More than 9000 miles and 10 months behind the wheel of our 500L is enough to know that while this mini-MPV ticks a lot of boxes on paper, in reality it’s much more of a mixed bag.
Let’s start with a big plus: the 500L has easily delivered on the concept behind it, which is to provide extra space for existing 500 owners who have outgrown their current car, as well as enabling them to stick with the popular 500 brand.
Our 500L managed to swallow literally the kitchen sink and then some during its time with us. Bicycles, sun loungers, garden waste, wheelbarrows – you name it, it all fitted in without any heart-lurching ‘will it or won’t it fit?’ moments; it took seconds to fold and tumble the split rear seats forwards to accommodate the most awkward of loads. The three-position adjustable boot floor was also useful, especially when lifting heavy bags into and out of the boot.
It also delivered on the everyday practicality front: the roomy cabin was great to spend time in and the panoramic glass roof proved to be a good option, because it really added to the feeling of space.
We opted for the mid-range Pop Star trim, which brings a five-inch touch-screen, air-con, six airbags plus cruise control as standard. We didn’t stop there; in addition to the aforementioned fixed glass roof, we chose front foglights, electric rear windows,
a special white pastel paint job and 17-inch white, polished, diamond-cut alloy wheels.
Ah, those wheels. Looking back, they seemed a stylish idea at the time. After nine months’ of wear and an unfortunate case of kerbing later, they don’t look that smart. The white spokes attract every speck of dirt and grime, while a couple of wheels also fell victim to a strange yellowing effect, only rectified through some very abrasive cleaning. As for getting the kerb damage repaired, the polished diamond finish meant that the affected wheel had to be refurbished over a couple of days.
So what was it like to drive? Honestly, not that great. From the fairly extensive petrol and diesel engine options, we chose the 104bhp 1.6-litre diesel, which offered a decent amount of torque. However, refinement wasn’t the 500L diesel’s strong suit; it was fairly noisy around town and at motorway speeds.
The soft suspension was great for soaking up urban potholes but not so good when cornering, because you found yourself sliding out of the seats; the ride just felt too bouncy.
Comfort was also an issue; on longer motorway journeys the driver’s seat made my lower back ache (we hadn’t opted for the £100 adjustable lumbar support), and the too-short seat squabs made my six-feet-tall boyfriend’s legs go numb after an hour.
Saying that, the driving position was nicely elevated and all-round visibility was excellent. The Uconnect infotainment system was simple to use, although the Bluetooth was fairly erratic when trying to pair with a variety of smartphones.
So far, so-so. Unfortunately, things went a little downhill when a faulty battery meant the car repeatedly refused to start during a cold snap; eventually Fiat’s roadside assistance had to be called out to fit a new battery.
Next, it was the turn of the driver’s door lock to malfunction intermittently over the space of a couple of months. The door handle then locked solid, so I had to enter through the passenger’s side and clamber over the seat. The dealer diagnosed a faulty mechanism.
Despite the number of frustrating issues, I was continually impressed by the amount of flexible space that the 500L offered, and I liked its airy, well-built cabin. However, this family-friendly practicality doesn’t come particularly cheap; the quirky styling, borrowed from its much more chic little 500 brother, doesn’t carry over well enough to make me want to pay extra for it, either.
On balance, then, the 500L could be suitable for a growing family, but there are better MPVs out there for the money.
Read all of Melanie’s previous weekly updates on the Fiat 500L.
Fiat 500L 1.6 Multijet Pop Star logbook
Price when new £17,490
Price now new £17,650
Extras Fixed glass panoramic roof (£500); 17-inch alloy wheels (£350); Bossa Nova White pastel paint (£290); electric rear windows (£200); front foglights (£160)
Total price when new £18,990
Current part-ex value £10,300
Overall fuel economy 48.4mpg
Worst fuel economy 34.8mpg
Best fuel economy 52.7mpg
True MPG 58.9mpg
Official economy 62.8mpg
CO2/tax liability 117g/km/19%
Contract hire £263
Cost per mile 37p
Insurance group 17
Typical quote £545
Servicing and repair costs
Repairs New battery and door handle mechanism replaced under warranty; alloy wheel refurbishment £216