UP-to-the-minute style with lots of space combined with ultra-versatile practicality might seem largely opposing concepts, but automotive designers are an inventive breed, and this type of combination has seen the MINI Countryman establish its own distinctive niche.
Now it's the turn of Fiat, who have been successful indeed with the stylishly appealing 500 model line – from which has now sprung the 500L, perhaps best pigeonholed as a mini-MPV, and a family car on the roomy side of cool.
The 500L is longer than Fiat's Punto model, and wider than the Bravo, but plenty of styling effort has ensured it retains much of the loveable, softly rounded character of the 500 range, while offering plenty of passenger comfort, and greater interior space. The result is a car that rides higher than average with a vast glass area - providing plenty of leg, head and elbow room, and 5-seat capability - still with 400 litres of loadspace, taking full-size push-chairs in its stride.
There's plenty of oddments space, and family friendly flexibility abounds, with an easy fold-and-tumble action for the split rear seat, revealing a deep, boxy and versatile loadspace, with a two-level boot floor.
The interior is light, airy, and comfortably finished, using – in Pop Star trim – cheerfully attractive if slightly unusual trim features, with body colour and shiny black plastic predominating in the test car's fascia area.
There are neat clear instruments and easily found controls, and the multi-adjustable driving position is comfortable, while all occupants get a commanding view. Though the rear seats are rather shapeless, there's good legroom, and the end result is practical, welcoming and stylishly finished in an attractive mix of textures.
The test car came with Fiat's latest 105 horsepower 1.6 litre Multijet turbodiesel engine, with 117g/km Co2 emissions and 62.8mpg combined economy figures.
It delivers quite perky, easily accessible performance with strong mid range flexibility, well up to the demands of Britain's busiest roads.
Refinement on the move is very good, and there's relaxed higher-speed cruising. The smooth shifting six-speed manual gearbox has rather long lever travel, but offers well-chosen ratios.
On the move there's a useful spark of Italian 'brio' for the keener driver, with good traction, positive control, and a supple, absorbent ride which improves further as passenger numbers rise.
A switch selects reduced steering weight, useful in tighter spots, though overall steering feel is limited and rather artificial, especially with plenty of lock applied.
Air conditioning, Bluetooth and alloy wheels are also included, but the absentee list includes rear park assist, passenger seat height adjustment, and automatic lights and wipers.