Fun with the new family-friendly Fiat 500L #review

When I was a little girl we had the most fabulous holidays. My parents would pack up a tent and we'd head for the continent for weeks of touring, always starting in France after a good breakfast on the Dover-Calais ferry.

One of my favourite trips was to Italy where we camped at Marina di Carrera and visited Pisa, Venice and Elba, the island where Napoleon was exiled in 1814.

Everywhere we drove of course there were Fiat vehicles along with the ubiquitous scooters whose rasping song makes me remember that holiday now if I hear one! At the time we were in a Fiat Strada - not my favourite car of all time If I'm honest -and I was very envious of the stylish little 500 nipping along picturesque streets.

Fiat 500

My dad was a Fiat fan but until I went along to the launch of the Fiat 500L I had never driven one.

I love the style of the little Fiat 500, even the modern version which is a fitting tribute to the vintage version I remember from my trips abroad. I had a test drive - it was as fun as I expected and nippy too. I loved the styling which sings to my vintage-loving soul.

Fiat 500 interior

I was unsure how I'd feel about a larger version. Some manufacturer's attempts to inflate cute small cars have not always been altogether successful in my eyes. Thankfully at first glance it was clear the designers have done well honouring the little car in more family-friendly larger versions.

Fiat 500L - family sized car

Apparently their goal was to make the new Fiat 500 even more 500, even more convenient with even more technology. They wanted to achieve a unique combination of spaciousness and personality hoping to capture all the style and excitement of the Fiat 500 with the spaciousness and functionality of an MPV.

And the result? Well my first thought was that it was not terrible by any means! The 500 influence is very visible in the styling  even though whopping total of 40% of all components are new.

rear view of the new Fiat 500L

Fiat boasts that  this is not just a range, but three separate identities to cover all needs: Urban, Cross and Wagon with a choice of petrol and diesel engines to suit all drivers.

 The new Fiat 500L is designed to reinforce the family feeling of the model. The exterior style expresses all the distinctive elements which have characterised the model throughout its history, ever since its iconic 1950s forerunner. 

The most obvious visual links are the "moustache and badge" combo set on the trapezoidal nose, the upper headlights with chrome-plated elements and the lower cluster, now with LED daytime running lights, which pick up the graphics of the two "zeros" in 500.  Cute eh? These elements ensure that this new car is clearly identifiable as a Fiat 500L, even in the dark.

The chromed inserts at the rear underline the 500 family feeling and horizontal trims reinforce the car's presence on the road. The fog and reversing lights are now in the underside of the bumper, increasing their effectiveness.

The new Fiat 500L is available in ten pastel or metallic colours and with three types of roof: body-coloured, glossy black or white or matt black, giving customers a choice of no less than 36 colour combinations. 

I loved the Donatello Bronze colour way which I thought really stood out especially with a matt black roof - you'd have no trouble picking that out in the car park.

The interior of the new Fiat 500L is completely new, starting with an updated dashboard to give a more high-tech and iconic look with distinctive 500 touches, such as the bright "500" signature on the dashboard. I have to say I wasn't too keen on this - it felt like it was trying too hard to remind you this was a Fiat 500. I'd have preferred a plain dash.

Interior of the new Fiat 500L

The area behind the restyled multifunctional steering wheel, now with added chrome accents, has an updated design with two circular instrument gauges on either side of a 3.5-inch colour graphic display. 

This combination of new steering wheel and dashboard aims to improve the visibility of the instrument cluster, which some customers complained was not clearly visible with some steering wheel positions. 
Interior of the new Fiat 500L

There's a TFT colour digital display, with a full set of useful information including instructions on when to shift gear. I initially thought this was a bit patronising but as the cost of fuel rises ever upwards think it might be a useful tool to maximise fuel efficiency.

The new Fiat 500L displays an innovative wraparound glazing concept to improve visibility and ease of parking, with its glazed A-pillar.  Available as a fixed panel or electrically opening, the 1.5m2 optional panoramic glass roof of Fiat 500L means that occupants can enjoy a light, bright passenger compartment.  I'd say that's well worth the upgrade as it makes the car even more fun.

There are new, larger storage compartments in the car and new comfort features, such as the central armrest. My legs are so short those are never any good for me when I am driving as my seat is so close to the wheel the arm rest ends up almost behind me!

The gear lever has also been redesigned and placed higher up for greater driving comfort. 

Now as a busy mum it's worth mentioning boot volume as I'm sure I am not alone in needing to cram as much stuff in the boot for a day out as most people take for a year touring the world. 

the new Fiat 500L boot space

This was one of the things I was most impressed with on the Fiat 500L. OK so starting with size - with the rear seat in the forward position the boot volume is 455 litres for the Urban and Cross models.  The boot on the Wagon offers up to 493 litres when the two additional seats are folded. With the rear seats folded and tumbled, capacity rises to 1480 litres for Urban and Cross and 1509 litres for the Wagon. There's also a handy height-adjustable load platform available - more on that later.

So I mentioned the new Fiat 500L is available with three distinctive personalities: Urban, Cross and Wagon.  The more adventurous character of the Fiat 500L is represented by the Cross version. 

The new Fiat 500L Cross has a one-of-a-kind crossover look with new bumpers and skid plate, new two-colour diamond-finish 17-inch alloy wheels and a bold grille to give it a sporty appearance. It has crossover substance, as well as looks, with ground clearance raised by 25mm, new Uconnect™ HD Live 7-inch touchscreen and the new Mode Selector; with a choice of Normal, Traction+ and Gravity Control.

