Mark Tisshaw
26 February 2013

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

Join the debate

Comments
20

Ant

Entry level at £15k and test

1 year 25 weeks ago

Entry level at £15k and test car at £20k+. WTF? I'm not sure this ugly thing can comand those kind of prices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Estoril M135i Manual

Similar comments made about

1 year 25 weeks ago

Similar comments made about the 500 which still isn't exactly cheap today. Whereas I don't think it will sell in 500 numbers I don't think it will do too badly. No more ugly than the Mini Countryman though they do only appear to have sold about a dozen of those so far!

 

 

TS7

Looking better in the flesh

1 year 25 weeks ago

Looking better in the flesh should be easy. It looks like putrid vomit in the photographs.

Similar comments..........

1 year 25 weeks ago

l do agree with you. The 500 L is not pretty, but l think it cheeky and charming, whereas the Countryman is just another "car".

And let us not forget, you can order a custom made espresso machine for your 500L, one of life's essentials!

l know which one l would go for.

Morty

Ouch

1 year 25 weeks ago

Not feeling well, with this and the Jeep all in one day I fear all designers in Fiat have been locked in cupboard and left to rot. I remember when Italians made attractive cars that fell to bits. Now they make cars that don't fall to bits anymore but ............

Not quite Mini

1 year 25 weeks ago

Fiat 500L certainly has Mini Countryman written all over its exterior just as it has VW Up! written all over its painted cheap metal dashboard.

Its reasonably stylish. Still Fiat would struggle to sell it in decent numbers at this price. It makes me look forward to the 500-based SUV though.

Look at what BMW achieved

1 year 25 weeks ago

Look at what BMW achieved with MINI, that has moved on from the cheap and cheerfull Austin mini. No matter what Rover did it sold because it was a cheeky little car and that too became over priced in its last years. BMW scaled new hights with the new MINI brand and took it into an up market niche.

FIAT can do the same over time but it must keep its eye on quality and stop heavy discounts just to make sale's. It needs to keep people wanting to own the 500 brand and then second hand prices will stay strong, building the 500 brand into a stronger quality marque.

 

Optima2

Hmm...

1 year 25 weeks ago

I think Fiat need to be careful with this one. I can see why they've taken this route but I think it could easily jeopardise any appeal the 500 has in the first place. 

To my mind, the MINI brand is no longer cool, whereas the 500 still is. I think a lot of that has to do with their endless spin offs, each one more brash than the last. '500' branding should be kept for chic, heart-over-head, slightly impractical cars. 

I think with some clever marketing this could sell equally well under the more appropriate '600' tag.

Pluck out my eyes.

1 year 25 weeks ago

I despair at the number of pig-ugly cars being built; what the hell has happened to car design in recent years? Enter yet another. 20k!!! (splutter)

Wide cars in a world of narrow.

No.

1 year 25 weeks ago

A car broker will supply you with a 5 seat Ford C-Max Zetec with the rather fab 125 hp three cyl engine for £5k off the list price, I.e. well under £14k with a couple of options. 

In my eyes that makes this and a C3 Picasso look like bad jokes. 

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Our Verdict

Fiat 500

The Fiat 500 is a deserved success story for the brand, offering bags of style, a fine drive and low costs

Driven this week