Almost 10 years after teetering on the edge of automotive oblivion, Fiat Group is looking relatively healthy.
A few years ago it swallowed up one of America’s ‘big three’ carmakers and is now tasked with making the Chrysler and Jeep brands a success. Its European brands (Alfa Romeo, Abarth, Fiat, Fiat Professional and Lancia) are in the process of reorganisation in order to clearly define their values and ensure they have the right products for their target audience.
Fiat – the mainstream car brand – has been buoyed by the runaway success of the 500 and, perhaps nervous of the bad old days, most new Fiat cars now wear a 500 badge.
Last year the 500L was launched, effectively replacing the Punto in the model line-up, with the soft-roading front-wheel drive 500L Trekking arriving in the summer.
The range has expanded further in 2014 with the 500L MPW. This is a slightly longer version of the 500L, with the standard car competing against compact estate cars such as the Seat Ibiza ST and Peugeot 2008.
As an option, customers can choose a third row of seats, making the 500L MPW the most compact seven-seater on sale. Fiat describes the seating arrangement as 5+2, and says the third row can accommodate people up to 1.65m in height. So suitable for children only.
We were supplied with the five-seat version in Lounge trim with a 105hp 1.6-litre Multijet diesel engine. Standard equipment includes a five-inch touchscreen infotainment system, dual-zone automatic climate control, automatic headlamps, rain sensors, front seats with seat-back tables and storage nets, and an electric glass sunroof.
Our test model tips the scales at just under £20,000, so it is at the high end of the spectrum of what people would expect to pay for a compact car.
While the 500L MPW might look ungainly, and has none of the charm of the A-sector 500 in its looks, the car has a comfortable cabin and feels much better inside.
The engine pulls well and has a relaxed demeanour on the motorway, offering good refinement.
The elevated driving position and good visibility makes the 500L MPW a practical alternative to a C-sector hatchback for the money.