Many manufacturers like to describe their cars as iconic. Most of the time you can take the i away from icon and you're a lot nearer the mark. But Fiat really can use the term when they're talking about their phenomenally successful 500, a symbol of movies, music, fashion and even art. But what about the 500L, which has been described in the past as the 500's fatter, uglier, big sister? Maybe the insults have hurt Fiat because they've just refreshed the range with new styling cues, new engines and a funky sound system in a brand new variant called the Beats Edition.
What is it?
Well, it's still the slightly odd-looking 500L, a car which took a bit of getting used to when it first appeared on UK roads but which is now selling in pretty impressive numbers. The Beats Edition blends some clever technology with a gritty, urban look: a two-tone, grey/black colour scheme featuring a choice of gloss or matte finishes. Other snazzy touches include 17-inch alloys, wheel arch extensions, side skirts and bumper inserts. Red brake callipers and red inserts in the mirror fairings complete the distinctive 'Beats' appearance.
What's under the bonnet?
Along with the new Beats Edition comes a greater range of engines. Available across the range (which already features lots of options including Fiat's clever two-cylinder Twin-Air system), are two new 120hp engines: the 1.6 MultiJet II turbo-diesel and the 1.4 T-Jet petrol.
The 1.6 MultiJet II turbo-diesel engine develops 120hp at 3,750 rpm and 320Nm of torque at 1,750 rpm. Top speed is 117mph while the 0-62mph sprint is dispatched in 10.7 seconds. Combined fuel consumption stands at 61.4mpg while CO2 emissions are 120g/km.
The 1.4 T-Jet petrol offers identical power but its maximum 215Nm of torque is available from 2,500rpm, ensuring a broad and flexible performance range. Top speed is 117mph while the 0-62mph dash takes just 10.2 seconds. The combined-cycle fuel economy figure is 40.9mpg and CO2 emissions stand at 159g/km. These new engines will go on sale in the UK in mid-March.
What's the spec like?
We were impressed although with pricing yet to be announced it's difficult to judge value for money with pinpoint accuracy. Perhaps the main thing we'd better mention is the audio set-up that's central to the whole offer here – it's the latest 'Beats by Dr Dre' system. Ready for a bit of techy stuff? It has a total output of 520W via an eight-channel DSP-equipped amplifier, seven speakers, two subwoofer channels and VERY advanced equalisation algorithms. My old 80s compilation CDs never sounded so good.
Buyers looking for a stylish family car are spoiled for choice in this price range. Recommended alternatives include the Mini Countryman, which shares the same oversized-supermini ethos as the 500L and provides a much more entertaining drive. Ford's quirky B-Max is worth a look, too, with its innovative sliding door arrangement and fabulous 1.0-litre Ecoboost engine option.
What's it like to drive?
Very impressive. The steering is direct, the 1.4-litre T-jet engine willing and responsive, and the six-speed gearbox more than up to the job. Turns out Italian roads are just as bad as ours, and the suspension system made light work of most of the cracks and craters. The shortness of the seat bases was one thing I noticed; the good visibility another. This new 500L Beats edition is practical, capable and roomy, with a distinctive dash of streetwise swagger. It's trying hard to be the funkiest member of the what Fiat call their '500 family'.
The AOL Cars verdict
With the 500 already a phenomenon, we're sure the revised 500L range will also be a big draw for people who love the style of the supermini but just need more space. If the 500L is perceived as lacking some of the charm of its younger sister among the 20-somethings who gradually need to move to something a bit more substantial, the Beats Edition's funky paintjob and that all-important sound system will help keep them in the Fiat family.
Fiat 500L Beats Edition 1.4 T-Jet
Price: To be confirmed
Engine: 1.4-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged, petrol
Power: 120bhp, 215Nm
Max speed: 117mph
MPG: 40.9mpg (combined)