Commercial featureThe 500L is Fiat's bold answer to customer and dealer demands for a grown up alternative to the small but so successful, 500. A five-seater compact MPV that doesn't feel like one, taking care of people and baggage-carrying chores with a practical dash of Italian flair. And, perhaps best of all, allowing for individual personalisation through an option list clever and extensive enough to set new benchmarks for the class.
Fiat has its own fortune 500, a little family of cars on which present and future hopes of the brand are these days almost exclusively based. The 500 we all think of is the cheeky little three-door citycar that started this model's retro revolution but Fiat always felt that this should be merely the starting rung on an ownership ladder designed to be fine for families as well as fashion-conscious urbanistas. A ladder encompassing seven seats and SUVs as well as the model we're going to look at here, the spacious 500L.
Fiat's fame of course has traditionally been founded on much smaller cars than this - but the brand needs to get better at being bigger if legions of owners of the 500 citycar are not to be lost to other makers as their needs and families grow. And sure enough, on paper, the signs are good. This model claims to be the most space-efficient design in the compact MPV segment, bespokable with the widest and cleverest range of unique accessories.
A compact people carrier, in other words, that you can be passionately practical about. In a Fiat designed to bring a welcome dash of fashion to family motoring. Let's check it out.
You get an urban confidence with the 500L, something encouraged by the light lock-to-lock steering. A car you might enjoy on the school run. If not quite so much pushing on beyond the city limits. Here, you might wish that the steering offered you a little more feedback, a pity because in other respects, this is one of the more dynamically able five-seat mini-MPVs on the market, with well controlled bodyroll and a range of willing, torquey engines. Well, most of them are willing and torquey anyway. You couldn't really say that of the entry-level petrol unit, a 95bhp petrol 1.4 that's one of Fiat's older efforts and which, thanks to limited pulling power, doesn't really feel as fast as the performance stats suggest (rest to 62mph in 12.8s on the way to 111mph).
Better then, if possible, to find the funds to stretch to one of the other engine options. Two of these offer you 105bhp - the minority choice 1.6-litre Multijet diesel and the frugal but rather noisy 0.9-litre two cylinder TwinAir petrol unit that's proved so popular in the 500 citycar. In both cases, 62mph is 11 to 12 seconds away en route to 112mph. My council though, would in preference be to choose the engine we tried, the 85bhp 1.3-litre Multijet diesel.
Yes I know, eighty five braked horses don't sound very many to push along a 1.3-tonne people carrier, a supposition apparently confirmed on paper by a 14.9s 0-62mph time on the way to just 102mph. But with 200Nm of torque, 35% more than the TwinAir petrol unit can muster, this little unit feels perkier than those figures suggest.