Seven goes into 500L

The Fiat 500 is a brand in its own right. Arguably, in some ways the 500 badge transcends Fiat itself and the Italian company isn’t daft – it’s spreading that name around a little with new models that aim to capture some of the 500’s verve.

Here’s the next stage of the 500 family expansion – the 500L MPW. You have to wonder whether there were a few wayward translations on the road to naming it, but one of Fiat’s names for it is the ‘Magic Power Wagon’ (no, really).

Joking aside, the 500L MPW has an extra 20cm grafted on to the standard 500L chassis, giving enough boot space for two occasional-use rear seats. They don’t come as standard but can be added for an extra £700 to create what Fiat calls a 5+2 layout. The legroom in the two rearmost seats is tight so are best reserved for the smallest children in the car. They also reduce the five-seater version’s 560-litre boot by 70 litres when folded flat. With them raised the remaining luggage space is negligible, as with most seven-seat cars.

This is the smallest seven-seater you can buy at just 4.35m long and 1.78m wide excluding the mirrors. Its high roof and shoulder line make it look bigger than it is, but you’re glad of the slimline dimensions for urban driving. It’s surprisingly nimble as you dash into side streets and doesn’t feel like a people-carrier.

While the third row of seats is cramped, there’s much better news from the middle bench seat. There’s acres of space for heads, shoulders, knees and toes, with a driver of more than six feet leaving plenty of room behind him for adult legs. The seats are soft and comfortable in an age of increasingly firm padding, and despite the rather odd-looking ‘inscription’ style upholstery graphics the front five seats are very likeable. Likewise the chunky steering wheel with ‘squircle’ design leather, and the solid ancillary stalks behind it.

The clutch for this 1.6-litre diesel model is sprung just heavily enough to offer appropriate resistance but lightly enough to make low-speed ratio-shuffling a breeze for your left leg but the gear shift is more notchy than some rivals and needs a slightly firmer push.

Family cars need to be practical and the 500L MPW delivers with upper and lower glove boxes, and although the former’s lid hinge mechanism is a little primitive, together they offer loads of storage. On top of these two are shelves and bins of various shapes and sizes.

Not so practical on this higher-spec Lounge model is the fact you can’t see the cruise control stalk because it’s behind the steering wheel. It’s not difficult to use ’blind’ but it takes a bit of trial and error.

This 105hp 1.6-litre turbo diesel engine offers useful punch from around 1,900rpm on the stylish rev counter up to about 3,200rpm and you can expect it to loosen up a little at both ends of the rev range with more miles on the clock. There’s a more powerful 1.6 diesel, but it’s best to avoid the low-powered 85hp 1.3-litr turbo diesel, which struggles to pull the MPW’s mass. On the petrol front there are 95hp 1.4-litre and 105hp 0.9-litre TwinAir engines.

The 500L MPW, silly names aside, has an endearing quality about it regardless of its small flaws. It does a job and it feels cheerful, which makes it a relaxing and pleasant car in which to take the kids to school, parties or the beach.

Like the 500 hatchback it’s highly customisable and handy touches like the movable boot floor, in-boot hooks, additional 12-volt charging sockets and large tailgate lip ‘seat’ make it a real-world star.

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