Fiat 500L: updated interior with the latest generation of infotainment and connectivity.

Fiat 500L: updated interior with the latest generation of infotainment and connectivity.

The Fiat 500L MPV was launched in the UK in 2013, receiving a facelift in 2017 when 40 per cent of the components were replaced. Continuing QUBE/just-auto's review of interior design and technology trends, we take a closer look inside the cavernous 500L to see what's new.

From the outside, the 500L has received some subtle tweaks, including the 'moustache and badge' (in Fiat parlance) combo set on the trapezoidal nose, bug-eyed headlights with some extra chrome and the lower cluster, now with LED daytime running lights, which pick up the graphics of the two 'zeros' in 500. Three trim levels are on offer, namely Urban, Cross and Wagon.

Inside, there is a decent amount of cabin space along with an updated dash with a '500' chrome signature facing the front seat passenger.  The area behind the restyled multifunctional steering wheel, glistening in the high summer sun with chrome accents, has also received some attention with two circular instrument gauges on either side of a 3.5-inch colour graphic display. This combination of new steering wheel and dashboard improves the visibility of the instrument cluster, which is helped by white backlighting. The seats are produced by Adient at a facility in Kragujevac, Serbia, located close to the carmaker's assembly line for the 500L. The restyled gear lever is also positioned higher up.

Polycarbonate glazing

It is not often that we come across polycarbonate (PC) glazing on cars but the 500L has some, marking the first time the carmaker has used it in a production vehicle. Compared to the shape limitations of glass, PC glazing is highly versatile. It is also lighter by as much as 50 per cent and has high impact resistance. Suppliers claim that a total weight reduction of more than 20kg is possible when replacing all glass windows (except the windscreen) for a standard minivan.  The lighter weight of PC glazing is not the only benefit, however. Automakers can now consider 3D-shaped windows using PC along with innovative designs, locations and new opening and closing mechanisms.

The 500L incorporates a PC rear quarterlite (sidelite with pillar cover). It is produced and supplied by Freeglass GmbH. In late 2007, Saint-Gobain acquired the share of Freeglass GmbH that it did not own from its joint venture partner Schefenacker German Holding for an undisclosed sum. The Freeglass venture has become well known in Europe as the supplier of PC glazing for the Smart ForTwo.  

Cavernous cabin

Space-wise, the 500L has more than enough room to seat five tall adults. Rear seat occupants can use airline style storage nets and a tray table to the backrests of the front seats, and an armrest built into the backrest of the rear middle seat.

Luggage space is also generous. Boot volume with the rear seat in the forward position is 455 litres for the Urban and Cross models. The boot on the Wagon offers up to 493 litres when the two additional seats are folded. With the rear seats folded and tumbled, capacity rises to 1480 litres for Urban and Cross and 1509 litres for the Wagon. Its flexible 'floating' boot floor is marketed as Cargo Magic Space.

Infotainment

Smartphone apps can be accessed directly on the seven-inch touchscreen of the Uconnect HD Live system integrated in the dash. The system is also available with Apple Car Play and Android Auto. With Android Auto, drivers can access Google Maps, with voice-guided navigation, real time traffic information and lane guidance plus Google Play Music.

The Uconnect system features a hands-free Bluetooth interface, audio streaming, text reader and voice recognition, AUX-in and USB ports with iPod integration, controls on the steering wheel. The Uconnect LIVE app offers music streaming with Deezer and TuneIn, news from Reuters and connected navigation with TomTom LIVE, as well as updating Facebook and Twitter. Users can also monitor their driving style with eco:Drive and my:Car.

The 500L can be upgraded with the BeatsAudio system, which has a total power of 520Watt, divided between two 80Watt mid-Woofer speakers (diameter 165mm) positioned in the bottom part of the front door panel, two 40Watt tweeter speakers (diameter 38mm) positioned in the top of the front door panel, two 60Watt full-range speakers (diameter 165mm) positioned in the rear door panel and an 80 + 80Watt subwoofer (diameter 165mm) located in the boot. The package is completed by an amplifier with DSP and 8 channels, featuring a built-in advanced equalisation algorithm.

Located just beneath the HVAC controls is a three-way mode drive selector to optimise the front-end traction for low-grip terrain. It provides a choice of Normal, Traction+ and Gravity Control. Normal is the default function and provides a comfortable ride in ordinary conditions. Traction+, which can be activated at speeds of less than 18mph, helps the car to start on slippery surfaces and provides optimal torque distribution across the front axle, braking the wheel with less grip on the ground and transferring torque to the one with more grip. Gravity Control (better known as hill descent control) keeps the speed constant when descending steep slopes, and can be enabled when the Traction+ function is active.

Advanced driver assistance systems

Regardless of segment, most cars come with some level of driver assistance. The 500L features Autonomous City Brake, available as part of the Safety Pack. Fiat's City Brake Control won the 2013 Euro NCAP Advanced award. In the UK, City Brake Control is standard on the Fiat 500L.  The active safety system detects the presence of vehicles or obstacles in front of the car and automatically applies the brakes if the driver fails to do so in order to avoid the collision or to reduce its consequences. The City Brake Control system is designed to provide assistance in city traffic and is always on when the car is moving at a speed from 3 to 19mph.  Activated whenever the engine is started, the system can be deactivated and reactivated to suit the driver. The system uses a LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) type laser sensor located on the upper part of the windscreen to interface with the ESC system. Depending on certain parameters (such as road surface conditions, vehicle dynamics and trajectories, position of obstacles and condition of the tyres etc), by cutting in, the system can completely avoid or mitigate the consequences of a collision.

Other notable technologies include the child monitoring mirror to enable the driver to keep an eye on rear seat passengers, LED daylight running lights and parking lights, which in addition to being design features that reassert the 500 style, also ensure excellent visibility. As well as electrical adjustment and heating, the door mirrors can be upgraded to fold electrically and add puddle lights, to illuminate the area around the car when light is poor.

The passenger compartment lighting is also improved, with the Style Plus Pack providing ambient light in the base of the central console, on the central tunnel and on the doors. Although the Cross did not include it, the optional rear parking camera is said to have an improved resolution and active grid lines to assist parking. It did have rear parking sensors, though.

On the road

Out and about, we drove the 500L Cross (sprayed Pasodoble Red) which raised a few smiles. It's quite an imposing car, measuring 4.14m long, 1.78m wide and 1.66m high. While its upright stance may not suit everyone, all of the above elements mark it out as a 500L, even in the dark. The petrol engine 1.4-litre turbocharged engine with a six-speed manual gearbox averaged 33 mpg, compared to the carmaker's headline expectation of 42.2 mpg.  The steering (electrically-powered column drive system supplied by ZF) felt light and vague despite the car's size. Love or loathe its stretched retro looks, the 500L's wraparound glazing and thin A-pillars provide good visibility. As the big brother to the popular Fiat 500 city car, the 500L is both practical and comfortable. 

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