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Fiat 500L 1.6 Urban Multijet 120hp Lounge diesel review
09 January 2018
Author: Rachel Boagey
Can Fiat's revamped 500L compete with sector favourites after its mid-life refresh?
95hp 1.3, 120hp 1.4
Six-speed manual, five-speed automatic
There is no doubt that the Fiat 500 is one of the most distinguishable and timeless cars ever produced.
But in 2012, Fiat decided to transform its tiny city car into the 500L, a more practical, family friendly offering that appealed to a whole new audience, including company car buyers.
While the 500's timelessly stylish and iconic design may not translate perfectly into the 500L - which is often called the ugly duckling of the range - the car aims to do what it says on the tin; namely, achieve the spaciousness and functionality of a family car.
Fiat has now given the 500L a mid-life refresh and the company claims that more than 40% of the components are new, despite no mechanical changes. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are the most notable additions, and a sign that Fiat is trying to take on the 500L's key competitors such as the Nissan Qashqai and Mini Countryman. The revamp also includes automatic emergency braking.
These are three versions of the 500L: Urban, Cross and Wagon, which are offered with a choice of petrol and diesel engines.
Urban is the standard version and Cross is pitched as a faux off-roader, with bigger bumpers, a large grille, 25mm higher ground clearance than the standard model, and a button that allows the driver to switch between normal, Traction+ and Gravity Control modes. Wagon is the largest of the three at 4.38m long and an extra two seats; however, Fiat says it is the most compact seven-seater on the market.
We drove the standard Urban diesel in the top-of-the-range Lounge trim, the best-selling version for fleets. The lower trim, Popstar, is also available for the Urban and Wagon versions.
The exterior has changed somewhat, with a new grille bringing the car in line with the rest of the 500 family, while additional chrome trims and repositioned fog and reversing lights improve and upgrade the overall appearance of the car.
The interior is completely new following criticism from automotive journalists, who complained that it looked and felt cheap. The changes start with an updated dashboard to give what Fiat says is a more high-tech look; however, the screen still looks low resolution and not as sophisticated as its competitors.
Interior materials have improved, though. The 'pleather' that is dotted around is soft, but unfortunately there are still many places where hard plastics appear.
The steering wheel looks and feels as if it is good quality. Added chrome accents improve its appearance and the area behind has an updated design with two circular instrument gauges on either side of a 3.5in display. However, none of this looks particularly sophisticated and again the resolution isn't great. The six-speed manual gearbox we had in our test car looks quite classy, rather like the iconic 500 one, but it feels quite cheap and plastic to touch.
Undoubtedly one of the best features of the car is the 'wraparound glazing concept' of the windscreen, which gives you really good road visibility and, considering the size of the car, makes parking easy. Available as a fixed panel or electrically opening, the Fiat 500L's 1.5m2 optional panoramic glass roof improves the brightness of the interior, which otherwise seems pretty dull and dark for an additional £600.
The steering feels responsive, but pressing the City Mode was almost like touching an ejector seat button - the steering became unbelievably light and began to deliver very little feedback, making for a less pleasurable drive, even around the city.
The car is very roomy and there is ample head and leg room in the rear seats, which, according to Fiat, offer a 'panoramic view' thanks to their increased height, meaning passengers have a good view of the windscreen and can almost see over the front seats.
The back seats also fold down independently to vary the amount of boot space available. If you want to free up the maximum room, they tumble forward to reveal a flat 1,310-litre luggage area. Boot volume with the rear seat in the forward position is still an impressive 455 litres, but if you choose the seven-seater Wagon version then you get 493 litres when the two additional seats are folded. With the rear seats folded and tumbled, capacity rises to 1,480 litres for the Urban and Cross, and 1,509 litres for the Wagon.
The 1.6 diesel is the current fleet best-seller and has the lowest mpg of the 1.6 engine range at 67.3mpg. CO2 is also the lowest in Fiat's 1.6 diesel range at 112g/km.
At a P11D price of £20,605, the 500L is at the low end of the scale compared with competitors such as the comparable Countryman and Qashqai, with the former costing £24,815 and the latter £23,255.
In addition, SMR costs for the Countryman are £2,007 and £2,082 for the Qashqai, while our 500L only costs £1,858, a pretty impressive figure.
The 500L may be the cheapest and one of the best-equipped cars in its class with good SMR costs, but it is predicted to keep just 26.9% of its RVs over 60,000 miles, making it hard to recommend when you consider the Countryman comes out at 36.5% and the Qashqai at 37.5%. However, at 50.9, its cost-per-mile is impressive compared with the Countryman at 54.5 and the Qashqai at 58.7.
Overall, the 500L's refresh was needed and has resulted in the car looking and feeling more like a competitor in its own segment. However, with such stiff competition and less-than-impressive residual values, leading to high whole-life costs, the 500L still has a battle on its hands.
Improved interior and exterior looks, low P11D, low SMR costs
Low residual values, some cheap materials remain, light steering