Normal is the default function and provides a comfortable, safe ride in ordinary conditions. Traction+, which can be activated at speeds of less than 18mph, helps the car to start on slippery surfaces and providing more grip. Gravity Control keeps the speed constant when descending steep slopes, and can be enabled when the Traction+ function is active. 

I drove this model on and off road and found it an easy if not terribly thrilling ride. But when you are driving your precious family around you aren't really hoping for anything but easy and safe are you?

You aren't going to smoke anyone at the traffic lights- no super quick getaways- but it's a smooth enough drive with a firm seat and everything you need for temperature control, navigation and entertainment at your finger tips.

After just a short drive I was very comfortable and navigated unfamiliar roads confidently without being distracted by the physical act of operating the vehicle. 

Off road the car felt stable even on fresh mud and I may have been a bit squeally, having lots of fun negotiating some slippy corners around a lake much to the bewilderment of a lone fisherman.

The metropolitan soul of the Fiat 500L finds expression in the Urban version, available in Pop Star and Lounge trim levels. In Pop Star trim, also available in the new Bellagio Blue colour, the new Fiat 500L Urban come complete with ABS, ESP, 6 airbags, air conditioning, cruise control, multifunction Techno-leather steering wheel, electrically adjustable & heated door mirrors, 3.5-inch colour TFT display, 5-inch Uconnect™ radio with Bluetooth, voice control, USB port and Aux-in, rear seat with 60/40 split, LED daytime running lights and 16-inch alloy wheels.

In the more luxurious Lounge trim,  it features upgraded seat upholstery, a dashboard fascia finished with technical fabric, dual zone climate control, fixed glass roof, chromed inserts, fog lights, Uconnect™ HD Live 7-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth, voice control, DAB radio, 2 USB ports and Aux-in, rain and dusk sensors, rear parking sensors and Cargo Magic Space height-adjustable load platform. 

This moveable boot floor was my favourite feature. It effectively gives you two boots with lots of versatile and easily changeable storage space.

Cargo Magic adjustable load space in the new Fiat 500L

So for instance you can remove the boot "floor", drop the buggy or scooters or skateboards into that space then slide the floor above it as a shelf leaving plenty of room for picnic bags, shopping, coats and all the other stuff you end up throwing in just in case. 

Finally, the Wagon, available in a seven seat configuration, is the ideal solution for combining spaciousness and versatility with the distinctive 500 style.  Available in Pop Star or Lounge trim, the new Fiat 500L Wagon is the most compact seven-seater on the market at 4.38m long. 

As a veteran of seven-seaters I am hoping to trial this one soon - I'll let you know how I get on.

Customising the driving experience
Exclusive packs are available across the new Fiat 500L range to enhance the driving experience, comfort and safety.  Every version can customise its style, connectivity, comfort and safety features by adding one of these great value packages; City, Comfort, Safety, Style and Style Plus packs.

Autonomous City Brake, available as part of the Safety Pack, consists of a laser sensor located on the top of the windscreen to monitor the position of the cars ahead. When travelling at less than 18mph, the system automatically brakes the new Fiat 500L if a potential collision is imminent.

Other key equipment include the child monitoring mirror to keep an eye on rear seat passengers, LED daylight running lights and parking lights, which ensure excellent visibility. As well as electrical adjustment and heating, the door mirrors can be upgraded to fold electrically and add puddle lights, to illuminate the area around the car when light is poor.

The Style Plus Pack provides ambient light in the base of the central console, on the central tunnel and on the doors. The optional rear parking camera, included in the City Pack, has an improved resolution and active grid lines to assist parking.

Now lets talk tech. New advanced smartphone integration systems are debuting on the new Fiat 500L. Smartphone apps can be accessed directly on the 7-inch high-resolution touchscreen of the Uconnect™ HD Live system integrated in the dashboard. The system is also available with Apple Car Play and Android Auto™.

screen in the new Fiat 500L
The next-generation Uconnect™ system features a hands-free Bluetooth interface, audio streaming, text reader and voice recognition, AUX-in and USB ports with iPod integration, controls on the steering wheel.  

A rear parking camera and the new TomTom 3D built-in navigation system are also optionally available. The Uconnect™ LIVE app offers music streaming with Deezer and TuneIn, news from Reuters and connected navigation with TomTom LIVE, as well as updating Facebook and Twitter. Users can also monitor their driving style with eco:Drive and my:Car.

The Fiat 500L is now available with the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.  Apple CarPlay perfectly integrates the iPhone with the display and native controls of the car so users can make calls, play their music, send and receive messages, get directions optimised for traffic conditions and much more, while staying focused on the road.  

With Android Auto drivers can access Google Maps, with voice-guided navigation, real time traffic information and lane guidance and Google Play Music, among other music services. They can also make and receive calls and send messages while keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

The Fiat 500L can be upgraded with the BeatsAudio system, with loads of speakers to make that Disney sing-a-long album really fill the car. Or Muse. You choose. 

The package is completed by an amplifier with DSP and 8 channels, featuring a built-in advanced equalisation algorithm capable of reproducing the entire spectrum of sound that an artist experiences in the recording studio. Apparently. 

Engines and pricing
The petrol engine line-up includes the 1.4-litre 16V, delivering 95hp, and the 1.4-litre 16V T-Jet, delivering 120hp. The offering is completed by two diesel engines: the 95hp 1,300cc 16V MultiJet, also available with Dualogic transmission, and the 120hp 1,600cc 16V MultiJet. All engines comply with the Euro 6 standards and combine optimal performance with impressive fuel economy.

The new Fiat 500L will be priced from £16,195 OTR (for a Fiat 500L 1.4 95hp Pop Star.)

Disclaimer: I enjoyed a day of test-driving some of the vehicles in the Fiat 500 range for the purpose of this honest review.