What is it?
This new Fiat 500L mini-MPV marks the start of a Mini-style expansion for the Fiat 500 range. The five-seat 500L, as the name suggests, is essentially an enlarged version of the 500 city car formula, keeping the style and customisation potential but with added space and practicality.
The idea goes that Fiat 500 buyers have nowhere to go when they need something bigger due to, say, an expanding family. And Fiat’s research suggests that there is nothing on the market to cater for style-savvy mums who want everything you’d expect of a mini-MPV – a big boot, flexible seating etc – but in a more stylish and desirable package.
Think you’ve heard this before? Well, Mini said something similar with the Countryman, but whereas that car is billed as a mini-SUV, the 500L is very much a mini-MPV. Fiat will soon have an answer to the Countryman with a new mini-SUV called 500X, while a seven-seat XL version of the 500L is also in development.
The 500L goes on sale in the UK next month with the choice of two petrol and two diesel engines. This is our first steer in the 500L on UK soil, and the first chance we’ve had to sample the 500L equipped with the range-topping 104bhp 1.6-litre MultiJet diesel engine.
What is it like?
Not too bad at all. You’ll probably have a smile on your face before you get in, as to these eyes the 500L is the cheeriest and most individual-looking mini-MPV out there, despite falling short of the charm levels of the 500 city car. The 500L is one of those cars that looks better in the metal than in pictures; the 500 city car looks actually transfer quite well to a scaled-up model, particularly in the right colour.
The driving position is commanding, and visibility excellent thanks to the split A-pillars and the full-length glass roof that is standard on the Lounge trim and a £500 option on Pop Star and Easy models.
The interior design is largely familiar from the functional Panda more than the stylish 500, but can be lifted more in line with the 500 by brightly coloured trims and even suede for the dashboard. Delve a bit deeper in the cabin and there are plenty of hard plastics to the detriment of perceived quality, although this is probably welcome in a hard-wearing family car.
Design and quality might be bit hit and miss, but there’s no complaints against the space or flexibility. The rear seats slide forward and back to improve on either space for rear passengers or improve boot space. The front passenger seat also folds flat. Boot space can be as much as 400 litres with the rear seats up, or 1310 litres with the seats down.
The engine is a strong performer, with plenty of low-end torque providing ample performance. There’s a particularly gruff note under hard acceleration, but it quietens down on a motorway cruise. That’s not to say the 500L is a quiet companion on the motorway; there’s enough wind noise and tyre roar to be noticeable but not enough to be a nuisance.
The six-speed manual gearbox the engine is mated is also a slick operator. The ratios are well judged to mix nippy in-town performance with decent cruising economy. The indicated economy of our test car rose steadily through the 40s on our test route, and we’d expect the real-world figure to run into the low 50s once the engine is nicely run in.
Dynamically, the 500L is competent rather than engaging. It is the first car to be built on Fiat-Chrysler’s Small Wide platform, with 500Ls for Europe and North America are built in the same factory in Serbia. MacPherson struts suspend the car up front, with a torsion beam used at the rear.
The ride quality is generally good, leaning towards being firm than soft and supple. It doesn’t have a tendency to crash, though, a good thing on the potted roads of our Surrey and Berkshire test route. Body control is well judged and the 500L corners flatter than its height may suggest. But the numb electric steering dilutes any sense of real involvement. It’s light enough around town but becomes too springy when pushing on.
Should I buy one?
What you ultimately have in the 500L is a car that conforms to all the segment norms – practicality, space, competent but never engaging dynamics – with a big glug of extra style added in. But all that comes at a cost: more than £20,000 in the shape of our test car, with the range-topping engine and trim combination.
So it’s no surprise to learn that Fiat predicts the best-seller to be the base Pop Star and Easy models with the 94bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine, which comes in at £14,990 with both trims. That still looks expensive when you consider an equivalently powered and more spacious Citroën C3 Picasso will come in at £12,995.
Ultimately, should the market decide the 500L is stylish enough, then history has shown with fashion-conscious cars that they’ll sell even at inflated prices. Should you like the way the 500L looks and not baulk at the asking price, then there will be nothing in the way it drives to be a deal-breaker.
Fiat 500L 1.6 MultiJet 105hp Lounge
Price £18,890; Price as tested £20,490; 0-62mph 11.3sec; Top speed 112mph; Economy 62.8mpg; CO2 emissions 117g/km; Kerb weight 1365kg; Engine 4cyls, 1598cc, turbodiesel; Power 104bhp at 3750rpm; Torque 236lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 6spd manual