Fiat has updated the 500L Trekking, giving it more crossover-themed styling, upgraded technology inside and renaming it the 500L Cross in the process.
In the metal
While Fiat has updated the entire 500L range, it is the 500L Cross (as it is now known) that appears to have changed the most. Compared to the standard 500L model, the Cross gains an additional 25mm of ground clearance. Front and rear bumpers get a chunkier look with contrasting grey detailing, while sills and wheel arches are clad in a hard-wearing protective black plastic. Like the rest of the 500L family, there are new headlights and LED daytime running lights that match the two 'zeros' that already appear on the smaller Fiat 500.
Inside, the 500L Cross retains a five-seat configuration, but updates to the dashboard, centre console and the position of the gear selector improve the look. Fiat has added a new seven-inch Uconnect HD Live colour touchscreen for the infotainment system, as well, which includes smartphone compatibility with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The instrument cluster looks more modern thanks to the fitment of a 3.5-inch colour display, with an analogue speedometer and rev counter to the sides. The doors and some of the other touchpoints still have hard plastic covering them, but the feel of these aren't as cheap or hollow sounding when tapped as some other competitors'.
Despite its size, the cabin doesn't feel quite so spacious when you start adding passengers. The rear does benefit from an almost entirely flat floor, but headroom could be better. Even adults of average height will find their head almost touching the roof in the two outer seats when sitting upright, and trying to fit three adults across the rear seat makes for a tight squeeze. On the upside, rear access is good, and the Fiat also has a generous 455 litres of boot space including a double floor height than can be easily changed.
As Fiat was busy nipping and tucking on the visual side of things, it has left the mechanicals of the 500L Cross virtually unchanged from the 500L Trekking it replaces. The 1.6-litre MultiJet turbocharged four-cylinder diesel is one of the most powerful engines available in the 500L range, producing 120hp and 320Nm of torque. It does lack some of the refinement seen in other similarly sized diesel engines, but on longer runs it can still return decent fuel consumption figures.
The driving position benefits from a good degree of adjustability in both the seat and steering column. Fiat has raised the height of the gear lever, too, which is a noteworthy improvement. Visibility is also one of the 500L's strong points, with its combination of raised driving position and A-pillars that are bisected by a window to minimise obstructing your field of vision. It is manoeuvrable in traffic, but the arrangement of ratios in the six-speed manual gearbox will have you changing gears frequently, giving the impression of the engine having a smaller power band than the tech sheets suggest.
On the move, the Fiat settles down when cruising along on a dual carriageway, but around town it can sometimes feel cumbersome and clumsy. It is here that the suspension's lack of refinement is exposed, often thumping over speed humps and potholes where other rivals would do a more comprehensive job of absorbing the surface imperfections. Road noise was another area where we felt the Fiat could have performed better, but the 500L Cross does come with mud and snow tyres, which would contribute slightly to increased road noise levels in the cabin.
Meanwhile, Fiat has added additional safety systems in the form of Autonomous City Brake. This system works at speeds below 30km/h and can mitigate collisions in traffic.
One of the other new features in the 500L Cross is a Mode Selector that changes between three pre-set driving conditions: Normal, Traction+ and Gravity Control. That last one might sound like some futuristic new technology, but it is, in fact, Fiat's form of hill descent control. During downhill descents off-road, this controls the speed at which the car progresses freeing the driver up to just concentrate on steering.
What you get for your money
We've left this score blank for now as Fiat has yet to confirm pricing for the new 500L range, but when the car arrives in September it is expected to remain close to the current line-up, which starts at €20,495. Standard equipment should include the seven-inch touchscreen and 3.5-inch display in the instrument panel, cruise control, auto headlights and rear parking sensors. We will update this section of the review when Fiat Ireland confirms the pricing.
The quirky proportions and updated styling of the Fiat 500L Cross haven't quite seen it evolve from an ugly duckling into a swan. Nor have the rugged off-road embellishments made it look like a real crossover, but the Fiat is certainly improved inside and now feels more in touch with the competition.