Does the lineage of the tiny Fiat 500 really come to here? Or should we really be looking at the emergence in the late 1990s of that most opinion-dividing of cars, the Fiat Multipla? The Fiat 500Lmay wear the face (sort of) of its smaller sibling, but in reality the similarities end with the head and tail lights. The Multipla launched Fiat into the world of the MPV, back when they were a really big thing, it was based on the funky Brava (or the near identical Bravo If you prefer) and would soldier on in the Fiat range all the way from 1998 to 2010 – in China it made it all the way to 2013!
During that time it was joined by a smaller variant – the Idea. Based on the platform of the second-generation Fiat Punto the Idea was the direct predecessor to the 500L. Sadly it lacked both the Multipla’s stand-out design and the 500L’s quirkiness, doomed to be relegated to the history books as a bit of an oversight. The Idea – standing for Intelligent Design Emotive Architecture – left the world in 2012 when the 500L arrived on the scene.
We have to get the elephant in the room out of the way, it does look like someone has pumped a Fiat 500 up with helium and just let it expand. The 500L is never going to win any beauty contests, but to throw it aside for that without looking at the reasoning behind its design would be a mistake. The 500 actually takes some inspiration from the incredible ‘60s 600 Multipla’s ‘cab forward’ design, which allowed incredible all-around vision that cars today just don’t have. So, get behind the wheel and you’re surrounded by an incredible glasshouse that gives one of the best driving views of any car on sale today.
The interior is a wonderfully funky but functional place to be. Perfectly designed for families and loaded with tech. The latest 500L has a brilliant little seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system complete with Tom-Tom satnav system and also comes with panoramic roof, climate control, DAB radio and ambient lighting as standard. Materiel quality has been raised with a recent facelift to make that interior a rugged but tactile experience.
OK, it’s a mid-sized MPV. Don’t expect to suddenly be Lewis Hamilton – but actually we should measure performance in real terms. Storage inside is excellent, with large door bins, a central cubby for more stuff and not one but two glove boxes. The boot has a giant 1,480 litres of space with the seats folded, and up to 455 with them up thanks to a rear bench that will slide forward if needed. That incredible vision is a real bonus when driving around the countryside of Sussex, with old-fashioned front three quarter windows you can see everything around you in a way few cars manage thanks to their much wider A-pillers demanded by today’s crash regulations. Power comes in the form of either a 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol or 1.6- or 1.3-litre diesels, power is reasonable but nothing over the top and the bigger diesel will definitely be the choice for longer journeys. Ride and drive are fine, with not a lot to inspire but also not a lot to complain about.
It’s not quite as quirky as the Multipla, but it’s definitely got more soul than the Idea. If you’re looking for an MPV in a world of crossovers the 500L will tick most of the family boxes and the slightly more rugged Cross with its extra soft-road tricks will be a bit more appealing for anyone looking to go on a family camping trip. It’s spacious, funky looking and the interior will provide everything you need while standing up to anything a family could throw at it. For us it’s that driving position and view that really makes the 500L stand out above the competition. You won’t find such a ‘king of the road’ view in many other MPVs, or even in a lot of crossovers.