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Fiat's rugged 500L Cross is a family lifestyle vehicle that is at home around town and on snow-covered Alpine roads. It offers style, practicality and performance, as Ben Moore reports.
At first glance you would be forgiven for thinking the 500L is just a supersized version of Fiat's super cool supermini. A Fiat 500 on steroids perhaps.
But this is a stylish and practical family car that in its Cross guise will serve you well around town and halfway up an Alp. And it is clever marketing by Fiat - creating a car that will appeal to the trendy 30-year-olds who have now got children and have outgrown their Fiat 500.
We spent a week with a Fiat 500L Cross and it that time covered 1,400 miles of motorway cruising, mountain hairpins and - because this winter in the Alps has witnessed the heaviest early season snowfall for decades – a considerable amount of driving on snow-covered roads.
So let's deal with how the 500L Cross performed when faced with the white stuff. In a word - brilliantly!
I've had plenty of experience of driving in the snow and of course we had snow chains with us and because of the epic snowfall this season started with I was fully expecting to have to use them. But the 500L Cross had other ideas.
Because it is marketed as an active lifestyle, rough and tumble kind of vehicle, it comes wearing Goodyear 4 Season mud and snow tyres. The combination of these plus the traction+ setting on the Drive-mode selector was amazing.
We encountered blizzard conditions on arrival in the resort of Les Menuires, with lots of fresh snow settling on the road. The 500L Cross just loved it, feeding back reassuring grip and stability to me behind the wheel. No slip, no slide, no wheel spins. In the conditions we faced, this was really impressive stuff for a non-4WD car.
The model we were driving was the Fiat 500L Cross 1.6 MultiJet 120hp 6-speed manual in Sicilian orange with matt black roof. Prices start from around £21,000. It has a top speed of 114mph and Fiat's tech spec suggests it can deliver 65mpg in the fuel economy.
In reality, during our week of mountain motoring, we averaged 38mpg. I imagine that's partly explained by having a fully loaded car (including four people, four pairs of ski boots, four skis on the roof) and a lot of acceleration and braking along twisty Alpine roads.
It handled all those hairpins with aplomb too. Cornering with very little lean and the punchy 1.6 diesel engine delivering good low-gear acceleration when needed on the climbs up to the two resorts we visited.
The 500L was also smooth and comfortable motoring along the French toll roads - it would sit at 80mph hour after hour with no complaints during the long stretches between Calais to the Alps.
For any family doing a self-drive for their skiing holiday, the reality is you spend a lot of time in the car on the outbound and return legs of your journey. Here too the 500L performed very well on our roadtest. The body shape of the car means the cabin is very spacious – there is lots of headroom. Some might call it wasted space but on long journeys it means nobody feels cramped inside the car.
We also found many other practical features that came in very handy on a trip to the mountains. The 500L came with the optional extra Flex Pack II which meant it had drop down picnic tables on the backs of the front seats – perfect for a game of Uno or a place to stand your iPad for the rear seat passengers.
And the boot – which swallowed three big kit bags, two ski boot bags and a host of Christmas presents easily – has a handy underfloor storage space. It was ideal for packing in the boys’ ski boots and all our snow boots before the bags went in.
Driving the 500L was a pleasant experience too. All the controls and dials were sensibly positioned and there was enough steering wheel and seat adjustment to make it possible to get comfortable for ten hours of driving. I found the diesel engine responsive, the steering light and the manual six-speed gearbox smooth.
The tech levels also impress. There was Apple CarPlay, which allowed us to connect our iPhones direct to the in-car music system that was powered by Beats. The rear parking sensors and rear-facing camera were absolutely essential as the boot was so full with all our ski gear that I couldn’t see anything out of the rear window.
The central console is dominated by the touch screen TomTom sat nav. It’s very responsive and easy to navigate your way around, while the range of views you can switch between when using the sat nav was very good. In fact, the system is difficult to fault really.
Whether it’s a mini-MPV or a family SUV, there is plenty going for the Fiat 500L Cross in terms of a car to get you to and from the mountains in comfort (whilst also being a great everyday car at home). We found it offered plenty of style, charm and practicality, plus good on-the-road performance over long distances.
Seb, aged 15, says: "I'm into my music - writing and singing my own songs - so I was impressed with the Beats system. The sound inside the car was top and I thought the touch screen sat nav was cool. The rear seats could have done with a little more cushioning. I found them quite hard for a long journey to the Alps, but maybe it was because the car was so new. There was loads of space though in the back for me and my brother and we had our own USB port so could charge our phones and iPads while we were on the road.”
Ollie, aged 13, says: "There was loads of headroom and it was really spacious in the back. In fact it was a bit like Doctor Who's Tardis - it didn't look that big on the outside but there was actually lots of room inside. But I think the designers should have put a larger arm rest in the back. It was too narrow and there was only really space for one of us to put our arm on it. But the designers get a thumbs up for how the car looks, the styling is really cool and funky.”