Let’s be honest, MPVs have fallen out of favour as many buyers have moved to SUVs, but what if you want an mini MPV that looks a bit SUV-ish? Well FIAT has the answer for you with the new 500L Cross.
Design and Styling
The 500L has a look that echoes the ever popular city car, but in this form it’s not as pleasing to look at if you ask me as it just looks a bit bloated. It’s like a normal 500 that had too much to eat at Christmas. As this is the Cross model, you get a higher ride height as well as a ‘Trekking’ body kit and side mouldings to make it a bit more ‘outdoorsy’.
The cabin has got quite a few hard plastics fitted, but the dash is well laid out and the switchgear has got a nice chunkiness to it. The dials are easy to read too, and there is good ease of use, plus getting a good driving position is pretty simple thanks to a steering wheel that adjusts for rake and reach.
Rating: (3.5 / 5)
The Cross variant is based on the standard model’s ‘lounge’ trim, meaning that you’ll enjoy features such dual zone climate control, rear parking sensors, cruise control, 7” touchscreen with DAB radio and Bluetooth, plus automatic lights and wipers. The Cross model adds to this with 17″ ‘Trekking’ alloy wheels, Flex Pack 1 and Traction+ selector.
The car is priced from £18,195, but this model wades in at £21,270 as it has the more powerful engine as well as a few options such as the two tone colourway, navigation, smartphone connectivity, front armrest, flex pack 2, style plus pack and the safety pack. Without options, the 500L Cross is more expensive – albeit not much more – than the equivalent Ford B-Max, which comes standard with navigation. It’s a fair bit cheaper than the Mini Countryman though.
Rating: (3 / 5)
Space and Comfort
Thanks to the car’s rather boxy nature there’s a fair amount of space to be had inside. In the front there is plenty of headroom, So much so I reckon Peter Crouch could still fit in whilst wearing a hat. There are some decent storage areas of storage to be had, including a handy cubbyhole on the left side of the dash.
The headroom in the rear is also good and the legroom isn’t too bad either. The fold-down tables are likely to be handy for a long family drive, but these are part of an optional package. If you do happen to find the legroom a bit tight though, you can slide the seat back to give you a bit more space, but that will of course cut in to the boot space – speaking of which….
The boot is able to offer 343 litres with the rear seats pushed all way back and 400 litres with the rear seats slid forward. This is more than the Ford B-Max, but not quite as much as the Mini Countryman. If you need more space though, you can fold down the rear seats to give you 1,310 litres.
Rating: (4 / 5)
What’s it like to drive?
The 500L Cross is available with a choice of four engines, two petrol and two diesel. The petrol contingent is made of a naturally aspirated 1.4 litre unit that offers 94bhp and a turbocharged 1.4 litre unit which offers 118bhp – that’s the one I have here. The diesels are both turbocharged and come in 1.3 and 1.6 litre variants. The 1.3 offers 94bhp whereas the 1.6 offers 118bhp.
Going back to the 1.4 litre turbo though, it has 215Nm of torque to go with it and is mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox and front wheel drive. 0-62 is dealt with in 10.2 seconds and the top speed is 117mph. There is also a dualogic gearbox available, but you would need to select the 1.3 litre diesel for this. The power output may seem modest but real world performance is pretty good.
The power comes in from about 2,000 revs and starts to top out once you go past 5,000. The 6-speed manual has got a rather nice action and the gearknob falls in to the hand rather nicely, but it does lack precision when you want to move through the gears quickly. The steering has a satisfying weight to it although it doesn’t other much feedback. It does however, have a ‘city’ function, which makes it nice and light, ideal for tight car parks or driving about your local town centre.
The ride is definitely on the firm side so you will find the ride busy at times, especially rougher roads. The ride is never truly uncomfortable though and even on long journeys I never found the car tiring. It’s worth pointing out that the ride is better once you have got up to some speed as its jiggly nature is more noticeable at slower speeds. The firm setup does mean that the car’s body is more composed than you may have expected in the corners, although this isn’t the type of car you’d buy for its handling capabilities.
Despite the rugged looks of the 500L Cross, there is no option of four wheel drive but there is a mode selector that offers traction+ and gravity control. For those wondering what on earth that is, that’s basically FIAT’s name for hill descent. So if you were expecting the car to levitate then I’m sorry to have to disappoint you. The car also comes fitted snow and mud tyres, which are wrapped around 17” alloys.
Safety is an area that is bound to important to quite a few of you reading, and I can report that the 500L Cross is safe. Despite autonomous emergency braking not fitted as standard, the car was able to gain a 5 star Euro NCAP rating. The autonomous emergency braking may be optional, but 6 airbags come as standard.
What about refinement? Well it’s not too bad – the tyre noise is audible but it’s not too loud although there is a fair bit of wind noise at speed thanks to the car’s height. The engine is pretty civil at cruising speeds although the clunks of the transmission aren’t what you’d exactly call ‘sexy’.
Rating: (3 / 5)
Economy is an area where the 500L Cross doesn’t exactly shine, not with this 1.4 litre petrol anyway. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not truly awful, but it’s nothing to exactly write home about. Mind you, if you were writing home about your car’s mpg, I’d be rather concerned. Either way though, on a combined run you can expect to get up to 42.2mpg and in my experience I found I was able to get around 35, which is erm, ok.
The fact that this engine doesn’t have stop/start doesn’t help matters. The emissions aren’t much better as this engine emits 157g/km so it’s not going to win any green awards anytime soon. However, if economy is a priority then have a look at the 1.3 litre diesel as that is able to offer up to 72.4mpg on a combined run, with a more agreeable 104g/km of CO2 emissions.
Rating: (3 / 5)
MPVs aren’t as relevant as they used to but the 500L Cross could be a good choice for someone looking for an small MPV with an SUV flair. Despite this though, I still feel many buyers will simply opt for a full-fat SUV, but that’s not to say the 500L hasn’t got its own charms. The 1.4 litre engine offers decent performance, there’s a fair bit of space inside and it should be more than practical for everyday family life. Is it enough car for the price though? I’m not so sure.
Car Obsession Rating: (3 / 5)
- Engine offers decent performance
- Good amount of space
- Composed body roll
- Versatile boot
- Not the most frugal
- Firm ride may not be for everyone
- 500X could prove to be a better option
- Possibly too niche?
Yes, the Ford B-Max is still being sold, I must confess I had forgotten about it as well. This will prove to be cheaper car to buy although it does not have the SUV flair that the Cross is able to offer but at least you get sat nav as standard if you go for the mid-spec model. The boot isn’t as big, but on the plus side the car should be a bit more rewarding to drive.
Seeing as both the 500 and the Mini are style icons, it makes sense that the Countryman is listed under the rivals section. It will cost you more money but as a result you can expect a more premium cabin. The new model is bigger than the last model, meaning that the Mini badge seems to be ironic. The Countryman does make more sense in today’s market though as it’s an fully fledged SUV, plus it has a bigger boot. It’s also available with four wheel drive too.
We end with a little bit of sibling rivalry. I can to a degree understand the appeal of the 500L, but if you are after something with SUV credentials, why not opt for the 500X? Here we have a car that was designed to be an SUV in the first place. To my eyes it looks better as well, plus it can be opted with four wheel drive. Depending on what trim you go for, it’ll be cheaper too.