This is the car which troubled Fiat is banking on to give its slow-selling Stilo range a kick start in the UK. The new Station Wagon offers class-leading load space and, it is claimed, brings new innovation to the estate car market.
It's certainly roomy, with 510 litres of luggage space when the rear seat is up. A huge tailgate opening, which cuts deep into the rear bumper, combines with the high roofline to make large items easy to slide in. But that's not the end of the Stilo's load-lugging capability. In top models, the rear seat, which can be split down the middle, slides forward on runners to free up an additional 40 litres of space, while the high mounting position means passengers still have ample legroom. Drop the seat back completely and the family Fiat becomes virtually van-like, with 1,480 litres of carrying capacity.
Yet despite the big boot, the Station Wagon is only slightly larger than the Stilo five-door. It has the same wheelbase, but an extra 26cm of rear overhang makes it 90kg heavier than the hatchback. To cope with the weight penalty, Fiat has stiffened the rear suspension and used stronger dampers, while a thicker anti-roll bar at the back aims to reduce body roll.
Even so, the car still leans heavily in tight corners, while the softer damping at the front makes the back end feel light and twitchy. Our test car had a 1.9 JTD 115bhp diesel unit, the SW's top oil-burner. It gives a respectable 0-60mph time of 11.8 seconds, but performance feels laboured. An 80bhp JTD is available, as are 103bhp 1.6 and 133bhp 1.8-litre petrol engines.
Is the SW good enough to bring about a reversal in the Stilo's fortunes? It's certainly one of the most practical cars on the market and an essential addition to a struggling range.