Vijay Pattni14 February 2014

First drive: new 120bhp Fiat 500L

New engines debut in the big 500. Oh, and there’s another called the ‘Beats’ Edition

What's this all about?

Fiat has rolled out a few minor upgrades for its piggy-in-the-middle of the 500 range. Don't forget, this isn't the smallest 500 (that's the, um, Fiat 500), nor is it the biggest (that'll be the Fiat 500L MPW), but the 500L does now come with a pair of new engines, aiming to keep it fresh in its ongoing fight with the Mini Countryman.

What engines do I get?

Two 120bhp four cylinder engines: one's a 1.4-litre petrol, the other's a 1.6-litre ‘Multijet II' diesel. The latter gets a variable geometry turbocharger developed by Honeywell, a company that has worked with the Fiat Group since the 1970s on things like the Lancia Delta HF, Ferrari's turbo V6s in the 80s and even the new Maserati Ghibli. Sadly, there is no such glamour involved in this application.

That turbo pushes power up to 120bhp at 3,750rpm (up from 105bhp), with a healthy 235lb ft of torque from 1,750rpm. It's Euro 6 approved, can accelerate from 0-62mph in 10.7 seconds and rocks on to a heady top speed of 117mph (a full 5mph more than the 105bhp diesel already on offer). Consumption dips from 62.8mpg to 61.4mpg, though.

And the petrol?

The same 120bhp, but only 159lb ft of torque. Yet despite this shortfall of oomph, the petrol 500L manages to accelerate a touch quicker to 62mph (10.2s). Top speed remains the same at 117mph, though fuel economy and emissions are quite a bit less agreeable: 40.9mpg and a whopping 159g/km of CO2 (the diesel pumps out 120g/km).

Which one should I go for?

We'd plump for the diesel. Top Gear - long the bastion of sound consumer advice - would like to recommend the faster petrol, but the diesel just felt punchier lower down, making it more suited to the city schlep cars like this are built for. Sure, the diesel gave off more than a whiff of Transit-esque noise on hard acceleration, but otherwise it's a decent, punchy unit.

That's not to say the petrol is bad, far from it; it felt flexible, responsive and quick. But the trade-off in mpg and emissions will cost you.There'll be another engine in the line-up which we're yet to test, a 1.4-litre LPG unit with 120bhp, a 0-62mph time of 10.6s and top speed of 117mph.

And what on earth is a ‘Beats' Edition Fiat 500L?

Good question. It's a Fiat 500L that's been treated to a suite of upgrades to make it trendy and bleeding edge and fashionable with the yoof of today. Fiat has worked alongside noted medical practitioner and layer of raps Dr Dre (yes, one of the founding members of N.W.A) and record producer Jimmy Lovine to build an audio system worthy of the good Doctor's prodigious talent.

Right. So what... is it?

The Beats is based on the 500L Trekking, features 17in wheels, some natty red and chrome detailing, boasts a two-tone grey and black livery, a ‘total black' interior featuring new fabric and leather, and a few Mopar additions including a new satin-finish moulding on the front bonnet and some kick plates. Oh, and that sound system gets Dre's patented ‘Beats' stereo as standard. It packs a whopping 520W, and you know what? It does indeed sound good. Very good.

Anything else of note?

This Fiat 500L monstered its home market in Italy last year, taking a whopping 40.9 per cent share of its segment. It was also the top seller in Europe too, taking a 17.2 per cent share, and nearly half of all customers picked the top spec one. A fitting time then, to note that the ‘Beats' Edition Fiat 500L will cost a not inconsiderable €22,810. While no UK price has been confirmed, that's... a lot of money.

Here's a final bit of news to warm the heart then: the Panda - a TG fave - is still Italy's biggest-selling car and the second biggest-selling motor in Europe. This is because the Fiat Panda is excellent. In fact, just go and buy one of those instead of this 500L.

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