The 500L is a five-seater compact MPV that doesn't feel like one, taking care of people and baggage-carrying chores with a practical dash of Italian flair. In this improved form, it's safer, smarter and better connected. And it's more personalisable than any other contender in this class.
You get an urban confidence with the 500L, something encouraged by the light lock-to-lock steering. A car you might enjoy on the school run. If not quite so much pushing on beyond the city limits. Here, you might wish that the steering offered you a little more feedback, a pity because in other respects, this is one of the more dynamically able five-seat mini-MPVs on the market. Unfortunately, only one engine is now on offer, a 95bhp petrol 1.4 that's one of Fiat's older efforts and which, thanks to limited pulling power, doesn't really feel as fast as the performance stats suggest (rest to 62mph in 12.8s on the way to 111mph).
Beyond the city limits, the 500L feels a little out of its comfort zone. Here, you might wish that the steering offered you a little more feedback and that there was a bit less body roll through the bends. That probably won't bother most likely owners too much but on longer trips, they might wish that the issue of refinement had been slightly more thoroughly addressed. We highlighted this when we first tested this car back in 2012 and nothing's been done to improve things since, which is a touch disappointing. It isn't something you really notice at lower speeds, but when you're pushing or are cruising at or around the legal limit on the highway, there's simply more road and wind noise than you'd normally expect from a car of this kind.
If you choose your 500L in 'Cross' form, you get some mild off road ability, thanks to the inclusion of a 'Mode Selector' with a choice of 'Normal', 'Traction+' and 'Gravity Control' settings.
You tend to approach this 500L expecting it to be a pumped-up version of the 500 citycar - which of course it isn't. To make this model as big as it needed to be - fully 60cm longer and 18cm taller than an ordinary 500, so in Fiat terms, longer than a Punto supermini and as wide as a Tipo family hatch - Andreas Wuppinger's styling team had to use a Punto floorplan as the basis for something quite different. Then give the end result a recognisable '500'-style twist, hence the familiar wide-eyed front end. As BMW found when trying to super-size the MINI to create the MINI Countryman, that isn't a recipe for aesthetic elegance - and it certainly isn't here - but it has left room for some very clever touches. Just look at the flow of the wraparound windscreen for instance, designed to give almost 360-degree vision.
This improved model has in recent times been lightly re-styled and now features LED daytime running lights. Plus the revised front bumper and a chromed-studded three-dimensional lower grille mesh now give the car a more elegant look. Inside, the instrument binnacle you view through the re-styled steering wheel has been re-designed too. As before, this is one of the most practical models in the compact MPV class. Three adults can comfortably sit on the back seat, plus standard models have a 455-litre boot.
So, a compact MPV based on the underpinnings of a small family runabout. Nothing new there. Unless you apply fashionable thinking to the purchase of such a thing - in which case, this Fiat 500L remains a refreshingly different choice.
It's certainly different from the 500 citycar we all know - but then of course, to suit the intended family role, it has to be. Not everyone will like the styling approach necessary to achieve this but it's surely one that sets it apart from rivals. A unique look, just as every 500 should have.
Fun, cheeky and cool, this Fiat claims to suit the sort of people looking for a car to be an extension of their personality: a car that reflects their passion for life. We're not sure if any compact people carrier can really do all that but of all those available, there's little doubt that this 500L is the one that gets closest to hitting the mark. It's a sensible family car you can really feel good about.Click here to find out more about our Fiat 500L range