Our cars tested: Fiat 500L hello

* Fiat 500L joins fleet * Mini MPV version of the popular 500 city car * Run by deputy production editor Melanie Falconer...

Our cars tested: Fiat 500L hello

I took a deep breath when I was handed the keys to the What Car? new Fiat 500L long-termer. I'm not generally a 'small car' person, you see, and quirky retro styling isn't enough to impress me.

I can see the appeal though: a mini MPV that will allow owners of the regular 500 city car to continue with the brand when they need more space. You get some of style, just in a bigger package.

We've gone for the 1.6-litre diesel Multijet engine, as our road testers reckon there's not much difference between this and the two-cylinder Twinair petrol in terms of refinement, and you get more torque with the diesel.

The mid-level Pop Star trim we've chosen includes air-conditioning, a touch-screen infotainment system, six airbags and cruise control as standard.

We've also added a panoramic glass roof (500), which makes the already light and airy cabin feel even bigger, which has been great during the recent good weather. Front foglights 160); electric rear windows (200); special pastel paint (290); and 17-inch alloys (350) complete the extras list.

Initial impressions are fairly positive. The L is designed to offer family-friendly practicality, and while I do not have a family, I do need plenty of room and decent boot capacity to lug around lots of roller-derby equipment (a sport played by hard-hitting girls on skates), plus said derby girls.

So far, I've managed to get two lots of bulky kit - helmets, skates, pads, and wheels - into the boot, and the handy three-position adjustable boot floor is great for lifting heavy kit bags in and out.

The interior feels classy and the seats supportive and comfortable; the only slight cabin niggle so far is the analogue dials, which aren't the easiest to read and the chunky steering wheel partially obscures the speedo, too. I've now rectified this by raising the steering wheel height.

I've found the diesel motor to be quite noisy, especially when you put your foot down, but it pulls cleanly enough. However, with an official fuel economy figure of 62.8mpg, I've been getting nowhere near this on my stop-start urban commute every day. In my first couple of weeks, the Fiat's on-board average mpg read-out didn't get above 40mpg; however, I've now been getting around 45mpg, but it's still not dazzling.

On the up side, ride quality is good, with the plush-feeling suspension soaking up London's potholes well.

I now want to see how the 500L copes with longer journeys in terms of fuel economy and comfort, which I'll be doing in a week or so's time with a run down to the Kent coast.

By Melanie Falconer