Fiat 500L MPW vs Kia Carens

If you need seven seats on a budget, both the Fiat 500L MPW and Kia Carens fit the bill, but which comes top for space, practicality and running costs?...

Fiat 500L MPW vs Kia Carens

First Fiat launched the funky 500 city car, followed last year by the 500L MPV. Now, there’s an even bigger version on offer, in the shape of the 500L MPW.

The new MPW (Multi Purpose Wagon) is essentially a 500L with a longer rear overhang, which means you can have either a bigger boot, or (for an extra £700) a couple of extra seats, which makes the new MPW one of the cheapest seven-seaters on the market right now.

However, for similar money you could have a Kia Carens – a bigger and more conventional MPV that also has style on its side. Which is the better bet for bigger families on a budget?

What are they like inside?

There’s plenty of space for four six-footers in both of these MPVs, although anyone taller than this will definitely appreciate the Fiat’s extra headroom. 

The middle row of seats in both cars can be slid back and forth. However, while the Kia’s three rear seats all move independently of each other, the Fiat’s rear bench is split 60:40, and its centre seat isn’t particularly comfortable due to its rounded base.

The 500L’s narrower cabin also makes carrying five more of a squeeze, and means you’ll struggle to safely fit three child seats across the middle row. You’ll have a much better chance of doing this in the Kia, although it still will depend on the make and type of your child seats.

The Kia is also the better bet if you regularly need to carry more than five people. True, access to the third row isn’t quite as easy as in the Fiat, but once you’re back there you’ll find much more head- and legroom. Even two average-sized adults will fit in the Carens, whereas the 500L’s third row is suitable for small children only.

Folding the back row of seats is easy enough in both cars, although doing this in the Kia reveals a bigger and flatter load area. The Fiat’s boot, meanwhile, is narrower and not as well shaped.

Despite its oddball styling, the Fiat’s dashboard is relatively user-friendly, with clear and well-positioned controls. However, the same goes for the Kia, plus its interior is that bit classier, with plusher materials used throughout and more solid-feeling switchgear. 

The Fiat does have the better infotainment system, though. Its touch-screen display is quick to respond and the menus are easy to fathom at a glance. The Kia has a much more basic system, meaning some tasks – such as pairing your phone via Bluetooth – are more tricky.

What are they like to drive?

These cars need to be able to ferry around up to seven people with relative ease and the Kia does just that; you’d never describe its engine as nippy, but it pulls from just 1200rpm and remains strong until 4000rpm.This means keeping pace with fast-moving traffic doesn’t require frequent gearchanges.

By contrast, the Fiat feels decidedly flat below 1700rpm, and you’ll want to change up well before 4000rpm; acceleration tails off rapidly at higher revs. Even when you adopt this approach, though, the MPW is ultimately the slower car.

The Kia’s suspension does a good job of soaking up bigger bumps and potholes. However, things are less impressive around town, where you’re jostled around a bit too much over patchy surfaces.

Things are more settled in the Fiat over broken surfaces and it deals with speed bumps even better than the Kia does. Unfortunately, things aren’t so pleasant on country roads, where the 500’s body bounces around over dips and crests. It isn’t as settled as the Carens on the motorway, either.

The Kia’s better body control means it also sways around less through tight twists and turns, although its steering is disconcertingly vague; the Fiat’s is more accurate and consistently weighted.

Refinement isn’t a strong suit of either of these MPVs. However, while the Kia’s diesel engine is boomy when pushed, it’s nowhere near as noisy as the Fiat’s, which clatters away at tickover and drones away loudly at a steady cruise. The 500L MPW also generates more wind and road noise at motorway speeds.

What will they cost you?

The Fiat is slightly cheaper to start with, but that’s before you’ve factored in the bigger discounts Kia dealers are prepared to offer. The Carens will also cost you less to insure, so although it’s more expensive to tax and fuel, it’ll be the cheaper option if you buy now and sell after three years.

Company car drivers will pay less to drive the Fiat; its lower CO2 emissions mean a 40% rate taxpayer will sacrifice around £100 less of their salary every year, and the MPW is cheaper to lease. Both cars come with air-conditioning, front electric windows, remote central locking, cruise control and Bluetooth. The Kia adds electric rear windows; these cost extra on the Fiat.

However, the MPW has reversing sensors and alloy wheels, whereas the Carens has no parking aids and has to make do with steel rims and plastic hubcaps.

The MPW hasn’t been crash tested by Euro NCAP yet, but the regular 500L (on which the MPV is based) received exactly the same rating (94%) as the Carens for protecting adult occupants.

The Fiat scored slightly better marks for child safety (78% versus 76%), and pedestrian protection (65% versus 64%), although the absence of an alarm system means it’s disappointingly easy for thieves to target.

Our verdict

The 500L MPW certainly has plenty of appeal; it’s one of the cheapest seven-seaters on the market, and yet it comes with plenty of kit and should be cheap to run.

Unfortunately, the extra seats the MPW offers over the regular 500L are very cramped, and it has a noisy engine. The Kia Carens isn’t only more practical, it’s better to drive and more refined, so it’s a clear winner here.

Kia Carens

For More practical; flexible engine; better to drive; more refined 

Against Low-speed ride; no parking sensors; vague steering

Verdict A great-value, capable MPV

Fiat 500L MPW

For Distinctive looks; well-equipped; cheap

Against Cramped third row of seats; very noisy, clattery engine

Verdict Neither as practical nor as good to drive