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Driven: Fiat 500L Beats Edition. Image by Fiat.

Driven: Fiat 500L Beats Edition
Dr Dre does the sounds. It feels like he did the car, too...

   



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Fiat 500L Beats Edition

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Good points: it's spacious within, the new diesel engine is good

Not so good: ungainly looks, absurd price, drab interior compared to 500, dynamically anodyne, some bizarre ergonomics

Key Facts

Model tested: Fiat 500L Beats Edition
Pricing: from 21,790
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door, five-seat compact MPV
CO2 emissions: 120g/km
Combined economy: 61.4mpg
Top speed: 117mph
0-62mph: 10.7 seconds
Power: 120hp at 3,750rpm
Torque: 320Nm at 1,750rpm

Our view:

Let me start with a defence of Fiat: I like the company. My first car was a 500 (of sorts; it was a Cinquecento Sporting in Broom Yellow, although admitting that in the wake of The In Betweeners is probably not as cool as it once was). I want to see the brand, and by extension Alfa Romeo, flourish in the years to come. However, I fear this won't happen if Fiat keeps knocking out cars as bad as this 500L Beats Edition, which is based on the equally questionable Trekking.

Looks are ever a subjective point of discussion, but even painted in the signature matte effect silver with black detailing that is bespoke to the Beats (you can also have it in gloss black), anyone with eyes must concede it's not pretty. The 17-inch alloys look lost in the arches, both in terms of circumference and the way they appear inset underneath the flared wings of the 500L when viewed from the front three quarters. The startled face makes the car look gormless, and the rear end is bloated and defined by a fat plastic bar that brings to mind an unkempt moustache.

The interior is a bigger crime, because all the joie de vivre that makes the normal 500's cabin so appealing, such as its colourful, 500-badged trim panels, high-mounted gear lever and fancy circles-in-circles dials, has been junked for a boring fascia in the Beats that cannot be enlivened by some cheap-looking silver plastic on the dash. This is further let down by a series of issues: first, a stupidly big and cumbersome gear knob that looks like it has been designed to fit only into the palms of someone the size of Richard Kiel; second, a tiny five-inch touchscreen in the centre dash, which proves excruciatingly hard to operate accurately; third, the orange, dot matrix trip computer that displays information in a font that BMW thought was old hat when it brought the E46 3 Series out in 1998; fourth, seats that just leave you sitting way too high compared to the rest of the car; and finally, the touch required to correctly operate the five-flash indicator function on the motorway eluded me, and I'm not that heavy-handed. I either ended up taking three abortive attempts to activate them before sticking the indicators on permanently, or it looked to other motorists like I couldn't be bothered to indicate at all. This is a first-world problem, admittedly, but as other manufacturers have mastered this relatively simple technology by now, Fiat should be able to do the same.

Still, this is a Beats Edition, with the seven-speaker, 520W stereo courtesy of Dr Dre. I'd been led to believe this was a powerful sound system, but it wasn't. It distorted at anything like approaching 75 per cent volume. It couldn't handle Muse, it certainly couldn't take any Pendulum and it even had a job dealing with a spot of Simian Mobile Disco. This sub-standard performance was thrown into stark relief by subsequent test cars, such as a Mazda3 with a Bose set-up and a Peugeot RCZ with JBL kit - both of which offered better clarity of sound, richer bass and greater resistance to distortion. Buyers ought to forget about Dre, because the very thing for which this special model is named isn't what it's cracked up to be.

On the move the Beats Edition is no peppy little Italian city car either, instead lumbering through corners with understeer an ever-present ghoul lurking in the background and the body rolling more than is desired. To some extent, it's similar to the Panda Cross in this regard but whereas the Panda is hilariously incompetent on the road because it's so incredibly capable off it, the Beats can't fall back on that. It's two-wheel drive and just has a turgid chassis. This wouldn't be so bad if it rode really well but even that is beyond the Beats, which is odd given the jacked-up stance it possesses. At low speeds, it's noticeably harsh. And while the damping settles down to an extent on the motorway, it never really fades into the background enough to call it comfortable. Nor do wind noise or road roar, so you try and drown them out with Dre's efforts and... oh, damn. Distortion again.

The shining light in all this is the 1.6-litre, 120hp diesel engine, which is an improved MultiJet II unit. And that's fine - it's muscular and reasonably linear, there's a touch of lag before 2,000rpm but it proves keener to rev than other forced induction derv-burners. It never got close to 61.4mpg, though, returning more like 48mpg on steady motorway runs. Also, the stop-start on this car spent two days malfunctioning, taking two attempts to re-start at traffic lights when the clutch was depressed, which was embarrassing. Still, this engine should find its way into other Fiat Chrysler Automotive products and rightly so.

The long and short of all this is that we were singly unimpressed by the Beats Edition. It's not a pleasant or engaging car (in a way the aforementioned Panda Cross emphatically is), and the final crowning glory is that it costs a farcical 21,790, which is massively out of kilter with the product you end up with. The Fiat defence here might be that its most obvious rival, a MINI Countryman, of comparable spec would cost circa 22,000, but at least the MINI has an interesting interior and some dynamic sparkle to play with. There are far better B-segment crossovers out there than this particular 500L. Avoid.

Alternatives:

MINI Countryman: I'm no fan of the Countryman, but it's a better car than the 500L Beats Edition. It's as simple as that.

Nissan Juke: this is no looker either, but it's more 'styled' than the Fiat and underneath the striking body is a far nicer machine, the Juke possessing a classier cabin and superior chassis.

Skoda Yeti: a brilliant crossover with a fabulous ride, a range of decent engines and a clever interior. A sum of 21,675 gets you a Yeti Outdoor Elegance. Buy this instead of the Fiat.


Matt Robinson - 22 Mar 2015



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2015 Fiat 500L Beats Edition. Image by Fiat.2015 Fiat 500L Beats Edition. Image by Fiat.2015 Fiat 500L Beats Edition. Image by Fiat.2015 Fiat 500L Beats Edition. Image by Fiat.2015 Fiat 500L Beats Edition. Image by Fiat.

2015 Fiat 500L Beats Edition. Image by Fiat.2015 Fiat 500L Beats Edition. Image by Fiat.2015 Fiat 500L Beats Edition. Image by Fiat.2015 Fiat 500L Beats Edition. Image by Fiat.2015 Fiat 500L Beats Edition. Image by Fiat.



2015 Fiat 500L Beats Edition. Image by Fiat.
 

2015 Fiat 500L Beats Edition. Image by Fiat.
 

2015 Fiat 500L Beats Edition. Image by Fiat.
 

2015 Fiat 500L Beats Edition. Image by Fiat.
 

2015 Fiat 500L Beats Edition. Image by Fiat.
 

2015 Fiat 500L Beats Edition. Image by Fiat.
 






 

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