It is not often a car is so pug-ugly that you feel sorry for it, but I was close to feeling that for Fiat’s new 500L.
Tim Barnes-Clay struggles with the looks of the New updated Fiat 500L
But, Fiat are renowned for pushing the boundaries on car design and I learnt a long time ago that looks aren’t everything. This is certainly the case with the New 500L.
Look well beyond the 500L’s awkward appearance and you have a car that is perfectly sized for a family, or indeed for a disabled user. Fiat hasn’t said if the new 500L will be available on the Motability scheme, but I’d be amazed if it isn’t on the list when it makes its way to the UK market at the end of June.
Thinking as a dad-of-three, this car would certainly suit my needs. Sure, I wouldn’t be proud of it on my driveway, but I’d be glad of its space and comfort. Why Fiat has had to make the 500L quite so ungainly, I’ll never know, but, one thing’s for sure – it stands out. And the colours, including orange, brown, red and blue, just add to the car’s personality. The Fiat 500L is the equivalent of a punk – a misfit you just can’t help liking, despite the dyed mohawk and the deliberate dress-to-irritate clothing.
So, let’s look more closely at the new Fiat 500L. What is it? Well, driving around its natural habitat of Turin in Italy, I discovered the new model has a trio of personas: Urban, Cross and Wagon. 40 per cent of all components are fresh, and the 500L really is focusing more than ever on lifestyle. It’s all about spaciousness and functionality – so it must be thought of as a multi-purpose vehicle or MPV, as it’s known in the trade.
I was given the new Cross version to test. It features a Mode Selector for choosing three response settings according to road conditions and driving style: Normal, Traction+ and Gravity Control. The car allows you to do all you’d do with a family on normal tarmac, but with the bonus of handling rough terrain when required. It’s no mud-plugger, but, as I discovered in Italy, it’ll drive gravelly, pitted trails easily. The car impresses with its soft ride – even when I hit a massive pothole I expected my teeth to at least gnash together, but, no, the 500L Cross’ suspension copes admirably with ruts – off and on road.
Indeed, the Cross version adds a new dimension to the character of the 500L. As well as the Mode Selector, the adventure-seeking Fiat is accentuated by specific kit: 25 mm extra ground clearance and style features, delivering an authentic crossover appearance. These include new side protection mouldings, a fresh bumper design, and different front and rear skid plates. At this point, it’s worth mentioning, the 500L Cross is also accompanied by two city versions, Urban, and the Wagon, in which capaciousness and flexibility are taken to the maximum levels with seven seats.
Safety is king with the new Fiat 500L, too. For instance, the car is fitted with Autonomous City Brake, which operates in urban areas at speeds under 18mph. And when it comes to what’s under the bonnet, the 500L range is propelled by a variety of powerplants fuelled by petrol, LPG, methane and diesel engines, delivering up to 120PS. The engines are mated with a five or six-speed manual transmission, or a Dualogic robotic automatic gearbox.
Fiat has improved the 500L just enough to make it a worthwhile competitor in the family MPV market. It’s more eccentric than many other mundane people movers – and that might just be enough to shift sales. Above all, though, the Cross 1.4 T-Jet 120, as tested here, is convenient, comfy, and versatile. Oh yes, the 500L also boasts the biggest boot in its segment. Families will love the car for this last point alone.
Car reviewed: FIAT 500L Cross 1.4 T-Jet 120 – Base Price On the road £20,000 approx 0-62mph 11.0 secs Top speed 114mph limited Fuel Economy combined 49.6mpg CO2 emissions 163g/km Engine 1.4 four-cylinder turbo petrol Max Power 120PS Transmission 6-speed manual
Practical and Comfortable
Versatile, roomy and useful spec
Ultra family friendly
A face only a mother could love