FIAT has a good track record at making small cars. Sadly, the Italian's bigger machinery has, at best, been average. But 500L (large) is changing that perception.
Available in five (500L) or seven-seat form (MPW), the front-wheel drive MPV cashes in on the very cute four-seat 500's name and image, which is style-driven, funky and fresh.
With 500L, what is lost in cuteness is gained in interior space. Unlike the 500, the L can fit the kids and shopping with ease.
Roberto Giolito designed the 500L using GM/FIAT's small platform and, as MPVs go, it is a very curvy and disarming machine to look at. Its exterior has echoes of the old (and ugly) 600 Multipla (estate 1956-65) that once swarmed all over Italy, carrying the world and its mama. FIAT clearly is very keen to exploit the success of its 500 brand in a similar way that BMW has with MINI.
Inside the cabin, it is huge. There is good seating for five and a reasonable boot with a split-level floor tray (Cargo Magic Space), much like the one in Peugeot's 3008.
FIAT recently launched a Trekking version, which featured more rugged styling (and modest off-road ability via mud and snow tyres and 'Traction+' - an electronic driving aid). To round off the range, the 5+2 seater, 500L MPW, is the most practical family machine.
Under the bonnet the petrol-powered version uses a small-but- potent 0.9-litre engine. The turbocharged TwinAir engine pushes out 105hp and features a manual gearbox. Diesel buyers can choose from a 1.3-litre, 85hp MultiJet, which comes with a manual or semi-automatic gearbox, or 1.6-litre, 105hp MultiJet, manual.
In the US the automatic 500L (2014 model year) has been the subject of a major safety recall (in March) affecting 18,092 cars. The software problem concerns gear selection and shifting out of 'Park'.
On the road 500L is far from dynamic. Despite the fact that the standard 500 is fun to drive, the larger 500L shares none of the four-seater's enthusiasm. Behind the wheel you get a great view of what is going on in the outside world but feel totally uninspired to explore it. This sensation, I'm sure, is fine for most users who just want good-looking transport, but it could be so much more.
Prices start at €21,750 for the petrol, while diesel prices start at €22,500. The seven-seat MPW starts at €24,300 (1.3-litre). Trim levels start with Pop Star and rise to Lounge. Large sunroofs are all the rage these days and €600 is the asking price from the 500L's options list. Of course, for fans of all things Italian the best option available is the espresso machine - I kid you not.
Sadly, FIAT is in a shocking state in Ireland, with only a tiny market share. Once the first-choice brand for 'value for money' motoring, it has seen its grip slip away to rivals from Asia.
The best thing about 500L is its friendly personality that can make other MPVs look a little dull.