The worldwide success of the Fiat 500 encouraged Fiat to launch a series of ‘500’ models, led by the 500L, 500L MPW & most recently the 500X. None are as common on UK roads as the iconic 500 itself, but in Italy where I went on holiday last year, the 500L is everywhere. On arrival at Pisa Airport in July, I was confronted with a lot of 500L’s when I went to pick up my hire car, which wasn’t a 500L. In Italy in the sun the 500L looked good & I immediately saw the benefit of hiring one because it’s small & therefore I assumed would be a cheaper option than most cars offered at the car rental offices, whilst appearing to be extremely practical, as I watched several families load their 500L up & leave the terminal.
I didn’t have to wait that long to try one for myself because Fiat kindly loaned CCV a 1.6 MultiJet II 120hp Lounge model in early 2018. Resplendent in Bellagio Blue with a white roof, on closer inspection I could clearly see that the way that the 500L looks was going to divide the car buying public like Marmite. Peter Kay obviously liked it because he used it for his comeback TV comedy ‘Car Share. ‘ But there is more not just to this car, but to any car than the way it looks & after a week behind the wheel of the 500L I feel that I am able to give our readers a more balanced view.
Offered as a five door hatchback, the 500L competes with cars such as the Peugeot 2008, Citroen C3 Aircross, Renault Captur & Vauxhall Crossland X. Fiat updated the 500L in 2017 with the main changes being a much sharper, more up to date dashboard & better connectivity for buyers.
There’s a clever use of glass in the cabin, with a full length glass sunroof & glass A pillars giving the car an even bigger feeling of space. Front & rear seat passengers get plenty of room & the 3 rear seats offer the bonus of a flat floor so that the centre passenger has some decent legroom rather than being squashed as in a number of other cars. Interior storage space is very good, with twin glove boxes, large door pockets in both the front & rear, two cupholders in the centre binnacle, an armrest with hidden space inside it a small storage spot in front of the gear lever.
The new dashboard & layout isn’t quite as retro as in the 500, but it’s still pretty cool & the most impressive thing about it is the excellent build quality, which is also reflected in the doors which really do clunk shut. In the Pop & Easy versons of the 500L, there are some neat touches mirroring the 500, with the metal part of the dash matching the cars exterior colour The top of the range Lounge model which I tested, offers the most luxurious and comfortable selection of accessories, with the use of good quality silver plastic materials on the dashboard. The leather steering wheel contains some well laid out controls for the DAB radio/CD/iPod & Fiats Uconnect Bluetooth hands free phone system, which was simple to connect to & also easy to use. Apple Car Play was also on offer join my test car.
My test model was powered by the 1.6 diesel & after 400 miles of driving, it was easy to see why this tried & tested unit has been so popular, with some great top end power enabling the motorway to be tackled in comfort. My test car also came with cruise control which I always find useful on any motorway journey & this further added to the 500L’s enjoyment. It’s a competent performer around town but due to it’s shape & size does demonstrate a little bit of body roll that you wouldn’t experience in the smaller 500.
From a practical point of view, the 500L is very impressive. I loaded the car up for a car boot sale at my sons school & although you can’t remove the rear seats, I was amazed at how much stuff we were able to cram in. Four large one metre by 75 cm mirrors, at least ten 50 cm by 30 cm pictures which fitted perfectly in the hidden underneath space in the boot & on top of these, four large boxes containing old lamp bases, electrical items, a large kids car park, an Action Man jeep, a Tracey Island & a toy helicopter. Thankfully, we sold most of it so on our return the car felt very empty.
Key standard equipment on my test car was also impressive, with 16” silver alloy wheels, automatic lights with rain sensors, body coloured bumpers, body coloured electrically adjustable door mirrors, ESCDST and BAS, a fixed glass roof, front fog lights, heated rear window, rear parking sensors, specific side mouldings with chrome inserts, a ‘Cargomagic space’ height adjustable load platform, 7” touchscreen DAB radio with Bluetooth, cruise control, dual zone climate control, height adjustable driver’s seat, height/reach adjustable steering wheel, leather steering wheel with audio controls/leather gear knob as well as Start&Stop.
From a business perspective, the 500L 1.6 diesel returns 61.4 mpg on the combined with 120g/km CO2 emissions & costs £20,820. This is substantially more than a 500, but a 500 is really a city car for two adults, with very little space for young people. The 500L is in reality, an extension of the 500 for those who have a growing family but still want the 500 feel. Despite it’s bulk & it’s chunky looks, Fiat have cleverly interpreted the 500’s stand out bits & put them in the 500L, avoiding the hall of mirrors effect they created with the Multipla which from wherever you looked at it, wasn’t a pretty sight.
Admittedly, the 500L does look prettier when viewed in the sunshine of Italy. But it is different enough & clever enough to still be appealing. The only real downside, is that it’s exterior looks are bland, especially when put up against new kids on the block, such as the C3 Aircross, SKODA Karoq & SEAT Arona, as the B SUV slowly but surely relegates the 500L’s of this world to the scrap heap.
If looks aren’t as important to you & you require a B sector car that offers a bit of fun with the practicality lacking even in most B SUV cars, can I suggest that you give it a closer look. You will be surprised & you won’t be disappointed !