The Mini MPV is here to stay and as many manufacturers start looking at the next generations, Fiat finally come up with its idea for the marque. John Kendall puts his thinking cap on…
No one would get rich observing the predictable and herd behaviour of our motor industry.
It only takes one manufacturer to ‘invent’ a new market segment and before you know it, they’re all at it, particularly if Ford or General Motors has gone in feet first. Ford was arguably first over the top with its mini-MPV, the much-derided Fusion. Then it was Vauxhall with the much better Meriva, but how many have you seen on the road? Even so, the rest followed with varying degrees of folly or ingenuity. Which brings us to Fiat and you may be pleased to know it’s the ‘I’ word for them. Hot on the heels of the company’s much-praised Panda, the Idea makes its debut. In fact, if you hurry down to your local Fiat dealer, you can see one for yourself, as the car went on sale on 21 February. Idea, so Fiat told us at the UK launch is an acronym for Intelligent Design Emotion and Architecture. We’re hanging on for the Swedish designer limited edition IDEA IKEA.
Like the Panda, it’s tall and boasts a spacious cabin, but there’s altogether more of it and some smart packaging ideas. The car is based on the Punto, sitting on a stretched Punto platform unique to the Idea. When the new Punto arrives at the end of the year, it will get a new larger platform, shared with GM, which will also provide the underpinnings for the next Corsa.
Within the Idea’s tall interior, there’s room for five. Four adults would fit comfortably with space for a child too on the split, folding, sliding and reclining rear seat. The seat is split 60/40 in usual hatchback fashion, allowing it to slide and be folded to provide additional luggage space. In addition, the seat backs are split 40/20/40 and recline too. In fact, if you’re taken by back seat action, the Idea is the car for you. Apart from the multitude of possible seating positions, the front seatbacks fold flat on the cushions to provide tabletops, or the basis for a double bed, if you’re feeling pro-creative, or just plain sleepy. Perhaps Fiat has found sympathy with Italy’s declining young population, doomed to live with their parents well into their twenties, thanks to high Italian property prices. Such domestic arrangements have made the 1990s VW Passat estate a popular choice for young Italians, as it’s one of the few cars able to accommodate a double mattress. Whoever would have thought that a staid old German car could arouse such Latin passions?
Performance from the engine is likely to be less passionate, however. The choice runs to either a 95bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine or Fiat’s cracking 70bhp 1.3 litre Multijet diesel, familiar from the Punto and Vauxhall Corsa. Given the car’s relatively compact dimensions, the performance figures won’t set your pulse racing. 15.4 seconds to hit 62mph looks a bit pedestrian, even if the Idea Multijet will sip fuel. But then at 1,200kg, the Idea weighs over 200kg more than a similarly powered Punto. To start with, Idea diesel gets two out of the three available trim levels of Active, Dynamic and Eleganza. Delete Eleganza for the Multijet, but from May, Idea joins the Citroën C2, C3 and Ford’s Fiesta and Fusion, becoming the fifth small diesel available with an automated gearbox. The Dualogic two-pedal transmission works in much the same way as the Citroën ‘box, giving fully automatic or semi-automatic operation but without the manual shift steering wheel paddles. Active models come with; ABS brakes, front electric windows, remote central locking with alarm, driver and passenger airbags, the Dualdrive electric power assisted steering from the Punto with added assistance in ‘City’ mode, height and reach adjustable steering wheel, height adjustable drivers seat, ‘Follow me home headlights’ and a radio cassette player. For Dynamic models, add air conditioning, electric, heated door mirrors, reversing alarm, CD player in lieu of cassette, three rear headrests and ISOFIX child seat attachments for the outer rear seats.
Sadly, this leaves side and window airbags on the options list, as they are only standard with Eleganza trim. Rationing safety features by trim level just isn’t good enough in 2004, even if the basic car comes well stacked. Other optional kit includes the SkyDome glass sunroof taking some 70 per cent of the roof area, complete with front opening section. Dual zone climate control is there too, along with ESP traction control. Yes, the Idea is well kitted out, but then the Multijet Active will set you back £10,895 on-the-road, that’s £900 more than the petrol model. The same price premium applies to the Dynamic. Since the petrol Idea is reasonably fuel efficient anyway, it will take a real high-mileage diesel driver to win back the price difference. Since our experience with Multijet powered Puntos and Corsas has been good, it’s no surprise that the Idea Multijet also wins brownie points for its smooth and silent operation. In noise terms, there’s nothing to choose between the petrol and diesel models.
A CAR FOR ALL SEASONS
On the face of it, the Idea has more or less universal appeal. Older drivers will probably be drawn to the tall, wide opening doors, large centrally mounted instruments, which can be seen without re-focussing from the road, reversing alarm and auto option. Young families will also appreciate the high driving position, making it easy to strap little ones into child seats. And younger drivers might just go for the neat interior styling, not to mention its more erotic horizontal attractions. Wow, at last – a real cradle to grave car.
THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT
I’m six-feet tall and on the UK launch – in Sardinia – my co-driver, was Diesel Car founding editor John Kerswill, who measures six-feet four. Both of us found adequate adjustment for seats and steering wheel, while our heads were nowhere near scraping the roof lining. The seats are really comfortable too, despite looking on the thin side. Spoiling it somewhat is the Punto pedal box which spaces the pedals so closely that I had no difficulty operating brake and clutch simultaneously.
The right hand footwell looks much smaller than the left hand one too and in practice I found my left leg pressed against the dash moulding for most of the time. While the dashboard styling cannot be considered to be particularly original – central instruments, gearshift in its base, dash-top bins and an abundance of storage spaces – it just looks good. Even the build quality looks OK, although you can keep the brown plastic.
The ride will also appeal to many. Drivers of the latest Punto will recognise its ability to soak up most irregularities without being softly sprung and firmly damped. Yes it does roll, as the latest Punto is prone to do. Like Howlin’ Wolf, it’s built for comfort not speed and once you’ve accepted that and it’s less than fiery performance, the Idea starts to make sense for it’s practical values. It’s certainly a pretty get-you-there transport for the traffic jam generation.
On sale: Now // Price £12,145 // Main rivals: Ford Fusion, Vauxhall Meriva, Ford C-MAX