Fiat 500L review

Our Rating: 
4
4.0/5.0
2012 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The Fiat 500L is a quirky and practical alternative to the Ford B-MAX. However, its looks are divisive

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

If you like the looks of the Fiat 500L – and let’s face it not everyone does – the car makes a decent job of providing practical transport for families on a budget.

Its voluminous body means there’s good head and leg-room for full-size adults, even when they’re three-up in the back. The seating arrangements are highly flexible too, and the maximum load capacity with seats folded flat is impressive.

Less impressive are the handling characteristics, which are safe but uninspiring, although the engines provide reasonable responsiveness and efficiency.

Sadly, the 500L can’t match its city car sister-model’s terrific depreciation record either.

Our Choice: 
Fiat 500L 1.6 Multijet Lounge

The Fiat 500L is a compact MPV that comes with a competitive price tag and is designed to rival other supermini-based people carriers like the Ford B-MAX, Citroen C3 Picasso and the Hyundai ix20.

The 500L is based very obviously on the popular Fiat 500 city car, meaning it gets the same retro influenced design, trendy interior and frugal engines as its smaller sister. However, the 500L's larger proportions mean it is a lot more practical for family buyers, thanks to a roomy boot, and five-seats that can actually be used by adults. Buyers can also opt for the even 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 that features black bodywork additions around the wheel arches and sills, as well as silver skid plates at the front and rear – but don’t be fooled into thinking it has four-wheel drive. There is also a Beats Edition of the 500L Trekking, which gets a thumping great stereo influenced by artist Dr. Dre and his BeatsAudio brand.

The Pop edition of the 500L is pretty basic, with no air-conditioning even as an option although it does get ESC, central locking, electric front windows and a touchscreen operated radio with Bluetooth.

The Pop Star adds air-con and cruise control, plus body colour mirrors and alloy wheels. The Lounge ups the ante further with automatic lights, dual zone climate control, a fixed glass roof, electric rear windows, parking sensors and seat-back tables.

Across the 500L range buyers can choose from two petrol engines - a 1.4 or 0.9-litre - or two diesels. The latter options include the 1.3 Multijet which can be spec’d with Fiat's semi-automatic Dualogic gearbox, or the 1.6-litre Multijet which is manual only.

Engines, performance and drive

3.3
Roly-poly MPV handling means the 500L’s drive won’t put a smile on your face

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

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. However, 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 too. 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. 

The Trekking model is interesting, as it comes with higher suspension, special mud-friendly tyres and a traction control system optimised for dirt tracks or icy conditions. It’s not a substitute for full 4x4 traction, but worth a look if you live somewhere rural.

Engines

The 1.4 litre T-Jet petrol engine may be the quickest in the 500L’s arsenal, but it’s still not going to set your hair on fire. 0-62mph comes up in a reasonably lively 10.2 seconds if you pick the 118bhp version, although the same unit is available with a lesser 94bhp and a 12.8s 0-62mph time.

The more efficient petrol TwinAir (two cylinder) model has 104bhp, and does 0-62mph in 12.3 seconds. All the petrol engines come with a six-speed manual gearbox.

We prefer the mid-range grunt of the 118bhp 1.6-litre diesel to the fastest petrol though. It’s a shade slower to 62mph at 10.7 seconds, but the extra pulling power makes a difference to the driveability – especially when you’re fully loaded. That’s because the biggest diesel’s 320Nm torque figure is significantly higher than the petrol’s 215Nm.

You can also get the 1.6-litre diesel with 104bhp, and there’s a smaller 1.3-litre option with 85bhp. The 1.3 diesel is the only 500L available with five-speed auto gears, and is also the slowest car in the line-up with a 15.5 second 0-62mph time.

 

MPG, CO2 and running costs

4
The 500L should be pleasingly cheap to run, but rapid depreciation is the fly in the ointment

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 105g/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 – and all the diesel variants are fitted with stop-start technology as standard.

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 figures are boosted because it’s the only petrol variant equipped with Fiat’s start-stop tech. The 118bhp 1.4-litre petrol unit is predictably the least efficient unit in the range, thanks to CO2 levels of 159g/km and 40.9mpg, while the 94bhp version of the same engine returns 45.6mpg and 145g/km.

