Do you love the retro chic appeal of the Fiat 500, but have been lumbered with the burden of children so can’t have one? Well good news, Fiat has created the solution to that very dilemma with the new 500L and I’ve been to Italy, Turin to be precise, for a look inside it and learned a fair amount about the design of the car in the process.
Despite its official reveal at Geneva in March 2012 the Fiat 500L’s interior has been kept top secret (unless of course you are the Serbian Prime Minster who nagged so much he got to open the door). Thankfully the interior was not kept secret because all it consisted off was a couple of deck chairs and a paper plate, no quite the opposite actually; it was kept secret because it needed a special reveal all to itself.
A lot was riding on the 500L, Roberto Giolito (head of design at Fiat) was keen to explain. The car follows in a long line of ingeniously inventive cars which not only had personality but the ability to get Italians and other nationalities for that matter to where they wanted to go effortlessly. He explained how the original 600 Multipla and 500 mobilised Italy after WW2, how they then evolved into the 127, Uno and lastly new Multipla in 2000. Fiat needed another inventive car like those that had gone before and what better car to base it on than the sales phenomenon that is the Fiat 500.
Initially, the 500L looked to me like a 500 which had had backstreet botox, all swollen and dare I say ugly. However, having seen it in the flesh and seeing the process that went into designing it I can safely say that is no longer the case, more on the outside later though. Fiats head of interior design Virgilio Fernandez explained that the car was “designed from the inside to the outside”. A key element of the car is its floating roof, which thanks to some supper skinny A, B and C pillars sits high above the bodywork of the car. This creates an airy, bright and to quote “loft” feel inside the car, (think designer loft apartment not dingy asbestos filled loft). The expanse of glass really does create a panoramic 360 degree view.
Once inside the Fiat 500L, you sit high up in the car, the tall sides meaning you really do just step into it instead of duck down. There is no denying the car feels bigger than its footprint would suggest 414cm long and 178cm wide, just a bit bigger than a Punto. In the back there is enough leg and headroom to happily accommodate three lanky individuals. And with the panoramic sunroof ticked on the options list, like the test car did, the feeling of space and light is unquestionable. In the front the dashboard is made up of boxes all joined together. With the middle one housing Fiats excellent new touch screen multimedia system. Within seconds I had mastered the interface, clear buttons with a reassuring feel allow the user to choose between audio, media, phone and more, it’s then simply a matter of touching the screen to expand the selected menu, simple. The all-encompassing system also means the dash is refreshingly free of buttons, looking clean and simplistic.
Another benefit of the box layout is cubbyholes, the cabins full of them. There are for instance two glove boxes, however on the car I tried the upper boxes lid had a habit of falling shut on your hand, while the lower one dropped bashing your knees. This was put down to the car being a rather well used, not quite as refined press demonstrator. So hopefully the production car will get better hinges. Other features of the interior are a AUX and USB port, steering wheel mounted audio/phone controls and a massive gear stick which felt smooth to use. Needless to say that with all the space inside, once the seats are folded flat there’s enough load capacity to rival a small van.
Exterior wise, Andreas Wuppinger head of exterior design explained the rather complicated brief that the car had to meet. DNA from previous Fiat models had to be fused together in a micro SUV package. No easy task then, but one that was achieved thanks to a very clever design. Firstly, is the use of the Fiat 500’s nose, it gives the car that cutesy face which has contributed to the huge success of the 500, DNA successfully fused then. Secondly, the car achieves its SUV’ness through the use of flared arches and rubber inserts in the bumpers and along the doors. They help beef the car up and continue with the illusion that it is bigger than what it actually is, another benefit of the rubber is that the car can shrug off bumps and knocks more, vital if it’s to be used in European cities.
Finally, I feel I must give some detail about the huge scope for personalisation with the Fiat 500L. It will be available in three trim levels, entry level Pop, mid-range Easy and posh Lounge specification. Each available with their own unique choice of interior materials, ranging from body coloured plastic to suede’s and leathers. On the outside the floating roof effect means that colour change between body and roof is almost welcomed, a whole palette of colours are available from retro reinvented pastel greens and mustard yellows to contemporary bright colours with contrasting roofs. There really is a lot of choice when it comes to how you want your 500L to look. Giolito also hinted that the 500L is likely to spawn a few other variants, most notably a 7 seater and actual SUV like 4×4. The Fiat 500L has plenty of mileage as a model so there could be high demand for private number plates containing 500l.
Fiats new 500L will go on sale towards the end of this year with prices starting at around £13000. And despite initial reservations over how it looked on paper I can safely say its appearance has grown on me and is likely to strike an appealing cord with buyers too. Especially if said buyers have longed for a normal 500 but needed more space, something which this car delivers in bucket loads, or should that be micro SUV box loads…