Fiat 500 Goes Large
I've been driving the new Fiat 500 L, which isn't a 500 that's been stretched on a rack. It's a much bigger car based on the Fiat Uno platform, which hopes to steal sales from the super-sized Mini Countryman. Fiat has been looking at Mini's ballooning range with interest, and in a similar fashion, the 500L is just the first of a series of new cars to be based on the 500's character if not its underpinnings. The 500X mini SUV arrives next year, followed by a 500XL minivan.
In Italy they say something does 'everything except the coffee'. The 500L does that too, with the Coffee Experience. In association with Lavazza, Fiat has added a mini espresso machine serving up the real deal. Just as well they're not a British company, it would be 'everything except the kitchen sink'. Where would they put that?
A comment on my Facebook page pin-pointed the problem with the new family-sized Fiat 500L. Having read my Facebook story about the launch, a lady called Katie asked if it was based there because a family would have to be Lego sized to get in a 500.
The 500L is actually a giant version of the 500 based on the Fiat Bravo platform and aiming squarely at the supersized Mini Countryman. It's 60cm longer than the baby 500, 18cm taller and has a 31cm longer wheelbase.
Its marketing has generally been superb – The Motherhood rap video went viral, and Marketing Director Elena Bernardelli told us it has been seen by 66 million people. The announcement that the 500L was the first production car to perk up real espresso coffee also hit plenty of pages.
But the team may have been too keen to benefit from the barnstorming success of the 500, and communicate that this vehicle will have the same style, chic and strong resale values. So they used the same name and added an L plus the slogan 500 Goes Large. Personally I think they should have revived the 600 name for the larger models. It would have kept the association with the baby Cinquecento without people assuming the L is for Long wheelbase on the 500.
What is the 500L?
This is a mini-MPV for people who don’t want a mini-MPV. Frequently they will be young couples just mixing Ercol furniture and white walls with primary-coloured plastic and a food-splatter effect. Obvious competitors to the 500L are the Citroen C3 Picasso and the Ford B-Max. Thinking laterally, though, other more funky choices might include the Mini Countryman, or perhaps a Nissan Juke.
A weary young mother in one of Fiat's focus groups sighed that she just wanted something glamorous in her life, planting the seed for The Motherhood rap.
That key buyer will still want all the practicality of an MPV, and the 500L has it. There’s lots of space; the split rear seats tumble with one yank of the handle (they need two hands to put them back up). The boot floor can be slotted in at different heights to protect some items from the piles of shopping dumped on the top.
I liked the bright, retro interior, in particular the Pop Star with its body-colour dash. You can choose from 12 variations of trim and engine, but a several are the same price, so there are only six basic prices. From there you can get customizing with wheels, colours, coffee machines etc. A huge sunroof really lightens the interior, but costs £950.
The accessory I would have liked to see on the list is a removable and washable rear seat cover in the same style as the rest of the car. There’s nothing that destroys resale value like stained seats with a concrete of biscuit and spittal in the stitching. You can order a black, hose-down thing that looks like a burkha for seats, but that ruins the ‘glamour’.
I was also surprised that sat-nav wasn’t a standard feature. My sister and I frequently arrived at aunties’ houses in matching vomit-stained cardies after repeatedly circling Kingston, our parents arguing furiously about whether 'next left' included Bentalls' delivery access road. UK Product Manager Luca Ragusa explained that sat-nav remains on the options list because a lot of people prefer a sat-nav they can move from car to car.
Although all models have a high spec to keep resale values high, he says having a sat-nav won’t raise the price of your used car.
We drove 500L around a varied route including urban areas, some twisty country roads and motorway. Overall, I'm afraid I didn’t find it particularly engaging. The 1.6 Multijet engine has plenty of punch, the ride was comfortable and the seat had good lumber support for my poor old back. But I seemed to be sitting too high, and was aware of leaning in my seat on corners.
Partly this comes back to the identity of this car. You have to remember, whatever it’s cute styling, it’s not a 500 – it’s an MPV and it drives like one.
But if you need an MPV and want a bit of chic in your life, this could be the car for you.
Models and prices
Prices range from £14,990 for the 1.4 Pop Star to £19,890 for a 1.6 Mulitjet Lounge
1.4 95hp petrol
0.9 TwinAir 105hp petrol
1.3 Multijet 85hp diesel
1.6 Multijet 105hp diesel