Fiat 500L review

Our Rating: 
2012 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The Fiat 500L is a quirky and practical alternative to the Ford B-MAX. However, its divisive looks won't be to everyone's liking

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

The Fiat 500L is a compact MPV that carries a competitive price. It rivals other supermini-based people carriers like the Ford B-MAX, Citroen C3 Picasso and the Hyundai ix20.

The 500L is based on the popular Fiat 500 supermini, meaning it gets the same retro influenced design, trendy interior and frugal engines as its smaller brother. However, the 500L's larger proportions mean its more practical, thanks to a roomy boot, and five-seats that can actually be used by adults. Buyers can also go for a larger 500L MPW, which comes with a seven-seat option.

The Fiat 500L is available in four trim levels. The entry-level Pop Star, mid-range Easy and Lounge models, plus a rugged looking flagship called Trekking. There is also a Beats Edition of the 500L Trekking, which gets black body add-ons and a thumping great stereo influenced by artist Dr. Dre and his BeatsAudio brand.

Buyers can choose from a choice of two petrol engines, a 1.4 or 0.9-litre, or two diesels, a 1.3 Multijet which can be specced with Fiat's semi-automatic Dualogic gearbox, or a 1.6-litre Multijet.

Our choice: 500L 1.6 Multijet Lounge

Engines, performance and drive


It'd be unreasonable to expect the Fiat 500L to handle like a sports car, but there is more body roll than you get in say, a Ford B-MAX, and the bigger and heavier Fiat can’t hide its MPV nature.

Fiat 500L rear cornering

The steering is light, as are the pedals and gearshift. While it's easy to drive, none of the controls have much feel and it's pretty vague most of the time. The brakes are also overly sharp. If you accept the 500L doesn't have a sporty nature, and that it's just a decent and safe-handling MPV, you won't be disappointed. 

The raised seating position and light controls make it a breeze around town. Plus, aside from some fidgeting at low speed, the soft suspension set-up delivers a decent ride. Road noise isn’t too much of an issue on the motorway, either. 


MPG, CO2 and running costs


The Fiat 500L boasts a range of economical engines, the cleanest of which is the 1.3-litre Multijet diesel with the semi-automatic gearbox thanks to 70.6mpg and emissions of 102g/km of CO2. The regular 1.3-litre Multijet manages 67.3mpg with CO2 levels of 110g/km.

The 1.6-litre diesel is also pretty good, as it manages 62.8mpg, with CO2 emissions of 117g/km.

Of the two petrol engines available, the 0.9-litre Twinair is the better bet with an economy of 58.9mpg, plus 112g/km of CO2. The 1.4-litre petrol unit is the least efficient unit in the range, thanks to CO2 levels of 149g/km and 44.1mpg.

To further increase fuel economy, Fiat has fitted the 500L with an 'ECO' button which lowers torque and strangles the throttle response. All 500L models fall within a sensible insurance group but servicing and some expensive options make the Fiat look a little pricey compared to some of its rivals.

The Trekking costs about £700 more to buy than a 500L Lounge, but it does slot in to a lower insurance group because it comes with an auto-braking system as standard.

Interior, design and technology


Despite carrying the 500 name, the 500L doesn’t actually share all that much with its city car namesake. It’s in fact based on the underpinnings of the Punto supermini.

Whether wrapping this practical chassis in a Fiat 500-inspired body has resulted in
an attractive-looking car or not is a matter for debate. But details like the twin rounded headlights and single chrome bar grille leave you in no doubt of the 500’s role in inspiring this car’s design. And, like the hatch, there’s lots of scope to customise your 500L, with contrasting roof colours and coloured door mirrors.

The range-topping model in the 500L range, the Trekking, has its ride-height increased by 10mm, and black plastic body cladding along the lines of the Dacia Sandero Stepway. Despite its rugged looks, don't expect to be going anywhere far off-road as the Trekking is only available as a front-wheel-drive car.

Sadly, the feelgood factor doesn’t improve much once you climb into the driver’s seat. With chunky buttons, a simple dash layout and a lofty seating position, the Fiat’s cabin focuses on practicality more than style, and aside from the seat design and the chunky wheel, little reminds you of the 500 city car.

Practicality, comfort and boot space


As the 500L is 59cm longer than the standard Fiat 500, there's plenty of space in the cabin. This means there's more than enough room for five adults as well as 400 litres of boot space.

The Fiat 500L's increased ride height and almost 360-degree visibility make it very easy to drive around town, and what's more, the rear bench seat folds completely flat and slides easily. The boot also has a three-level floor and the front passenger seat also folds completely flat, meaning the 500L can take loads of up to 2.4 meters.

Fiat 500L interior

The boot has a three-level floor and the front passenger seat folds completely flat. If you need to load children or baby seats, the higher body and wider rear doors hand the Fiat a win over smaller rivals such as the Audi A1 Sportback and MINI 5-door. 

Reliability and Safety


Like other Fiats, the 500L comes with a three-year/100,000-mile warranty. The
500L also has a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating and comes with a decent tally of safety features as standard. They include driver, passenger, side and window airbags, plus tyre pressure monitoring and hill-hold. You can also add Fiat’s City brake control low-speed collision mitigation system for £250.

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.

The engine and a large percentage of the other mechanicals in the 500L are widely used in other Fiat models, so should prove reliable. However, while the 500L didn’t feature in our Driver Power 2014 survey, the regular 500 failed to finish in the top 100 of the survey’s 150 cars – a cause for concern. Fiat’s dealers ranked 24th out of 32 manufacturers.

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: 23 Oct, 2014