Vehicle Comparisons

Fiat Qubo

Fiat Qubo

No doubt about it: functional budget-minded family motoring is best served by one of those van-based mini-MPVs. For many though, something like this is too square and boring to run as an only car. So what if someone made it smaller and cheaper so you could run one as a second or third car alongside something nicer. And what if they made it trendier too? That's what Fiat's improved little Qubo sets out to deliver.

You don't tend to approach a drive in any MPV, let alone one related to a van, with much enthusiasm and on paper, such pessimism seems justified here. Hopes of even moderately nippy performance from the Qubo will be immediately dashed as soon as you learn that neither the 80bhp 1.3-litre diesel or the other option, a 77bhp 1.4-litre petrol, can break the 16-second barrier for the 'sprint' from 0-62mph. Get out on the road however, and the story is a little different - at least if you opt for the diesel. With 190Nm of torque, there's plenty of pulling power to waft you about without having to row the car along with the gearlever on the kind of urban trips you're likely to want this Fiat to perform. Quite simply, it's as fast as it needs to be. If you do want to go faster, there's a 95bhp diesel variant at the top of the range.

True, there's a distinctly van-like driving position - but that also means you sit quite high and get a good view of the road. You feel comfortable too thanks to a wheel that adjusts in and out as well as up and down, plus a height-adjustable seat on this plush version. On the move, the unyielding van suspension has been softened for passenger use, though not enough to exacerbate the kind of bodyroll that all high-ish sided cars suffer from to some extent. This one compensates with mild, relaxing road manners, plenty of grip and reasonable refinement. All round visibility is brilliant, so it's easy to park with a tight turning circle and accurate steering.

This revised Qubo gets a smarter front grille and a chunkier front bumper. The tailgate is also revised, with the large circular recess giving way to a straight, flat panel with a more elegant location for the FIAT badge. Inside, there's a new steering wheel design, smarter instruments, nicer seat upholstery and fresh infotainment options.

Otherwise, things are much as before. You wouldn't be embarrassed to drop the kids off in one of these, though your offspring might be irritated to find that they can't fully open the rear windows. At under four meters from nose to tail, this Fiat may be no bigger than a Fiesta supermini but there's lots of space inside. More headroom, for example, than you could possibly find a use for, plus legroom is ample for four adult-sized passengers. There are a reasonable number of internal storage areas, including a large glovebox, and the hose-clean flooring is sensible on a car like this. Access to the rear is helped by the wide-opening sliding doors on each side of the car and in contrast to many of today's compact supermini-based MPV offerings, the large, square boot is very generous at 650 litres with all the seats in place - or 330-litres under the sturdy parcelshelf. That's the kind of space you'd expect from something much larger.

The rear seats split-fold down 60:40 but if you want to get maximum cargo on board, you'll need to remove them completely. This procedure converts the Qubo back into something approaching van form with a huge 2,500-litre capacity, accessible via a low, flat loading lip and full-width tailgate. As an alternative to this, an optional pair of vertically-split, side-opening back doors might better suit those looking for, say, a wheelchair conversion. For the transport of big, long items like, say, an adult bike, the designers have even thought of a front passenger seat that folds into the foot well.

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Hyundai ix20

Hyundai ix20

The Hyundai ix20 builds on the usual supermini-MPV theme, offering sliding rear seats for added versatility and additional storage solutions inside. It's smartly finished, comes with a five-star Euro NCAP crash test and a five-year warranty. No wonder it's been such a big success across Europe.

Stop me if you've heard this one before. Yes, the underpinnings of the Hyundai ix20 are shared with its Kia Venga sister vehicle and, to be entirely honest, not a whole lot has changed. The chassis engineers have had another look at the car's suspension and have tuned the damping to suit British road conditions a bit better, so the ix20 isn't quite as firm-riding as before, but you'd probably need to drive both cars back to back to really notice that much of a difference.

Hyundai has engineered a much broader array of engines for this revised model. There's a 90PS 1.4-litre petrol engine that's offered with a five-speed manual transmission, a 125PS 1.6-litre petrol unit that comes with either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. Should you prefer a diesel engine, you get the choice of either 77 or 90PS power outputs if you go for the 1.4-litre unit, with a six-speed manual and there's a 1.6-litre diesel range-topper which delivers 115PS or 128PS, again with six-speed manual gearboxes.

In the relatively unlikely event of you being overly familiar with the original version of this car, the most significant change you'll notice will be to the ix20's front end where the slightly fussy front grille structure with its overlapping elements has been replaced by something a bit straightforward. Bigger too, with horizontal chromed elements. The light units have also been updated, with bi-function projector lamps and LED units at the back. There are also revised 16- and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Inside, the cabin may be simple in design and layout, but the materials used are clearly quality and made to last, now standing comparison with anything Japanese, with the interior being offered with either black or two-tone beige interior colour schemes. The ix20 is flexible and spacious inside and despite its 'compact' tag, adults in the back have all the space they need thanks to the sliding rear seating. With just driver and passenger aboard, fold down the rear seats and you get a healthy 1486-litres of space and that sort of carrying capacity puts it on a par with some medium-sized estate cars. Otherwise there's 440-litres under the parcel shelf with the rear seats slid forward.

The Hyundai ix20 might initially seem an answer to a question nobody is asking. After all, modern superminis are so good these days, do people really need one with MPV attributes? In most cases, the answer is no, but in the case of the ix20, it genuinely does offer something over the standard i20 supermini that's sold alongside it.

The latest updates don't change the script too radically and nor do they particularly need to. The ix20 sells very well and appeals to buyers who have done their homework and figured out that this unassuming Korean car offers a winning blend of practicality, safety, affordability and reliability. No, it's still not the most exciting thing you can buy but don't let that stop you. What was very good before just got a little bit better.

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Fiat 500L

Fiat 500L

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.

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