£16,400 - £21,565 Price range
39 - 72 MPG
It shares its styling with the Fiat 500, but stretched to fit a five-door MPV body. You’re unlikely to find it as convincing to look at as its smaller sibling despite a facelift in 2017 which brought a restyle along with a range of 10 paint finishes and three contrasting roof colours.
The interior gets the same retro styling as the outside. You’re treated to a smattering of ‘500’ badges, a round gear knob, chrome pull handles and Fiat’s ‘squircle’ (rounded-square) design language. Cheap, hard plastics used for the top of the dashboard and doors mean it doesn’t feel brilliantly built and even the soft-touch plastics aren’t deep and squidgy like the ones in the more expensive VW Golf.
Top-of-the-range Lounge models give you a seven-inch infotainment screen, which has a reversing camera, TomTom sat-nav and is available with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard. You would find it easier to use on the move if you could control it via a fixed swivel wheel, however.
You won’t feel stuck for space in the front, but the seats could do with more lower back support and aren’t the comfiest to sit in on over long distances. You’ll also hanker for a ventilation system that can summon up more than a light sea breeze on sweltering summer days.
Headroom in the back is surprisingly tight, something you can’t help but find odd for a car with the 500L’s boxy shape. Then there are the picnic tables on the backs of the front seats that seem expertly placed to jab under your passengers’ knee caps. There’s no hump in the floor, but if you try and fit three adults on the back seat they’ll feel short of shoulder room and the middle passenger’s seat is small and unyielding.
The 400-litre boot is above average for cars this size, though, and it’s available with an adjustable boot floor that makes loading easy, or allows you to have a deeper load bay.
You’ll find smaller storage areas are numerous, but lacking in outright room, so the door bins are small and the glovebox in minuscule. The front centre armrest cubby is deep but has no USB or AUX plug, while the tray in front of the gearstick has those, but no lid to hide your phone from the undesirables looking to steal it.
Petrol engines include a 0.9-litre TwinAir with 85hp and two 1.4s with 95 or 120hp. Diesels come in the form of a 1.3-litre with 95hp, which can be had with an automatic gearbox, and a 120hp 1.6-litre.
You should go for the 1.6-litre diesel. In the real world, you’ll find it’s a lot more willing than the 120hp petrol, which most of the time feels like it would struggle to pull the skin off a freshly served rice pudding.
You’ll quickly learn that sporty driving isn’t something the 500L has much time for. Corner lean is far from an alien concept, in fact – there’s rather a lot of it even at medium speeds. Yet the Fiat can feel uncomfortable over bumps in town and on the motorway you’ll find that plenty of road noise makes its way into the cabin at speed.
Semi-offroading Cross models get their suspension raised by 25mm but the uncomfortable ride remains. They have drive settings for safely travelling on slippery roads and down steep inclines, but a lack of four-wheel drive means if you want a cheap off-roader the Panda 4×4 is still the car you should go for.
Safety should be pretty good, though, the 500L scored five stars when it was crash tested, although this was under 2012’s less stringent testing regulations. Autonomous emergency braking is available across the range.
So the 500L makes sense if you want a small, retro-styled MPV that offers a fair degree of personalisation. It represents decent value, so long as you stick to basic or mid-range models. But top-of-the-range cars unwittingly stroll into the crosshairs of more conventional, just as practical and far more accomplished cars, such as the VW Golf, which the 500L is leagues behind.