The stylish Fiat 500L MPV delivers a practical interior and frugal engines to rival the Ford B-MAX
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 seven-seat 500XL model will be added to the line-up towards the end of 2013 but the standard 500L 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.