Although the Fiat 500L shares part of its name with the company’s chic city car, it’s actually a much larger beast. Based on the platform of the Punto supermini, it’s longer, wider and taller than its most obvious rival, the Citroen C3 Picasso.
It’s also the first major addition to the family of 500 models, a range which will eventually grow to include both a seven-seat version of the 500L and a crossover to rival the Nissan Juke.
The closest example is the Mini family, and like BMW’s baby, the 500L will be available with a host of colour combinations, trims and accessories, allowing owners to personalise their car.
The engine line-up will include 0.9-litre Twinair and 1.4-litre petrol engines (with 104 and 94bhp, respectively) and an 84bhp 1.3 diesel, but with the car not due to go on sale in the UK until 2013, we’re some way from knowing details of the final prices and specifications.
What’s the 2013 Fiat 500L like to drive?
Of the three engines that will eventually be available in the UK, we’ve driven only the two petrols.
Neither gives especially strong performance, but the smaller engine has a bigger advantage than you might expect from the difference in performance figures.
Yes, the 1.4-litre makes all the right semi-sporty noises, but it never gets the car moving very quickly, and the shortage of torque at low revs can be very frustrating, because it forces you to make all-too frequent use of the notchy manual gearshift.
The 0.9-litre Twinair unit would be the obvious choice – it’s appreciably stronger in the mid-range, especially with peak torque coming at 2000rpm – but for the fact that it’s less refined. The amount of noise it produces, along with the considerable vibration you feel, makes it a far from relaxing companion.
If you can live with that, though, the 500L copes well with city life. It’s quick enough from one set of traffic lights to the next, and the high driving position gives you a good view out. With light steering, too, the 500L is easy to manoeuvre.
Out of town, the 500L handles bends reasonably well. There’s plenty of body roll, thanks to the soft suspension, but it doesn’t unsettle the car.
The only major drawbacks are the ride – which is too lumpy too much of the time for our liking – and the refinement; a lot of wind noise is generated by the door mirrors and windscreen at the motorway limit.
What’s the 2013 Fiat 500L like inside?
The cabin is much more like the Panda’s than the 500’s – which is no bad thing. With its consciously stylish design, it’s as bright and eye-catching as the exterior, but practical with it.
There’s plenty of space for the driver and front-seat passenger; and, even though the driving position is more upright than that of a conventional hatchback, pretty much anyone should be able to get comfortable behind the wheel.
The dashboard is well arranged, too, with clear dials that glow with a warm light at night, and nice chunky controls for the heating and ventilation. Crowning the top of the centre console is a new touch-screen infotainment system, which is as easy to use as it is stylish
Getting into the rear seats is also easy thanks to the wide-opening rear doors. True, the seats themselves are set higher than those in the front, so headroom is a little more restricted, but only those over six feet tall will be short of space.
The seats also slide backwards and forwards, allowing owners to maximise bootspace or legroom. Even with them pushed right forward, legroom is decent, and with them right back, it’s positively limo-like.
What’s more, with a flat centre seat and a virtually flat floor, it should be possible to squeeze three passengers across the rear bench in reasonable comfort.
The boot, too, is a good size and accessed through a tailgate that opens very high. Admittedly, the boot isn’t as wide as you may expect given the size of the car’ body, but it is a nice square shape, and features some neat touches such as pop-out bag holders and extra cubbies built into the sides.
Perhaps the neatest trick, though, is the three-position boot floor. In its lowest setting, this gives you the full height of the boot to play with; in the second setting, it sits level with the sill, making it easier to load; and, in its top setting, it sits level with the top of the (60/40 split) rear seat backs when they are folded down, as well as neatly partitioning the boot.
To let you further extend the bootspace, the rear seats tumble and fold to sit up against the front seats in a neat one-touch manoeuvre. However, they are rather heavy to push back upright again.
Last, but not least, the cabin includes loads of stowage, including twin gloveboxes and good-sized bins in all four doors, as well as a front passenger seat back that folds flat onto the cushion to allow long loads to be carried – perfect for flat-pack furniture.
Should I buy one?
This is a very difficult question to answer, given that two of the most vital pieces of information – the car’ price and its specification – are still months away from being finalised.
Nevertheless, the looks alone will doubtless tempt people who are considering the Citroen C3 Picasso. Equally, there’s no doubt that the 500L will answer the prayers of 500 owners whose lives have outgrown their current car, but who want something every bit as stylish to cope with the extra demands.
In practical terms, the 500L has a lot going for it, even if none of what it offers is especially novel. Likewise, it’s not the best car in its class to drive, and the two engines we have sampled so far have some shortcomings, but even so, the 500L is worth considering.
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