The Fiat 500 is cool. Even the old Fiat Multipla, often referred to as an ugly duckling, was endearing. The Fiat 500L on the other hand is not cool. It bears almost no resemblance whatsoever to the funky 500 with which it shares a name. It is a bad attempt to cash in on the success of Mini which has spawned the Clubman and the Countryman. Both of these struggle to actually be called Mini given their size but they do at least bear a good resemblance to the popular Mini hatch.
The reality is that Fiat should have called the 500L something else. It could have been a Grand Panda or, even better, the new Multipla. Anything but a 500. The car initially irritated the heck out of me, but then someone suggested I stop looking at it as a 500 and just look at it as a car on its own. Already steaming, I tried to change my perspective and the steam subsided, but not entirely. As a spacious people mover, the 500L does have a lot going for it. There is masses of space inside, a decent amount of boot space and the 1.6-litre turbodiesel does a good job of pulling the not inconsiderable bulk around. I think it would battle a little at altitude if you loaded up a full complement of five passengers and their paraphernalia but it is a decent engine.
The driving position, though, is terrible. The steering wheel is at such an angle that it is like driving a Ford Transit — and I would much rather have a Trannie than the 500L. A Trannie is cool. You sit high up on the driver’s seat which adds to the van-like driving experience too. Then there is the interior layout. You can have funky red inserts to try to emulate the little 500, but the whole dash is different to its smaller sibling and where one will make you smile, the 500L just wants to remind you that you have 2.4 kids, a dog, the grocery shopping to do and soccer practice to get to. On the road it drives quite well but you do have to stir the box frequently to keep the turbo on song to avoid a power drop between gears.
The steering is a little too light for my liking but in the environment for which it is designed, this lends itself well to parking easily outside the school. After a few days I found myself much more relaxed with the 500L but the question is, after looking at it in isolation and pretending it did not have a 500 nomenclature, did I find it more endearing? Afraid not. The 500L is just plain ugly. I would rather opt for a decent five-door hatch or, even better, a crossover such as the Nissan Qashqai or Peugeot 2008, both of which are cheaper in similar trim.
The Facts: 2014 Fiat 500L MultiJet Lounge
Engine: 1598cc, four-cylinder, turbocharged, diesel
Power: 77kW at 3750rpm
Torque: 320Nm at 1750rpm
0-100km/h: 11.3 seconds
Fuel consumption: 4.5l/100km
Top speed: 181km/h
Price: R299 490