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The Fiat 500L has had a bit of a hard time with motoring journalists since it arrived in the UK in 2013 and now, almost 60 years on from the first release of the original 500, this upsized version of the classic still seems to be trying to create its own identity.
Despite this, the 500L has been a massive global sales success for the manufacturer to date, selling more than 430,000 units since its market launch in 2012. To catch up with the rest of the 500 range, the 500L has now been given a facelift and although nothing mechanical has changed, Fiat claims that more than 40% of the components are new, with the inclusion of automatic emergency braking and the availability of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto being the most notable additions.
The three variants remain, all offered in a choice of petrol and diesel engines, and are named Urban, Cross and Wagon. Urban is the standard version, the Wagon is a seven-seater replacing the MPW, and then there's the off-road-friendly Cross. We drove the 118hp 1.6 diesel addition with the top-of-the-range Lounge trim (the only trim available for the Cross ? the Urban and Wagon are available in both Popstar and Lounge trims).
This spec was the best of the bunch in our books compared with the 94hp 1.3-litre diesel, which lacked power. The Cross offers three drive modes - Normal, Gravity Control and Traction+ ? the latter being ideal for providing extra grip on the windy, mountainous roads around Turin, however the 500L is not meant to be driven completely off the beaten track . The engine line-up and driving dynamics remain largely unchanged, as does the exterior of the car, with the Marmite design adding chrome at the front, new LED daytime running lights, and re-profiled grilles and bumpers.
Fiat says that most of the new components in this latest update can be found in the interior where new technology includes a seven-inch UConnect touchscreen as standard. The steering wheel has also been restyled and the cluster has an updated design, with two circular instrument gauges on either side of the display. The six-speed manual gearbox felt quite cheap and plastic, but the seat upholstery and fabrics are good for its class.
What is instantly noticeable is the roominess of the interior, which puts the 500L at the top of the class. This particular model is 4.28m long with a wheelbase of 2.61m. It is also 1.80m wide and 1.68m high. One of the standout features of the car is what Fiat calls the "wraparound glazing concept", which improves driver visibility thanks to its glazed A-pillar. The car also offered controlled body roll when going around corners, although the light steering doesn't make these corners feel too comfortable.
Boot volume with the rear seat in the upright position is 455 litres for the Urban and Cross models compared with only 218 litres offered by the Ford B-Max and 354 litres by the Kia Soul. With the rear seats folded, capacity rises to 1,480 litres.
In terms of fuel economy, Fiat claims that the 1.6 engine offers 70mpg and 114g/km of CO2, which is higher than its C3 and B-Max rivals but this is due to its off-roading capabilities.
UK pricing for the 500L is yet to be announced and first deliveries are expected to take place in September, but Fiat told us at the launch that it should be consistent with the old model. This means that a 500L Cross like the one we tested will probably cost around £20,000, making it more expensive than its biggest rivals including the Soul, C3 Picasso and B-Max. Fiat also told us that it expects to sell 35% to retail and 65% to fleet, which is in line with the segment.
Overall, fans will agree that the Fiat 500L aims to combine all the style and excitement of the Fiat 500 with the spaciousness and functionality of an MPV. Unfortunately, we feel some of the excitement was always going to be lost with the 500 upsizing, especially with the new version offering so little in terms of improvements and changes.