Larging it in a classy citycar
The Fiat 500L expands the 500 family with a more practical proposition. The cute good looks of the original city car have been traded for something a little less striking, but the 500L offers decent practicality, some good engines and a well styled cabin.
With a bigger overall footprint and consequently more upfront weight than the bijou 500, the 500L needs a set of rather more heavy duty motors. Opening proceedings is a 93bhp 1.4-litre petrol while there's also a version of the revolutionary two-cylinder TwinAir engine, in this case generating 104bhp, 20bhp up on that of the version fitted to the ordinary 500.
Diesel customers are catered for with a very good 1.3-litre Multijet with 84bhp. This will make 60mph from standstill in 14.6 seconds, which sounds positively glacial, but there's a decent slug of torque on offer.
Naturally you can't expect the 500L to be as light on its feet as the 500 in town, but Fiat has worked to make the car as easy as possible to drive, taking weight out of the steering and delivering brilliant all-round visibility, helped in no small part by a very high and upright seating position. The springs and dampers are geared towards comfort rather than chuckability and that's something you'll appreciate on pock-marked city streets.
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The effectiveness of the styling is clearly a subjective call but few who I canvassed felt the 500L was a pretty car in the same way the 500 is.
A lot of that car's character was bound up in its silhouette, and the 500L just looks that little bit more generic. It rides on a modified Punto platform and while it's not as big as a lumbering MINI Countryman, at 414cm long, it's no flyweight.
The interior probably works a good deal better than the exterior treatment.
The huge glass area gives the cabin a light, airy feel and the fascia looks classy with a touch screen infotainment system, big dials and chunky controls.
The Fiat 500L isn't going to command the column inches of its city car forebear but it might just be a more relevant vehicle for many more potential customers.
It also offers something a little different from the usual boring supermini-MPV norm with an interior that retains a certain sense of occasion. The exterior lines are largely dictated by the car's role, and while Fiat has done its best to integrate 500 design cues into them, not everyone will like the end result.
That's a relatively minor grouse though.
The rest of the 500L package is a good deal more impressive. It might be unoriginal, it's certainly not pretty and it might even be accused of being opportunist, but out of these unpromising ingredients has emerged a surprisingly credible car.