Fiat 500L review

Our Rating: 
4
4.0/5.0
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The stylish Fiat 500L MPV delivers a practical interior and frugal engines to rival the Ford B-MAX

For: 
Practical interior, frugal engines, customisable design
Against: 
Not as flexible or fun as the B-MAX, engines lack power

The Fiat 500L is a small MPV that hopes to build on the success of the popular Fiat 500 supermini. It boasts the same retro-inspired design and funky interior as its smaller brother, but with a practical boot and some spacious, usable rear seats. A larger 500L MPW model is also available and comes with the option of seven seats. The 500L, though, is strictly a five-seater. All of the engines are economical and the two-cylinder TwinAir is full of character - just don’t expect to get anywhere near Fiat’s claimed economy figures. It's a convincing all-round package but the Ford B-MAX has the edge for practicality and handling. 

Our choice: 500L 1.6 Multijet Lounge

Styling

3.8

Fiat has worked hard to ensure that the 500L looks just like a member of the 500 family, so it gets the same rounded twin headlights and chrome single bar grille as the little city car. The cute looks don't come as naturally to the larger 500L, as its taller and wider than crossovers like the Nissan Qashqai and MINI Countryman but there are plenty of options for customising your car so you can have it exactly as you want it. There are 11 different colours, three different roof options and three wheel choices. If you want a chunkier, more rugged look you can always opt for the 500L Trekking model. It's jacked up by 10mm and gets some black plastic cladding to protect the bodywork if you want to go off-road. 

Driving

3.4

The Fiat 500L is available from launch with four engines: a 1.4-litre petrol with 94bhp, a 1.3-litre Multijet diesel with 84bhp, a 0.9-litre two-cylinder TwinAir with 104bhp and a 104bhp 1.6-litre Multijet diesel. The latter two offer the best blend of performance and economy, with the petrol unit delivering a 0-62mph time of 12.3 seconds, while emitting just 112g/km. The diesel makes the 0-62mph sprint a second quicker, with emissions of 117g/km CO2. But the TwinAir is cheaper, with prices starting at £16,490 in Pop Star trim, compared to £17,490 for the entry-level 1.6-litre Multijet. The 1.4-litre petrol and 1.3-litre diesel both struggle a little at higher speeds but they're smooth and quiet enough around town. As a high-riding MPV, the Fiat 500L isn't expected to handle like a sports car but there is far more body roll than you get in some sharper rivals and the steering feels a little imprecise, too. 

Reliability

4

The Fiat 500L gained the full five stars when it was crash-tested by Euro NCAP in late 2012. This is thanks to a generous list of safety equipment including driver, passenger, side and window airbags. ABS and traction control both come fitted as standard, too, while buyers can also choose an automatic braking system that stops the car if it senses a collision. The engines and many of the other mechanicals in the 500L are widely used in other Fiat models (such as the standard 500, Panda and Punto), so should prove reliable. However, the 500 finished a disappointing 81st in the 2012 Driver Power survey, while Fiat finished bottom of the manufacturer standings.

Practicality

3.8

The 500L's jacked-up ride-height and almost 360-degree windows make it very easy to manoeuvre around busy city streets and the new body, which is 59cm longer than a standard 500, frees up plenty of space in the cabin. There's plenty of room for five adults and 400 litres of boot space. Plus, the rear bench folds and slides easily and the boot has a three-level floor. The front passenger seat also folds completely flat, allowing you to carry loads of up to 2.4m in length. However, the Ford B-MAX has a sliding rear door and no B-pillar, which makes access to the cabin incredibly easy, while the 500L has no such system. Even so its large wide doors and flat cabin floor make it very family friendly as well.

Running Costs

4

The cleanest Fiat 500L in the range is the 1.3-litre Multijet diesel, which claims fuel economy of 67.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 110g/km. The 0.9-litre TwinAir isn’t that far behind, with claimed economy of 58.8mpg. However, in our experience of this engine it’s actually extremely difficult to get anywhere near the claimed figures without driving like a saint and using the 'ECO' button which lowers the torque and strangles the throttle response. None of the engines are particularly powerful, so all 500L models fall within a sensible insurance group but servicing and some expensive options make the Fiat look a little expensive compared to small MPVs like the Citroen C3 Picasso. The Trekking costs about £700 more than a top-spec 500L to buy but it does slot in to a lower insurance group because it comes with an auto-braking system as standard. 

Disqus - noscript

Picked up my 500L last weekend - a Lounge 1.4 petrol. So far I'm impressed, with a couple of caveats.

First I think the 1.4 is marginal in terms of power - not a problem as I'm happy with a sedate drive, but this leads on to the second point, which is, I think this will also impact on the fuel economy, as I think you will need to use lower gears than ideal, to keep up momentum. Time will tell, and I will be delighted if I am proved wrong!

I would have gone for the twin-air (loved it in the 500 I owned previously), but the £1500 premium was just too much to swallow.

This reads as quite negative, but this is not the case. Space and flexibility are excellent, it feels solid too - they seem to have built on the improvements brought in with the 500, which is good to see. There is some really useful tech too:

Cruise control, Speed Limiter (should come on all cars), great media/phone integration and with the upgraded audio system, great sounds. 5 star safety rating along with advanced stability and traction control system is reassuring.

Finally, a couple of comments about its looks. Yes, it doesn't have the immediately cute look of the 500, but then it couldn't. But what it does have is loads of character - something lacking in just about every alternative in its sector.

FIAT seem to have been looking at the Countryman far too closely! However the detailing is a bit better than the latter which is not an enormous achievement but is something I suppose.
Yet these are both gopping, galumphing, gurning grotesque (insert adjective of choice) vehicles which do nothing for the visual joy of the world. Hopefully both makers are capable of better things than these tubbies.

Got one as a hire car for a few weeks and I wouldn't rate it more than 3 stars with the twin air engine is very sluggish off the mark it starts to come alive after 3000 rpm then runs out of puff at 5000 this really harms fuel consumption at 35mpg I don't exactly call that good and also you certainly feel the problems of being so tall when driving it has a bit of body roll and suspension can be a bit bouncy. Plus points are it's very spacious and a great stereo with blue tooth ect.

Last updated: 17 Jul, 2013

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