, that might be a stretch. While I’m sure many did love their Multiplas, it’s design really is unorthodox for its class, er, for any class. It’s actually considered a compact, measuring about two inches shorter than a Chevrolet Sonic hatchback. Yet, measured port to starboard, it’s within half an inch of Cadillac’s full-size CT6. Awkward dimensions for sure.1999 Fiat Multipla

One reason behind the proportions was design stipulations set by then-managing director of Fiat Auto, Paolo Cantarella. For example: required was the ability to seat six, in equal comfort; forbidden, however, was an overall length exceeding four meters (slightly more than 13 feet). Early conceptual designs indicated those standards could be met, at a cost. Passengers were allowed only cargo that could fit on their persons. Meaning, there was no room for luggage.

1998 Fiat Multipla early sketches

Those sketches were followed by computer renderings that had been printed full-size, for review. One was named Gianduiotto, a reference to a Turinese chocolate, similar in shape. The other Jet Six, a reference to its fuselage shape and six-passenger occupancy. The third was called Toro, for its aggressiveness.

1998 Fiat Multipla full-size digital renders

The problem, they’d discovered, was that they were thinking exclusively in terms of a 2+2+2 seating arrangement (three rows of two seats). That realization led to a new set of sketches that, along with the mindset, abandoned traditional proportions.

1999 Fiat MultiplaThus, Multipla’s peculiar 3+3 seating arrangement had been born. Although, the awkwardness was only beginning because this new arrangement compressed passengers horizontally. To address the problem, designers turned to the lost art of coach building—as in horseless coaches.

See, lateral space was an issue in the days of antiquity, as well. One solution was to widen the cab, towards the top, to give occupants a sense of airiness. This next sketch, below left, shows how that idea played out on an automobile (note its roof is wider than the belt line.)

1998 Fiat Multipla late sketches

You can see that the wedged shape, though good for outward visibility, was exceedingly outlandish. As the final form came together, the inverted glass was resurfaced, resulting in a slab-sided effect. With more work (above right), the Fiat Multipla gradually became, dare I say, increasingly conventional?

1999 Fiat Multipla

So, there you have it. A slice of the history behind one of the least conventionally-shaped vehicles to hit the road in modern times. And, truly, how boring would the automotive landscape be without designs that moved away from the pre-packaged patterns we’ve come to expect?

I should note that, while the Multipla was offered until 2010, for 2004 Fiat gave it a more conventional, yet comparatively ho-hum, appearance (below). Gone were the funky lights and two-tiered body, and critics and buyers reportedly swooned.

2004 Fiat Multipla