Fiat's 500L is at its biggest in 7-seat Wagon form. Jonathan Crouch reports on a Cinquecento that's gone grosso.
Ten Second Review
The Fiat 500L Wagon 7-seat model 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 though, the 500L Wagon 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 largely 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. In 2014, the Italian brand launched a lengthier 'MPW' 7-seat version of the 500L small people carrier to try and appeal to previous Multipla buyers: when the 500L received its mid-life facelift in the Summer of 2017, the 'MPW' derivative was re-named the 'Wagon'.
The 500L Wagon 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 powerplant, while there's also a 120bhp 1.4-litre T-Jet petrol unit, but most customers will want one of the two Multijet diesels. There's a 95bhp 1.3-litre unit, which can also be ordered in semi-automatic 'Dualogic form. Or a 120bhp 1.6-litre diesel powerplant.
And on the move? Well Fiat would have you believe that the 500L Wagon has "the agility of a citycar" which as I'm sure you'll appreciate is hogwash. Nothing that is 435cm long has the agility of a citycar. 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 that this variant rides well. You might wish that the steering offered a little more feedback though.
Design and Build
This improved model has been lightly re-styled and now features LED daytime running lights. Plus the revised front bumper and a chromed-studded three-dimensional lower grille mesh now give the car a more elegant look. Otherwise, things are much as before. I'm not sure too many people would call the 500L a good looking car and the changes made to create this Wagon variant would, at first glance, 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.
Inside, the instrument binnacle you view through the re-styled steering wheel has been re-designed too. 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 quite likely to like about the 500L Wagon is the price Fiat is asking for it. 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 Wagon squaring up more directly to something like a Kia Carens. Budget from around the £19,000 mark.
Has any seven-seater compact family five-door ever offered more scope for buyer personalisation than this one? We doubt it. There are decal packs to suit every taste and a wider range of paint colours than any compact car has ever offered. Whichever shade you choose, you can contrast it with a different finish for the wheels, the door mirrors - oh and the roof too. Inside, there's a body coloured-painted dashboard offered in five different shades or with beautiful suede trim. You can also specify a two-tone steering wheel and there's a choice of red or grey seat inserts.
But of course that's just the start. Fiat promises buyers a choice of over 100 unique accessories in a list that goes far beyond the usual bodykit, stereo and towbar choices. So your 500L Wagon might come with a bespoke PC bag, a steel clothes hook, an iPod holder or even a key in your own personal colour. It could even have a coffee maker. Yes really.
Cost of Ownership
We can't imagine that 500L Wagon motoring is ever going to cost you very much. The 1.3-litre Multijet diesel manages 68.9mpg on the combined cycle and puts out 107g/km of CO2, figures you can further improve to 70.6mpg and 105g/km by opting to pair this engine with the Dualogic automatic gearbox.
The other diesel engine in the 500L range, the 1.6-litre Multijet diesel, manages 67.3mpg and 112g/km of CO2. By far the worst of the bunch is the least powerful unit on offer, the 95bhp 1.4-litre 16v petrol unit, delivering figures that remind us how inefficient small car engines used to be - 46.3mpg on the combined cycle and 143g/km of CO2.
What else? Well, there's a Smart Fuel System that does away with a fuel cap and makes it impossible to put petrol into a diesel model - or vica versa. And servicing? Well that will be needed on petrol units every 18,000 miles, but you can stretch that to 21,000 miles if you opt for one of the diesels.
The Fiat 500L Wagon 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 this little people carrier 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 Wagon 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.