This week we’ve had a fabulous new car on the drive. Sadly, not ours, but a loan car from Fiat UK, who very generously dropped off one of their precious new 500L demonstrators for us to drive, test, use, abuse (not too badly, honest) and generally wally about with for a week.
Before we start, this review isn’t about CdA, drag coefficients, torque, mpg (okay it’s a tiny bit about that) or any other baffling Top Gear term. As a busy family, the Fiat 500L had to work hard: there were school runs, airport runs, shopping runs, supermarket runs, more school runs, runs to visit people, runs to pick people up, more supermarket runs… and this is more about how it performed as a family car rather than how fast it corners.
Here’s a little bit of what we liked, and a tiny bit of what we didn’t:
What we liked:
The 500L is light, airy and spacious. It feels enormous inside and the all-round visibility is excellent, making it easy peasy to reverse into tight spaces and back out of the drive onto the road.
The interior is really cool (although I personally wouldn’t choose cream, especially with children) in a hard-wearing soft fabric with a funky pattern.
The dashboard is really well laid out and the design of the whole dash is retro, while boasting loads of modern touches.
The touch screen is quick and simple to use, and once your phone is connected via Bluetooth (see below), you can work all the options using buttons on the steering wheel.
There’s tons of boot space (you can see in the picture that it easily swallowed up my weekly shop) plus it’s customisable – there are different levels in the boot, and there’s loads of storage (22 places, to be precise) generally around the vehicle. As a person who likes 17 pens, three pairs of sunglasses, a note pad and four lip balms with her in the car at all times, these are a bonus.
The boot has a handle on the inside so you don’t have to touch the back of the car to shut the boot. Small things, admittedly, but a bonus when it’s raining and the car is dirty. It’s the attention to detail that really makes this car special.
The teenagers had TONS of room in the back. Sam’s over 5’10 and had legroom galore. Also, they loved the styling, something not many manufacturers could say about their family cars. The barrage of hopeful ‘mum, can I drive it?‘, ‘muuuum please can I drive it?‘ lasted all week (the answer was no, by the way).
We had it for a week and the fuel gauge barely moved. I’m not a whizz with figures but I think the combined mpg is something around 62.8. Impressive fuel economy.
The diesel engine wasn’t too noisy and was very zippy, with great acceleration. It handled the M25 with ease, the all-round visibility making it easy and safe to change lanes.
Safety wise, there are six airbags in the 500L and it’s got a 5* Euro NCAP rating too.
The 500L does all sorts of clever things like stopping the engine at traffic lights then restarting, and restarting when you stall (what? I only did it twice). It also has the same ‘hill hold’ technology as my VW Polo, stopping you from rolling back on a hill start.
The delivery chaps from the dealership were LOVELY – a good sign, I would think, that buying a Fiat and dealing with its aftercare would be a breeze.
What we didn’t like:
Although the hands-free, bluetooth kit is really clever (once your phone is connected it will accept calls and you can just chat away while driving), it’s a pain to connect, with about four different screens to get through before your phone is connected. This could be driver error (okay, so we didn’t exactly look in the manual), but otherwise the process needs a bit of streamlining.
The reversing sensor beeps even when you’re going straight back into a space and you’ve got miles to go. It seems to detect things to the side of the car as well, making if difficult to know exactly what it’s sensing. Still, it’s thorough.
The verdict: this model, at a touch under twenty grand isn’t the cheapest family car, but the looks, styling and gadgets make it a great choice for an everyday workhorse that doesn’t look like your typical MPV. Plus prices start from around £15,000 for the lower spec 1.4 petrol Pop Star. I see it as a natural progression for all those people who loved the Fiat 500 but need more space for a family. 4.5 out of 5 (I can’t knock a whole star off for the Bluetooth!).
The vehicle we tested was a Fiat 500L 1.6 MultiJet 105hp Easy (diesel) in Beatbox Green. OTR price: £17,490 OTR price with options: £19,650. Extras included the metallic paint with white roof (£800), 17” alloy wheels with white diamond finish (£650), front fog lights (£160), automatic dual zone climate control (£250), automatic lights with rain sensor (£150)
Massive thanks to Fiat UK for all their help. Click here for more info on the Fiat 500L