Fiat 500L Hatchback (2013 - ) review
Read the Fiat 500L hatchback (2012 - ) car review by Auto Trader's motoring experts, covering price, specification, running costs, practicality, safety and how it drives.The Auto Trader expert verdict: 3.3 The Fiat 500L has distinctive looks and generous equipment on its side, and it’s good to drive, too. It’s also one of the most practical small MPVs, which is surely one of the most important things. Bear in mind, though, that it’s quite expensive compared with many rivals.
- Spacious interior
- Undemanding to drive
- Appealing equipment
- Expensive to buy
- 1.4 petrol engine is short on pace
- Short seat squabs
At a glance
Based on the Fiat Punto, the Fiat 500L is more than a stretched Fiat 500. Like the Mini Countryman it resembles, it’s a much bigger evolution of a smaller concept aimed at families who need plenty of interior space in a compact exterior package. The extra bulk means it’s no longer quite as cute to look at as the basic 500, but it still has the quirky styling details of its smaller sibling. There’s a wide choice of different body colours, roof colours and alloy wheel designs, and that means hundreds of possible combinations when you also include interior trim choices.
The steering column is adjustable for rake and reach, while the driver’s seat also has height adjustment, so the 500L’s driving position is much more adaptable than the 500’s. Our only slight criticism over comfort is that the seat squabs are a little short for the long-legged. The interior hasn’t got the same colourful cheeriness that the 500’s has, either, but the L feels more substantial and solidly built. The dashboard controls are easy to find and use thanks to their logical layout and clear marking, and the touch-screen infotainment system works reasonably intuitively.
The high roof means the 500L provides generous headroom all round. Legroom is impressive, too; there’s enough for adults to be comfortable even when the sliding rear bench is set to its most forward position, and things get even more luxurious when you slide the seats back. The boot ranges from 343 to 400 litres depending on where the rear seat is set, which is very competitive for the class, if not class-leading. The car has lots of other touches to make it more versatile, though. The rear seats fold down quickly and easily to leave a flat loadspace, and on some versions, you can also drop the front passenger seat to transport super-long items. In the boot, you’ll also find some neat fold-out bag hooks and a removable boot floor that can be set at three levels to separate clean coats from muddy wellies. Even compared with other small MPVs, this is a very practical car.
Ride and handling
A car like this should major on comfort, and that’s exactly what the 500L does. As in the 500 hatchback, the suspension is soft, but the ride is much more tightly controlled than in its stablemate, meaning the L doesn’t crash and wallop over potholes in the same way. It’s a very easy-going car to pootle along in. You do feel rather a lot of body roll in corners, but this car was never meant to be the last word in driving fun. It is, however, grippy and secure, and that’s good enough. The electric power steering is decently weighted, although with the City option selected, it is disconcertingly light. The brakes are firm and positive without being over-sensitive.
There are four engines to choose from, two petrol and two diesel. The entry-level 1.4 petrol won’t have enough power for some tastes, but it is smooth and quiet. The turbocharged 0.9-litre engine in the Twinair is a lot perkier once you rev it into its sweet spot, but it sounds rough and gives quite a lot of buzz through the controls. By comparison, the two diesels are both far more refined. The 1.3 gives reasonable performance and flexibility, while the 1.6 gives surprisingly sprightly pace thanks to its strong mid-range muscle.
The 500L looks pricey compared with its small MPV rivals. The 1.4 petrol is the cheapest version, but it’s also the thirstiest with an official combined fuel consumption of just 45.6mpg. The Twinair does much better with an official figure of 58.9mpg, but our experience tells us that you’ll do very well to get anywhere near that outside the confines of a laboratory. The 1.6 diesel will be the most popular engine, and when it combines its punchy performance with fuel economy of 62.8mpg, we can see why. Trouble is, it’s very pricey to buy. The 1.3 diesel is the cleanest option, returning an official average of 67.3mpg.
Fiat is rather notorious in this area, but the brand does at least achieve mid-table respectability in Warranty Direct’s manufacturer standings. The 500 gets a reasonable score in the Reliability Index data, too, but the Punto, with which the 500L shares much of its componentry, doesn’t score nearly as well.
The passenger safety cell has been designed in line with US as well as European crash regulations, and it performed well in Euro NCAP crash tests, earning the 500L a maximum five-star rating. Standard equipment includes six airbags and all the usual stability and braking systems, as well as an electronic rollover mitigation function. The options list includes ‘City Brake Control,’ an automatic braking system which recognises obstacles ahead of the car and applies the brakes if the driver doesn’t. It works at speeds of less than 19mph and depending on the situation, can reduce the effect of an impact or avoid one altogether.
There are three trims available, with the Pop Star and Easy trims costing the same. Pop Star comes with a touch-screen radio with Bluetooth, air-con, electric front windows, remote locking, a leather steering wheel, cruise control and alloy wheels. Easy, on the other hand, replaces the alloys with humble steelies, but compensates you with electric rear windows and rear parking sensors. The range-topping Lounge trim has climate control, foglamps, automatic lights and wipers and a panoramic roof. The options you expect – things like sat-nav – are available, but there are also a few things you might not expect on the accessories list. How about a Lavazza coffee machine which uses coffee pods to make any sort of coffee you want, including proper Italian Espresso? In total, there are 140 accessories on offer from versatile roof racks to separation grilles for animals, so you can really go to town on customising the interior of the 500L to suit your lifestyle.