All Grown Up: Fiat 500L First Drive

‘500 Goes Large’. At least that’s the tagline for Fiat’s Mini Countryman rival, the new 500L, and it’s going to be interesting to see how the battle for the wallets of fashion-conscious buyers escalates between these two reinterpreted, albeit augmented, classics. And those who immediately think, “that’s far too ugly to sell”, on first acquaintance should remember that longevity and character are the hallmarks of good design, and the 500L has both.

500L is aimed primarily at young families who aren't ready to ditch a fun, stylish car

Fiat will market the 500L as a larger, more practical version of the popular 500, and it’s fair to say that the ‘L’ – unsurprisingly standing for ‘large’ - shares enough of the smaller car’s idiosyncrasies to justify that claim, which is an achievement in itself. The real inspiration, however, comes from cars like the wonderful 1956 600 Multipla; a car that at the time Fiat described as a “unique technical development and practical conception, affording for the first time ample seating accommodation for six persons, or alternatively 19 sq. ft. of luggage space.” Fiat hope that younger 500 buyers who loved the little car’s style and spirit will migrate to the 500L now that they have married and consequently have larger families.

Although the 500L only seats five, the philosophy is akin to the 600 Multipla. Making this car easy to live with was Fiat’s fist consideration; the 500-esque styling and packaging is merely a convenient and fun icebreaker. Roberto Gioloto - a Fiat career-man and, as of 2013, Head of Fiat & Abarth Design - believes Fiats of this ilk have always had a habit of “putting people at their ease without compromising appearance,” although concedes that “the first purpose of a car is to make people feel comfortable inside.” After spending the morning driving a 500L it’s apparent that the 500L has at least met this most important design brief.


500L has an enormous 'greenhouse', which aids practicality and makes the cabin spacious

Inside the 500L the immediate impression is of space. The kind of space that many physiologically similar cars can’t dream of, and split A-pillars help create a panoramic effect from the front seats. Include the sunroof and the 500L has an enormous greenhouse that leaves an feeling of room belying the maths that states it is only slightly longer than the Punto. Combined with a high driving position, the 500L should be at home on congested city streets, and it will be interesting to see whether it is as relaxing to drive through Earl’s Court as it is down empty Buckinghamshire B-roads. Early impressions suggest it will.

Although a second-generation TwinAir that develops 105bhp engine will be offered when the car goes on sale, the most popular powerplant is likely to be the new 1.6-litre Multijet that we tested. Power is an unremarkable 105bhp, but an impressive torque figure means that the 500L is happy enough sitting at 1200rpm in any gear, saving fuel whilst making smooth, quiet and generally refined progress. Fiat’s Stop&Start system helps it achieve a combined 62.8mpg on the combined cycle, but carbon dioxide emissions of 117g/km mean than the 85bhp 1.3 Multijet will ultimately be the cleanest engine in the range.

The ride is reasonably firm whilst accommodating for the worst British roads well, but conversely the 500L doesn’t exactly shower itself in glory through the bends. The combination of early-onset understeer and body-roll dash any hopes that it might be as fun to drive as many of Fiat’s smaller offerings.

Squircle theme introduced by the Panda still evidenced, although cockpit has grown up

The 500L will also feature Fiat’s latest driving advice system, which focuses on more economical driving, reducing carbon dioxide emissions and increasing fuel economy. Eco:Drive Live works through the cars UConnect screen, analysing driving style and giving feedback. Fiat claims the ‘uniquely tailored personalised assistance’ can reduce emission by 16%, although how they calculated that we’ve no idea.

Fiat were late to party when they launched the 500 in 2007, six years after the new Mini, but it hasn’t inhibited the car’s popularity – in fact, the 500’s residuals have increased over it’s lifespan. That’s extremely unusual, and if Fiat’s prediction that 500L buyers won’t be pigeon-holed into traditional demographic bands such as location and income, instead defining themselves by their “attitude to life” is true, then this fat 500 might do as well as it seemingly deserves to.

Fiat 500L 1.6 MultiJet 105bhp

Engine: 1598cc turbodiesel Power: 105bhp Top Speed: 112mph 0-60mph: 11.3s Economy: 62.8mpg combined (manual) Emissions: 117g/km CO2 Price: £17,490

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