Car reviews: Climb aboard the family-sized Fiat 500L
The latest Fiat 500L sees some neat new styling updates introduced, while engine line-up and driving dynamics remain largely unchanged
The Fiat 500L is a car we're pretty familiar with by now. Take one regular 500, pump it full of growth hormones and what you're left with is the 500L - a far more practical take on the hugely popular little supermini.
With the latest 500L, not a whole lot has changed. There's a slightly revised exterior, a more minimalistic interior and a greater focus on technology - the new seven-inch touchscreen infotainment and improved driver assistance systems grab headlines here.
On the whole, though, the latest Fiat 500L is much the same as its predecessor. The engine line-up is the same, as is the car's overall image. However, those slight alterations to the exterior, as well as the redesigned interior help to keep the 500L looking relatively fresh - if a little awkwardly proportioned.
LOOKS AND IMAGE
Where the regular 500 is a car that is well-loved for its cute, retro-inspired image, taking that same aesthetic and blowing it up to a larger scale doesn't really work for the 500L - at least in our eyes.
What you're left with is a rather ungainly-looking thing. Contrasting colours on the roof do go some way to spicing up the 500L's exterior, but for the most part it suffers the same fate as the vast majority of people-movers do.
Inside, the updates are similarly minor. There's a new dash layout, which is more minimal in its design, and proceedings are dominated by the new seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
There is a fair amount of scratchy plastics used in the cabin, which may not look great, but should be capable of taking the beatings that young children can often send their way.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
The Fiat 500L is a car that has been designed with family use in mind, and for the most part it will be incredibly successful in this department. Small children will find they have plenty of room in the back, even when sat three abreast.
However, adult-sized passengers may not be as happy about sitting there. The rear seats sit higher than those in the front, meaning that those who are of an average height will find their heads touch the roof. Being forced to slouch isn't a massively pleasant experience when faced with a long journey. Sure, you could always slouch, but be prepared to say goodbye to a considerable amount of kneeroom.
Boot space is a respectable 455 litres with the rear seats in their forward position, and can be increased to a cavernous 1,480 litres when they are folded down. While the boot does offer a decent amount of luggage space, the sill is quite wide, with a significant amount of body work exposed. Bear this in mind when loading heavy items into the 500L, as you wouldn't want to scratch any paintwork.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
To drive, the 500L is inoffensive and predictable, but far from exciting. The 1.4-litre T-Jet petrol that was fitted to our test car was relatively smooth under hard acceleration, but did make quite a racket towards the top end of the rev range. It also didn't offer up much puff lower down, and struggled with the often steep hills on the outskirts of Turin. Around town, however, it was more than capable of getting the 500L moving. The six-speed manual gearbox was also surprisingly slick to use.
Being a mini-MPV, driving dynamics were never going to be mind-blowing. While there was a good deal of lean through the corners, the nicely-weighted steering was communicative enough that you knew where the car's limits were at all times.
Where the 500L impressed was on the rutted roads around Turin. Up front, you didn't really notice and shuddering or crashing as the Fiat drove over the frequent bumps and craters that populated the road surfaces wherever we went - which will certainly be a welcome characteristic when it hits the road here in Britain.
VALUE FOR MONEY
UK pricing for the 500L has not yet been announced, but Fiat told us at the launch that pricing hadn't changed. This means that a 500L Lounge like the one we tested will probably cost around the £20,000 mark.
The Lounge specification will act as the flagship trim for the 500L in the UK. Equipment levels are generous enough, with a panoramic sunroof, 16-inch alloys, rear parking sensors, cruise control and that seven-inch touchscreen with Live services all included as standard.
While the infotainment system is a welcome feature, it does manage to feel rather outdated and slow compared with the solutions offered by rival manufacturers.
WHO WOULD BUY ONE?
Where the Fiat 500 is aimed at young city dwellers, the 500L is aimed at young families who still want the flair and personality of the 500, but in a more practical package. Well, that's what Fiat claims anyway.
At the end of the day, the Fiat 500L isn't really that different from the old one. It still has those divisive looks, and it doesn't drive any better than it used to. That said, it offers a decent amount of practicality, and young families in the market for a more left-field wagon could find the 500L an appealing proposition.