What is it?
No matter how divisive its looks are, the Fiat 500L has been a sales success for Fiat, shifting more than 430,000 units since launching in 2012. However, here in the UK sales have been more stunted than those on the continent. There was great interest in the immediate aftermath of its launch, but the arrival of the 500X crossover slowed sales as customers preferred the more traditional 500-look of the 500X, as opposed to the bloated 500L.
The 500L has now been facelifted, and although nothing mechanical has changed, Fiat says more than 40% of this model’s components are new. These new bits are mainly styling tweaks, with the car having a redesigned front end – so it bears more resemblance to the 500 city car – and a new interior.
It’s available in three different forms: the 500L Urban is the standard car that will take the biggest chunk of sales, but there’s also a seven-seat 500L Wagon as well as a lightly off-road-styled 500L Cross, which replaces the old Trekking model. The Urban and Wagon are available in Popstar and Lounge trims, while the Cross comes in one trim only.
We’re driving the 500L Urban with a 1.6-litre diesel engine - the combination that's expected to be the biggest seller in the UK – in range-topping Lounge trim. Official pricing is yet to be confirmed, but it’s expected to stick closely to the outgoing model, which is priced from £15,000 to £22,000.
What's it like?
With no mechanical changes it’s a familiar story to the previous 500L in terms of how it drives.
That means it’s inoffensive around town, handling predictably with urban-friendly light steering and firm damping that isn’t uncomfortable but is unsettled by imperfections.
While the engine is powerful enough around town, get to faster roads and you’ll be wishing for more oomph. The throttle response is laggy, so pace is slow to build, and there’s very little action from low revs until a surge of power kicks in around 2500rpm.
When fully loaded with the family and their luggage, the 500L will feel gutless on long journeys. When pushed hard the engine predictably groans, but at idle and on gentle urban journeys it's pretty hushed, and refinement is generally good, with little wind or road noise entering the interior.
Although it’s a tall car, body roll in corners is well controlled. However, it doesn’t feel very agile and struggles to shift its weight quickly, with grabby brakes and light steering that doesn’t make cornering particularly confidence-inspiring. The gearbox is at least accurate and slick, even if the gearlever is made from cheap-feeling plastic.
But for buyers looking at this kind of car, it will be town manners and interior quality that are likely to matter more than its dynamics. The interior is a considerable step up from the old 500L, with a new 7.0in touchscreen with the latest Uconnect infotainment system available on top-spec Lounge models, and switchgear that mostly seems good quality, if still a little plasticky.