Fiat's 500L gets even bigger in MPW form. Jonathan Crouch reports on a Cinquecento that's gone grosso.
Ten Second Review
The Fiat 500L MPW might not be the prettiest compact MPV you can buy and the association with the 500 city car might be being stretched to snapping point, but it's one of the cleverest. With a great range of engines, a practical interior and aggressive pricing, it's better than it looks at first. It's well worth persevering with.
We need to get off on the right foot with this vehicle. In my opinion, the only way to do that is to ignore the '500' part of the name and consider this the Fiat MPW. As an extension of the 500 brand, it's a non-starter and will only draw negative comment. As a functional and affordable compact MPV it has a lot going for it. So let that be the last word said on this car's link to the cheeky Cinquecento and let's instead judge this car solely on its ability to compete with the likes of the Kia Carens and other budget compact MPV models. It's a market that Fiat has neglected ever since the Multipla got a bit past it. That car was an object lesson in brilliant product design that alienated a large slice of its target market by dint of its extreme styling. The 500L MPW isn't as divisive in that regard, but don't for one minute be fooled into thinking this thing is entirely cookie-cutter conventional.
The MPW is a fairly hefty piece of kit, although you probably wouldn't guess at that given the engine choice on offer. Opening proceedings is a 95bhp 1.4-litre petrol while there's also a version of the revolutionary two-cylinder TwinAir engine, in this case generating 105bhp. Diesel customers are catered for with a good 1.3-litre Multijet with 85bhp. This will make 60mph from standstill in 15.1 seconds, which sounds positively glacial but there's a decent slug of torque on offer. Should you need to make progress with a little more alacrity, you can opt instead for a 1.6 MultiJet diesel with either 105 or 120bhp. Yes, it is the most expensive car in the range but it's also comfortably the nicest. Fiat would have you believe that the MPW has "the agility of a city car" which as I'm sure you'll appreciate is hogwash. Nothing that is 435cm long has the agility of a city car. For reference, that's almost exactly the length of a Ford Focus and it's a good deal taller to boot, although to be fair to Fiat it is a little narrower, which will help when slotting into parking spaces or squeezing through width restrictions. The engines are solid performers and with much the same suspension setup as the 500L, you can be sure it rides well.
Design and Build
I'm not sure too many people would call the 500L a good looking car and the MPW would, at first, appear to make what was already quite an ungainly shape that little more lugubrious. Spend a little time looking over the vehicle, however, and that initially unappealing box with the edges rounded off transforms into something with some quite deft detailing. Take that roofline for instance. The way it arcs down to the third side window is gratuitously exuberant and just serves to demonstrate that Fiat has tried to imbue this car with more than the usual generic MPV design cues. Does it all hang together as well as, say, a Citroen C4 Picasso? No, I'm not sure that it does but full marks for Fiat for trying. The cabin can nominally seat seven, but it's best to think of it as an occasional '5 + 2-seater' MPV. Fiat quotes a luggage volume of 638-litres but that's with the two rear seats folded. Of course, for many buyers that's the form they'll drive the car in most of the time and they can pack a lot of gear in. Yet if you plan to use it to collect a bunch of kids from school, luggage space reduces drastically. There's 560-litres of luggage space when the second row is slid back to its furthest extent and when all seven seats are in place, there's a paltry 168-litres of room. Still, that's better than some rivals and not at all bad going for a car that's the same length as a Ford Focus. The seat action is easy to use with one handed folding and sliding mechanisms.
Market and Model
One thing you're certain to like about the 500L MPW is the price Fiat is asking. Rather than going head to head with the heavy hitters of this sector, Fiat has aggressively undercut the established players. So you can expect to pay around £1,500 less than you'd budget for a Ford C-MAX, the 500L MPW squaring up more directly to something like a Kia Carens. Budget from around the £16,000 mark. The range includes two trim levels (Pop Star and Lounge), both with 5 or 7 seats, 19 body colours (including 11 two-tone combinations) and 6 interior trims, 15 different types in terms of alloy wheels and hub caps: in total, no fewer than 282 combinations are possible. The new Fiat 500L MPW offers decent equipment levels too, with leather interior finishes, integrated navigation system and rear camera to assist with reversing manoeuvres. Built at a new factory at Kragujevac in Serbia, the 500L MPW seven seat model carries a premium of around £700 over a five-seater.
Cost of Ownership
The 500L MPW can't afford to be an expensive car to run. There's just too much quality in its immediate group of rivals. That said, there's also a huge array of variety in the small MPV sector and nothing quite offers the same boutique feel of the 500L, so a certain level of demand should keep residual values from falling off a cliff. Day to day running costs look to have been kept in check too. There have been some well publicised concerns about customer economy figures coming nowhere near the published numbers for the TwinAir petrol engine, but the 1.3-Multijet diesel is a different kettle of fish. With a little moderation you might get within sniffing distance of the 65mpg quoted combined figure. CO2 figures range from 105g/km for the 1.3 Multijet diesel to 145g/km for the 1.4-litre 95bhp petrol variant.
The Fiat 500L MPW isn't going to be a car for everyone. In fact there's an argument that it would probably be a more successful proposition if it dropped the contrived association with the cheeky 500 city car and just ploughed its own furrow. In many ways it's like Porsche calling a Cayenne SUV a 911 XL. It does neither car any favours. Ignore that for a moment and the MPW emerges with significant credit. Like its Multipla forebear, it's a car that gets better if you can look beyond the superficial. There's a range of great engines, the interior works and works well, the decisions made around the packaging and the engineering all seem sound and it's priced to sell as well. This, then, is a car worth persevering with. It might not initially grab you with its sheer desirability but then most MPV-style vehicles need something other than seductive styling to corner the market. They need to be practical, to do the unglamorous things well. The Fiat 500L MPW demonstrates that although its built by a company that usually puts a premium on style, it can get down and dirty with family business as well as its key rivals.