Road test: Fiat 500L
AOL Cars jumped behind the wheel to see if it is a step too far.
What is it?
It's a Fiat 500 that's been at the pies. Designed to appeal to new parents who have outgrown the limited practicality of the hatchback, but don't want the dour image of a regular MPV, Fiat has tried to instill some of the 500's cheeky design into this new model, though the results have been less than successful. Bloated on the outside and having few of the fresh interior design details of its smaller sibling. On the plus there is now room to seat five adults comfortably and the boot will easily swallow enough luggage for a family week away.
What's under the bonnet?
Two petrol and three diesel motors are on offer, with the most powerful petrol engine being Fiat's innovative two-cylinder 0.9-litre TwinAir. With just 105bhp, this engine is fine in the normal 500, but with little grunt on offer, we can only imagine it struggling to gather forward momentum in the bigger L, particularly when its full of people and luggage. Our test car was fitted with the most powerful diesel, a 1.6 offering the same 105bhp. Thankfully, with a surfeit of torque over the thrummy petrol, it easily deals with the 500L's mass, though sounds rather agricultural in the process.
What's the spec like?
Three trim levels are offered: Popstar, Easy and Lounge. All models are equipped with a five-inch touchscreen radio, Bluetooth connectivity, Cruise control, air conditioning and six airbags. Opt for mid-range Easy and you'll get rear parking sensors and electric rear windows. Top-spec models also get a rather cool panoramic sunroof, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers and a rear armrest. The options list for the 500L is extensive, and includes a plethora of customisation options. Buyers can spec seat upholstery with graffiti on it and even a Lavazza coffee machine, which lives in the middle rear seat.
MINI's Countryman – perhaps the direct contender – offers a more connected driving experience and a similar sized boot but is let down by a cramped rear cabin. Away from high-riding crossovers, there are plenty of talented MPVs based on superminis that the 500L has to contend with. The Citroen C3 Picasso offers greater visual interest with its funky, modern styling and feels generously proportioned inside, despite its dinkier exterior dimensions. The Ford B-Max is worth consideration, too, with its innovative pillarless door solution and the fact that it's available with the company's new 1.0-litre wonder engine, which offers strong performance and fuel economy.
What's it like to drive?
Anyone expecting the nippiness and endearing retro-handling experience of the 500 supermini will be disappointed. The 500L feels big and cumbersome to manoeuvre, and exhibits high levels of body-roll in the corners. The large expanses of glass and the high-driving position do aid all-round visibility, though the driving position is more van-like than in some rivals. This isn't helped by the noise of the rather agricultural engine. However, the performance it offers is more than adequate, as it gets the 500L up to speed with little effort and is as happy around town as it is on a high speed cruise. It's a comfortable place to sit, too, with soft suspension taking the sting out of even the worst crags in the road.
The AOL Cars verdict
While it is a much stronger family proposition than the regular 500, with its larger boot and roomy cabin, you'll really have to be sold on the retro theme for the 500L to make the top of your shortlist. With a lacklustre driving experience, awkward styling and an interior that is very sensitive to spec, its appeal is limited to those who desperately want a 500, but can't live with the lack of practicality it offers.
Model: Fiat 500L Multijet 105hp Lounge
Engine: 1.6-litre, four cylinder, diesel
Power: 105bhp 320NM
Max speed: 112mph
0-62mph: 11.3 seconds
MPG: 62.8mpg (combined)
Emissions: 117g/km CO2