Supersize Me

BATD ON Jul 23, 2013 AT 8:53 am

Why is it, when you’ve planned something down to the minutest detail, there’s almost always a Godzilla-sized hitch you didn’t spot? In my case Godzilla was Andy Murray.

Two friends and I fancied de-cluttering our wardrobes and making a little cash by selling some of our vintage clothes. We booked a stall at the Bath Vintage and Antiques Fair, and I asked myself, what would be the best car for the job?

It would need to be roomy, but look the part. If only the cute retro Fiat 500 wasn’t so tiny…

It turns out plenty of other people were thinking the same thing, in particular young parents craving some sliver of style in their plastic soft-play worlds. To offer an alternative to grey blobs like the Vauxhall Meriva, Fiat has created the 500L.

It’s roomy; you can personalise it with lots of options – and you can’t get more stylish than a car with a fully functioning Lavazza espresso machine on its options list. Now all I need is a chocolate dispenser and an ice cream-maker.

L is for Large, but S for Supersize would have been more accurate. And it’s a bit of a cheat; the L isn’t actually based on the original bambino; it shares underpinnings with larger Fiats. That’s prompted the question why isn’t it called 600, after the classic 600 Multipla of the 1950s and ‘60s? The answer is marketing strategy: Fiat wants to ‘do a Mini’ and create a range using the same seductive name.  The next version reach dealerships is the more masculine 500L Trekking released in June (From £17,095, see panel) followed by the MPW seven-seater in September.

The pumped-up Fiat doesn’t delight the eye in the same way as the original, but it has a load more personality than most alternatives, and it retains the bright, retro interior design, particularly in the cheaper Pop and Easy trim. (The posh Lounge, is a bit boring inside).

It isn’t as much fun to drive as its archrival the Mini Countryman (from £16,545) or the new Renault Captor crossover (from £12,495) either. It’s quiet and comfortable on fast roads, but in town it feels bus-like.

When loading for the V&A, we were delighted to find the ‘Cargo Magic Space’ under the floor (which can slide in at different heights) and stashed all our breakables in there. Then we piled in our trestle table with vintage tablecloths (tick on the list) clothes rail and hangers (tick), three folding chairs (tick) and all our wares (many ticks). We got it all in by folding just one rear seat, so we all with had plenty of elbow and leg room for the journey.

The Fiat 500L packed and ready

We certainly attracted attention as everyone else rolled up in their Citroen C3 Picassos and Lovejoy Volvos. It was early, but already hot, and most people were heading to B&Q to buy barbecues. I only felt Godzilla’s foot descending, however, when we realised that not only was it the Wimbledon men’s final, but also Andy Murray facing Novak Djokovic. At two o’clock you could hear the collective sigh of lonely stallholders sticking pins in melting wax dummies of tennis players.

We still made about £30 each after costs and had a lot of fun. I also resisted buying more than I sold. My co-stallholders will never trust me to organise anything ever again, but at least the Fiat 500L proved to be the perfect choice.

Fiat 500L as tested

1.6 Multijet 105hp Pop Star

Price £17,490, with options £18,940

Max speed 112mph

0-62mph 11.3 seconds

Official combined 62.8mpg; my actual consumption 50mpg

Comfort pack including lumbar adjustment at £200 is a good investment

Fiat 500L Trekking

Fiat 500L Trekking

The Trekking has more attitude than the standard L; more important, its increased ground clearance and a smart braking system turn it into a mini ‘soft-roader’.  If you’re driving on mud, gravel or ice and snow, and the Traction+ system detects a spinning wheel, it brakes that one and transfers all the pulling power (torque) to the other side to keep you moving.

Plus, the standard City Brake system brakes hard if it detects that you’re not when heading for a solid object – such as that car you thought had already pulled out at a roundabout. This feature reduces its insurance group and costs considerably.

I drove a Trekking from a glamping base at Longleat after the fair. It was impressive on the mini off-road track, and it’s more fun to drive on country roads thanks to its firmer suspension.

Fiat 500L Trekking as tested

16, 16v 105bhp Multijet

Price £19,590, with options £21,290

Official combined 60.1mpg

Max speed 109mph

0-62mph 12 seconds

Liz Turner was on staff at What Car? magazine for five years and has driven everything from a Smart car to the Rolls-Royce Phantom. 






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