Gareth Butterfield finds that big isn’t always beautiful in the family car world – but that doesn’t mean the Fiat 500L MPW isn’t a great family tool
Back in the 1950s there was a cute and popular little car zipping round Europe called the Fiat 500. It was small, simple, cheap and economical and very successful.
In 2007 Fiat capitalised on the booming trend for “retro” style and design and re-launched the 500. It had more than a few echoes of the original design and it was an instant hit. So much so that, over the years, it’s blossomed into a family of variants which have seen the once cute and funky, one-trick pony city car stretched, swelled and souped up.
One of the latest (and largest) of these variants is the 500L MPW
But while it could be said that it’s related to the original remake of the car that started it all, it’s worth approaching this with a fresh set of eyes because it’s a completely different animal.
Although it is an extension of the 500 brand, it’s quite clearly aimed at big families and that takes it so far from the 500’s original brief it’s almost a laughable adaptation – but don’t scoff at it just yet, because it’s really rather clever.
If you’re thinking it looks like a fairly hefty piece of kit, bear in mind that it’s no larger than a Ford Focus. And that’s a neat trick to pull off because it has seven seats.
The clever design continues elsewhere because, true to its albeit distant city car roots it is only available with pint-sized engines. These start off with a 95bhp 1.4-litre petrol but there’s also a version of the revolutionary two-cylinder TwinAir engine, in this case generating 105bhp.
Diesel buyers can opt for the strong 1.3-litre Multijet with 85bhp but the power-hungry will be wise to hop up to a 1.6 MultiJet diesel with either 105 or 120bhp.
It rides well too. It’s lost the sparkling, fun handling of its smaller siblings, but piling on a few pounds hasn’t harmed it to the extent you might expect. In fact, it’s fairly fun to drive in a functional, fit-for-purpose sort of way.
Inside the packaging is very clever. Think of it more as a spacious five-seater with two occasional seats for little ones and you won’t be disappointed by the tiny rear row of seats, but instead you can coo over the massive boot and the clever little details that make it stand out as a fabulous family car.
It’s quirky too. Assuming you like that sort of thing. The huge handbrake and gear levers will make you smile, as will the stylish and personalisable bits of interior trim.
What will also find favour with family buyers is the price. A starting price of around £16,000 sees it offered at less than the Ford C-MAX and set in line with lesser cars such as the Kia Carens.
Obviously, it’s economical. The small engines have been hand-picked to achieve this and the 1.3 diesel should be good for up to 65mpg, if driven carefully.
So it’s a great family tool. A workhorse that does rather a lot for not very much. Sure it’s no oil painting, but think of it as a form-over-function car if it you find its looks too abhorrent and you’ll be giving it a fair shout.
The question remains, in my mind at least, over whether Fiat has stretched the 500 brand a little too far with the MPW. Mini did that a few years ago and fingers were burned.
In terms of its ungainly looks, perhaps it has reached the limit of what those three numbers are capable of adding retro appeal to, but take it on its own merits, ignore where it has come from and what it has had to grow up out of and it’s actually a really good car worthy of its own identity.