Fiat’s people carriers have come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes over the years. The company introduced the 500-based Multipla back in the swinging sixties, and revived the name in the late nineties for an oddball six-seater that gained a cult following with its quirky styling and three-abreast seat layout.

Today, the van-based Doblo offers lots of space for your money, but Fiat’s latest MPV, the 500L, aims to add plenty of style to the mix. As the name suggests, it takes design inspiration from the 500 city car, and now there’s an even bigger 500L on sale with the option of seven seats: the Multi-Purpose Wagon, or MPW.

• Fiat 500L MPW review

• Kia Carens review

It’s one of the cheapest seven-seaters on sale, but is this new model a step too far for the 500 brand? We’ve lined up a tough challenger to give it a thorough workout in its first test. The Kia Carens is a no-nonsense people carrier, but what it lacks in interior style, it makes up for with practical touches.

Here we pitch the entry-level Carens 1 – powered by a 1.7-litre diesel – against the 500L MPW Pop Star with 1.6-litre diesel power. Can the new Fiat make an impact? Or does the practical Carens demonstrate how a seven-seat MPV should be built?

Click on the links above to read each review, and then read on below to see our road test verdict.

Head-to-head

Practicality

These cars are evenly matched for boot space, although the 500L MPW has a wide, square tailgate to boost loading, and the deep bins on either side are a handy touch. The Fiat’s rearmost seats on the fiddlier to unfold – you need to slide forward the middle row seats first – but both cars’ seat mechanisms feel robust. Only the Kia has storage for the parcel shelf (below), plus it has a fold-flat front passenger seat; this is a £100 option on the 500L.

On the road

There’s not much between these cars on cruising comfort. The Kia has a slight edge, with barely any wind or engine noise at motorway speeds, but the Fiat isn’t far behind, and both cars perform reasonably around town. The Fiat’s large glass area and light City steering mode make low-speed urban driving easy.

Options

The sole factory option on the Kia is metallic paint, but the 500L MPW offers a raft of reasonably priced extras. These include a reversing camera, climate control and sat-nav, as well as a Lavazza espresso maker and premium Beats stereo.

Verdict

1st place: Kia Carens

If you need seven seats, the Carens is the car to go for. It’s not at its best in entry-level spec, as it’s pretty basic, and the diesel engine isn’t a great performer. But its practical touches are enough for it to make up ground against the 500L MPW.

2nd place: Fiat 500L MPW

Its looks divide opinion and the rearmost seats are tight, so the 500L MPW doesn’t make as much sense as the Kia at this price point. While it’s quicker and more efficient, and has plenty of options, it’s more tempting as a five-seater with a bigger boot.

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