If it has to be petrol, the Twinair is your best bet. It generates enough torque at low revs to feel decently punchy in town. It runs out of puff at around 5000rpm, though so doesn’t like to be revved. Still, it’s far stronger than the entry-level 1.4, which has to be pushed very hard.
The turbocharged 1.4 petrol is the strongest, but you’ll pay for it. The diesels are the ones to go for. The 1.3 has just enough get up and go to feel capable on fast country roads, and company car drivers will love its low CO2 emissions. The 1.6 diesels are better suited to lugging a family and luggage though.
A six-speed manual gearbox comes as standard, but there’s a five-speed automatic available with the 1.3 diesel. We’d avoid it if possible, because it feels pretty dimwitted when rushed, but it does bring the lowest CO2 emissions of the range when fitted.
Fiat 500L ride comfort
Firm ride at all speeds but it’s well controlled
The 500L’s wheel sizes range from 15in steel wheels on the entry-level Pop models, to 16in alloys on the Pop Star and Lounge models, while 17in alloys are optional. Trekking models have 17in alloys as standard. No matter which you choose, the ride feels firm.
It’s over the sort of broken surfaces you’re likely to find on UK high streets that the 500L reveals this, sending small jolts into the cabin. Overall, though, the body stays pretty nicely composed, meaning it never gets too uncomfortable.
At higher speeds the 500L manages to glide over smaller obstructions with greater compliance, although the bigger ruts and expansion joints still thunk inside.
Fiat 500L handling
Resists body lean well and steering could be better
The 500L’s shape wasn’t likely to allow it sharp handling, and indeed it doesn’t. That said, in tight bends there isn’t quite as much body lean as you might expect – it stays quite upright.
The trouble is, its steering is quite vague when you’re traveling in a straight line and beyond that offers very little in the way of communication as to what the front wheels are experiencing. There’s an annoyingly aggressive self-centering action to contend with, too.
However, the steering is at least pretty light, so threading the 500L through town is easy. This helps when trying to navigate it into tight car park spaces, too.
Fiat 500L refinement
All engines are noisy while wind and road noise frustrate
One of the 500L’s worst areas. The gearshift is too notchy and the suspension makes too much noise over rough roads. As the speed builds there’s road noise, too, as well as the sound of wind whipping around its tall windscreen.
The entry-level 1.4 petrol needs to be worked hard and is boomy in the cabin as a result. The Twinair engine sends lots of vibration back through the car’s controls. The 1.4 turbo is probably the smoothest and quietest of the lot.
All three diesel engines sounds noticeably rough when cold, but become smoother as they warm up. That said, when pushed past even 3000rpm they send lots of engine noise back through the car’s bulkhead and too much vibration through the wheel and pedals.
This entry-level 1.4 is naturally aspirated, so feels flat unless pushed extremely hard. As a result it’s quite noisy and its real-world fuel economy isn’t great. Cheap to buy but we’d avoid.
Not powerful, but its turbocharging creates quite a bit of torque considering its size, which come in early enough to make it reasonably nippy. It’s unrefined, though, and its official fuel economy figures will be nigh-on impossible to get remotely close to.
A turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine, which offers far more performance than the entry-level non-turbo version. It isn’t as clean or frugal, though, is no more refined and costs more to buy. One of the diesels would make more sense.
We’re yet to try this engine in the 500L, but its low price and CO2 emissions make it a no brainer for company car drivers.
1.6 Multijet 105
We’re yet to try this engine.
1.6 Multijet 120
This is the fastest engine in the range, but still returns a decent fuel economy figure. It isn’t very refined, though.