Fiat 500L 1.6 Multijet Lounge

We see if the practical Fiat 500L family car retains the city car’s charm

Despite coming very close to a road test win on its debut, the 500L is prevented from taking victory by weak residual values. And while we were impressed by the family-friendly cabin and relaxed driving dynamics, the increased size and strange design stretch the 500 brand to the limit.

Growing up is never easy, but Fiat hopes its 500L will be as big a hit in the family car market as the 500 has been in the city car class. This spacious and highly practical newcomer is the start of a rapid expansion of the 500 range that’s set to include seven-seater MPV and rugged 4x4 crossover models.

The cute 500 has undergone a serious transformation to become five-door family transport. The 500L is the first model to use Fiat’s new supermini platform, which means it’s not just longer than a 500: at nearly 4.2 metres nose to tail, it’s 80mm longer than a Fiat Punto. It’s also wider than the Qashqai and taller than the Countryman – which does place some strain on the retro styling.

Familiar visual cues like the contrasting coloured roof, slim chrome-plated grille and bug-eyed headlamps are all carried over from the 500, but a raised profile means they look awkward at best. Colour choice makes a big difference: our test car came with optional Pastel Blue paint and a white roof (£800), along with a set of striking, £350, two-tone diamond-turned 17-inch white alloys.

But parked next to the broader MINI and understated Nissan, the Fiat looks tall and ungainly. The huge new body panels mean even the large alloys get lost in the arches. Yet while the 500L’s looks won’t suit all tastes, some buyers will be drawn to the quirky design and extensive personalisation options. Plus, things improve once you get inside.

Climb into the driver’s seat and you’re greeted with a classy grey suede dashboard and an enormous panoramic glass roof that Fiat calls a Skydome. Both features come as standard on the Lounge model, but the list of luxury kit doesn’t stop there.

This top-of-the-range version also gets climate control, part-leather seats and a five-inch touchscreen Bluetooth radio – all items that’ll cost you extra on the Countryman and Qashqai.

Overall fit and finish is very good, too: the chunky steering wheel and simple switchgear are solid and feel like they’ll cope well with the rigours of family motoring. Light floods into the cabin through the roof and glass A-pillars, and visibility is excellent, but the Fiat really starts to pull out an advantage when it comes to carrying passengers.

There’s lots of head and legroom in the rear seats, plus they slide and fold down independently to vary the amount of boot space. If you want to free up the maximum room possible, they tumble forward to reveal a flat 1,310-litre luggage area. And unlike in either of the 500L’s rivals here, the front seat folds forward for carrying really long items.The double-layered glovebox and handy cabin storage bins make it easy to stash your loose items without cluttering up the interior.

Overall, this car feels more like a bigger and more luxurious Panda than a stretched 500, but how has the major chassis surgery affected its entertaining driving dynamics? While the 1.6-litre Multijet II diesel engine has the least power in this test, at 104bhp, its healthy 320Nm torque figure meant the car came close to matching the MINI for in-gear performance and it felt impressively hushed and refined on the move.

The low-emissions TwinAir petrol engine is also available in the 500L, but the diesel is by far the best choice for lugging the whole family around. A CO2 output of only 119g/km means it’s not much more expensive to run than the petrol, either. And while our limited testing mileage meant we recorded only 34.1mpg economy, this would most likely improve on a longer run.

The steering is light and delivers very little feedback, but when combined with a precise six-speed gearbox and well weighted controls, it makes the Fiat easy to drive. Although this car can’t match the Nissan’s pace, it should be fast enough for most people. And despite some fidgeting at low speeds, the ride is largely comfortable and composed.

However, there is a major sticking point apart from the divisive styling: depreciation. While the 500L is the cheapest and best-equipped car here, it’s predicted to shed nearly £12,000 of its value in three years. So it’s hard to recommend over the financially bomb-proof Countryman for private buyers.

The question is whether these weak residuals will end up hampering the 500L’s bid for overall glory in this test.

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