This is Fiat’s new 500L (note the “L”) and it’s for families that have outgrown their beloved little 500 hatches but still want a 500 hatch. Well, sort of.
It may get the 500 badge, but this swollen version bears almost nothing in common with its cute little cousin. Where the normal 500 gets adorable retro-styled panels that mimic the original 500 first launched in the fifties, this incarnation, with an “L” suffix predictably denoting “Large”, is anything but cute and adorable.
But, as they say, sometimes form follows function and in the 500L’s case some attractiveness has obviously given way to practicality.
Think maternity wear versus sexy hot pants.
Compared to the normal 500, the L variant is huge. It gets five seats accessible through four doors, and behind the rear hatch is a 1 310-litre boot with a clever split-level floor for extra storage.
The front seat backs also get folding plastic tray tables that toddlers can smear Purity all over, and the rear seats tumble in a variety of ways to allow for loading of prams, bicycles and other bulky kid stuff.
Mom will love the relatively high seating position and massive glass-house section that offers great road surveyance and visibility. Dad will love the... well, colour touchscreen interface but not much else if we’re totally honest. This really is more a mommy van than it is a hot hatch. The two engine choices prove it.
SHORT ON SHOVE
A 1.4-litre petrol with 70kW and 127Nm felt adequate (but only just) at the 500L’s media launch at sea-level Cape Town last week, but we fear that when fully loaded with five people and gear it’ll get a bit wheezy, especially up at Gauteng altitude. The 1.6 turbodiesel option, with 77kW and 320Nm, is much better to drive, but is still a little too underpowered to lug around this biggish body.
The 500L is actually not a 500 at all. The front-wheel drive chassis it rides on is actually derived from Fiat’s Punto (also the Alfa Mito) platform, which explains why it dwarfs the micro-hatch it shares a nameplate with. In fact, in overseas markets the 500L is available as an even bigger seven-seater but this model’s been ruled out for South Africa.
It is similar to the smaller 500 in that it’s extremely personalisable though. Fiat will sticker it up with a range of decals including a cool Italian flag motif, and there are four interior trim options possible – all of which include loud polka dots or embossed script upholstery. Rear-view mirrors can be finished with accessory caps, chrome for example, and the key itself can be had in a choice of nine colours.
The most basic 500L is a 1.4 Easy which comes standard with remote central locking, air conditioning, a 5” touchscreen stereo, cruise control, six airbags and ABS with EBD for R232 990.
Lounge spec adds steering wheel controls, a panoramic glass roof, rain-sensing wipers, rear power windows and climate control among other things, for R247 990.
The 1.6 MultiJet turbodiesel comes in Lounge spec only at R278 990.
All Fiats are covered by a three-year/100 000km warranty and maintenance plan. -Star Motoring