The 500L is one of a very modern breed of class-spanning supermini-MPV crossovers. The ultra-cute Fiat 500 upon which it is based is full of character but short on space, designed for very local, urban motoring and tight multistorey car parking. The new 500L takes the funky 500 blueprint and attempts to endow it with more practicality and usability.
Sized somewhere between Ford's Fiesta and Focus models, the 500L is a five-seater, with rumours of a seven-seat version due later. In an effort to capitalise upon the success of the 500 brand, Fiat apparently also plans to launch an SUV-style 500X sometime next year.
The Fiat 500L comes with four engine options, starting with 94bhp 1.4 litre petrol and 84bhp 1.3 litre diesel units. A step up from the entry-level models are the mould-breaking Twinair, a 0.9 litre two-cylinder petrol unit developing 104bhp and a more torquey 1.6 litre diesel.
None of the powerplants gives you great speed statistics but there's a nice amount of torque on offer all round, along with great refinement and impressive handling. Fuel economy figures are good rather than outstanding, even with the Twinair's CO2 limiting 'Eco' switch facility.
When it comes to design, the 500L unfortunately lacks the main part of the 500's charm and retro appeal. Style has given way to convenience and family friendliness here, which some might say is the right way to go. However given that Fiat are trying to build a distinct brand around the 500 aesthetic, you would have thought a more reasonable compromise could have been reached. That's not to say the 500L is ugly, it's simply the chubbier best friend next to the 500's sexy blonde.
In its favour, the layout and controls are well-designed for ease of use and feel high-quality. Legroom is good, although very tall passengers may complain about limited headroom in the rear. Those rear seats have a useful sliding facility and, along with the front passenger seat, fold down to increase load-carrying capability. There are a number of desirable options available on top of the standard equipment lists, such as a full-length glass sunroof and integrated satellite navigation.
The Fiat 500L's main problem, marketing-wise, is probably that its nearest rival, the Citroen C3 Picasso, is distinctly cheaper and roomier inside. Prices will start around the £16,000 mark, which is most likely to be paid by families looking for something at the quirkier end of the five-door hatchback market.