► CAR's 2017 Fiat 500L test
► Facelifted range split in three
► Urban T-Jet Lounge driven here
The bug-eyed Fiat 500L may have only burst onto the scene in 2012, but, like a 21st century boyband, it’s already undergone a controversial split in this 2017 facelift. So instead of the collective 500L name encompassing every derivative in the range, there’s now a 500L Urban, Cross (née Trekking) and Wagon (formerly MPW) – all of which are considered separate models.
And while Fiat might not be fooling anyone with a simple name change, the promise of 40% new components and an overhauled cabin suggest more significant changes are afoot.
Read on for the full low-down on the new Italian people mover. Our car was a 500L Urban with the 1.4-litre T-Jet petrol engine in Lounge trim.
Check out all you need to know about the facelifted 500L here
What have they changed?
Aside from model diversification, there’s a new infotainment system including the introduction of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a fresh cabin design, updated safety kit and some subtle exterior styling tweaks. The latter of which is designed to bring the car’s looks in line with the regular 500, and incorporates what Fiat refers to as the, ahem… ‘moustache and badge combo’.
This, along with ‘zero-shaped’ LED running lights, a ‘studded’ three-dimensional lower grille mesh and carefully placed chrome strips, gives the 500L an all-round fresher look, yet it’s still a way off winning any automotive beauty pageants.
Perhaps of more significance to the driver and passengers is that ‘all-new’ cabin. For starters the steering wheel is now perfectly round rather than flat-bottomed, while the speedo and tachometer now sit either side of a classy 3.5-inch colour TFT screen.
Reach down and you’ll also notice that not only has the gearlever been positioned higher up, it’s also ballooned in size to the point at which those with Donald Trump-esque hands may struggle to get a proper grip on it.
Any changes under the bonnet?
No, but to avoid an extremely short paragraph we’ll run through the existing stable of powerplants. On the petrol side there’s two 1.4-litre petrol units, offering up 94bhp and 118bhp – the latter T-Jet motor accelerating from 0-60mph in 9.9 seconds.
And yet, it really doesn’t feel that fast. There’s little sign of the 159lb ft of torque low down in the rev range, meaning you’ve really got to gun the engine towards its 6,000rpm red line in order to make real progress.
Far more driveable is the 118hp 1.6-litre Multijet diesel motor. There’s a meaty 236lb ft to push the car along, giving far more flexibility lower down. Fuel economy and emissions are also dramatically improved with the diesel managing 67mpg to the petrol’s 42mpg, and 112g/km to 155g/km. A lower-powered 94bhp diesel completes the range.
Does it drive like a Fiat 500?
There’s little of the peppy small-Italian car enthusiasm on offer from the Urban model, and even less from the Cross and Wagon cars. Still, the 500L Urban is by no means a poor-handling car for its class and actually manages to hold onto the road well despite almost inevitable people carrier body roll.
The ride is on the firmer side but rarely feels uncomfortable, instead providing a well-judged tied-down feel rarely seen on crossovers of this ilk. And while the light steering weight isn’t ideal for a B-road jaunt, it’s perfect for manoeuvring around the city or squeezing into a tight parking spot.
What’s it like as a family car?
Overall space and practicality is impressive, albeit with one big proviso – but we’ll get onto that in a second.
Up front the cabin feels large and airy once you get used to the odd A-pillar arrangement, plus there’s a decent selection of door pockets and cubbyholes to store the usual family car paraphernalia. There’s even two gloveboxes to choose from.
It’s out back where things start to go pear-shaped. Opt for the panoramic sunroof – standard on Lounge spec cars – and rear headroom is severely restricted. So much so that those with taller children would struggle to justify buying the top-spec 500L Urban over its rivals.
You can of course slide the rear bench forward to try and eek out some more space, but then the hard plastics of the seats in front rub awkwardly against shins.
New name, same car. Fiat may have split the model range up but the recipe remains largely the same. The 500L Urban is an oddly-styled yet ultimately competent crossover which fits in seamlessly with the current crop of bite-sized family SUVs.
It’s a real shame, then, that the Italian brand has let themselves down with the rear-headroom on all panoramic- sunroof-equipped models. Opting for the base-spec Pop Star trim ditches the glass roof, but does away with the extra light it brings, too.
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