CC Outtake: Ssangyong Rodius and Fiat Multipla – Ugly Is Skin Deep

While strolling through Vienna’s Innere Stadt and taking in the gorgeous heritage architecture, I beheld a sight rather less aesthetically pleasing: two cars considered to be among the ugliest cars ever produced, the Fiat Multipla and the Ssangyong Rodius/Stavic. What a sight for sore eyes, eyes certainly sorer having seen them.

Alas, this sighting would have been more notable had the Multipla not been the heavily sanitized facelifted model which, along with many Fiats of the early/mid-2000s, replaced character with handsome if anonymously straight-edged styling. The dorky bubble-top look is still present with this revised Multipla but the lower half is anodyne. I’d call this awkward more so than ugly.

This is the Multipla before it went under the scalpel, its dugong-esque styling distracting potential buyers from a genuinely comfortable and practical compact MPV.

Seating was three abreast both front and rear, with middle seats that could be folded completely flat and legroom that rivalled that of flagship luxury sedans.

Based on the C-segment Bravo/Brava hatchbacks, the Multipla was six inches shorter than a contemporary Volkswagen Golf but 0.6 inches wider than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. That meant it was still around three inches narrower than an AMC Pacer but a more practical application of the “wide small car” concept the defunct AMC espoused.

As you may have expected, the Multipla was outsold by more conservative rivals like the Renault Scenic and Opel Zafira. However, the conservative 2004 refresh didn’t sell any better than the 1999-2003 model, though it did arrest a gradual sales slide. Despite initially bizarre styling, the Multipla was critically acclaimed and a worthy entrant into the hot compact MPV segment in Europe.

(clockwise from top left) Musso, Kyron, Actyon, Tivoli XLV, Korando

Ssangyong is widely regarded as the manufacturer of some of the ugliest cars ever. I give them kudos, however, for being adventurous in their styling. The Actyon, for example, has come to look less ridiculous with age, much like the Pontiac Aztek and Isuzu VehiCross presaged various crossovers and SUVs as ugly as them. The Musso is chunky and purposeful, while the Kyron blends conservative with daring.

The Rodius/Stavic? Ugly. Pug fugly. Not a damn good line on this mess of a design. When it first came out, it reminded me of the Ford Falcon wagon taxis modified to accommodate a wheelchair. It was cheap and spacious but, while that was the recipe for instant sales success for Kia’s Carnival (Sedona) six years earlier in Australia, the Stavic languished in obscurity almost certainly because of how damned ugly it was.

It almost seemed like an elaborate prank. I mean, naming it “Rodius”? That literally rhymes with “odious”. Were “Ropulsive” and “Lepugnant” trademarked already? The alternative name, Stavic, didn’t exactly roll off the tongue, either. Hilariously, “Rodius” was purportedly chosen as it’s a portmanteau of “road” and “Zeus”, while British designer Ken Greenley’s design vision was to evoke luxury yachts. It’s almost too easy to pile on the Ssangyong as everyone else already has. I know that I’m sometimes the dissenting view when it comes to cars almost universally reviled – I’m a huge fan of the ’96 Taurus’ design, after all – but even I can’t say a nice word about the Rodius’ styling.

Like the Multipla, it had a heavily sanitized redesign. The 2013 Rodius/Stavic – pleasantly renamed Turismo in some markets – addressed the most egregious aesthetic affronts of the first Rodius while retaining its capacious interior and various Mercedes-Benz-sourced mechanicals. The proportions were still a bit wonky but it was no longer nauseatingly ugly.

In addition to improved styling, the new Rodius/Stavic also came in nine, ten and eleven-seat configurations in the South Korean market.

The Ssangyong never received anywhere near the level of critical acclaim afforded to the Fiat Multipla. And yet, today, the Multipla is gone and the Ssangyong lives on.

Don’t worry, though, ugly car fans. Fiat will still sell you a challengingly-styled people mover.

Related Reading:

Curbside Classic: 1959 Fiat 600 Mutlipla – The Original Mini-Van?

Curbside Classic: 1997 SsangYong “Benz” Musso – Ssurely You Can’t Be SseriousS

COAL: 2015 Fiat 500L Urbana Trekking – I Bought One. That’s Got to be a Bad Omen For Fiat.

Curbside Capsule: (Photo) Capturing My White Whale, the Ssangyong Chairman