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.

Insurance groups

There’s quite a broad spread of performance in the 500L range, and the insurance groups reflect that. The slowest 1.3-litre diesel falls into group 7, while the fastest 1.6-litre diesel is group 18.

Depreciation

The 500L is not as desirable as its supermini sister model on the second hand market, and values are not nearly as strong. While the regular 500 can retain more than 50 per cent of its purchase price over three years and 30,000 miles, the worst performing 500L (which is the TwinAir petrol) could be worth less than a third of what you paid. Diesel versions should perform a little better.

Interior, design and technology

3.8
‘Marmite’ looks mean the 500L doesn’t share the universal appeal of Fiat’s 500 city car

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 – the looks are certainly not to everyone’s taste. Still, 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.

For those who are not enamoured of the 500L’s looks, the feel-good 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 steering wheel, there’s little to remind you of the stylish 500 city car.

Equipment levels are pretty good though, and the glass ‘Skydome’ roof that’s standard on Lounge models gives the interior a bright and spacious feel.

There’s not much in the way of exotic technology, but you can have an automatic emergency braking system as an option extra – or standard on top-of-the-range Trekking models.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

Connectivity is taken care of with a Bluetooth enabled stereo operated via a 5 inch touchscreen on all but the entry model Pop where Bluetooth isn’t even an option. On cars that are equipped, the Uconnect system allows you to link your phone to handle calls and read text messages, and you can also stream music from compatible devices.

Digital DAB radio and satnav are optional extras, as is a Dr Dre-branded Beats hi-fi system.

Practicality, comfort and boot space

3.8
Extra body volume makes the 500L vastly more practical than its city car sister

The Fiat 500L's raised ride height and almost 360-degree visibility make it very easy to drive around town, and it’s practical too. A roomy cabin seats five adults comfortably, and is equipped with 22 cubbyholes including a large glovebox, a couple of cupholders and roomy door bins.

Size

The 500L measures up at 4,147mm long, 1,784mm wide and 1,665mm tall. That makes it 70mm longer than a Ford B-Max. The larger Fiat 500L MPW measures up at 4,352mm – making possible the extra row of seats.

Leg room, head room & passenger 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 a decent boot volume – even six-footers are accommodated in the back seats.

There’s so much adjustability built into accommodation that Fiat has calculated there are 1,500 possible seat position combinations. Significant ones include the option of folding the front passenger seat down to form a picnic table, sliding the rear bench back and forth and reclining it.

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. 

Boot

The Fiat 500L’s 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.

There are 400 litres available with the seats in place so the boot is already bigger than the VW Golf’s – a car from the next class up. The 500L offers comfortably more than double the boot space of 500 city car, while folding the seats down gives you an impressive 1,310 litres.

You wouldn’t pick the 500L as a tow car though. Most models are limited to pulling 1000kgs, although the Trekking can pull 1,100kgs.

Reliability and Safety

4
The 500L gets five stars for safety, but our Driver Power reliability rating throws up warning lights

The Fiat 500L 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 if it’s not fitted as standard equipment at your trim level.

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, while the 500L didn’t feature in our Driver Power 2015 survey, the regular 500 just failed to finish in the top 100 of the survey’s 200 cars – which gives some cause for concern. It was ranked a few places further down the rankings for build quality too.

Fiat’s dealers ranked 24th out of 32 manufacturers, so if you do need to visit one unexpectedly you may find it a little harder to attain satisfaction compared to better performing brands.

Warranty

Like other Fiats, the 500L comes with a three-year/100,000-mile warranty. In the first two years cover is provided regardless of mileage, but the cap comes into play in year three. This is similar to cover provided by most rivals, although VW caps mileage at 60,000 and Kia provides 7 years of warranty cover.

Servicing

There’s no network-wide fixed price servicing scheme advertised for the Fiat 500L, but you should expect to pay around £135 for a minor service and £250 for the full service. This appears to be a little less competitive than some of the plans available from rival manufacturers but Fiat does allow 18,000 miles between services (or annual checks).

Last updated: 3 Feb, 2016
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