Spacious Interior But Little Relationship To The Cute 500
“Italian automotive design” congers up the great cars of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Alfa Romeo. Italian fashion icons such as Armani, Gucci and Versace come to mind. Some of the most beautiful vehicles ever built come from Italy and makes car buffs ooh and aah at concours d’elegance worldwide. So what design connection does the 500L have with these brands and the legacy of Italian design?
The 500L is unique in its design and has what Fiat says “…offers customers the Italian style of the Fiat 500 with more space and functionality to suit their lifestyle.” While the 500L comes from the same people that bring us the cute 500, it does not mean it shares its design DNA. Cover the Fiat logo on the steering wheel in the 500L and you would not readily guess you were in an Italian designed car. From the outside, the 500L does have a flair and style that set it apart from anything else on the road, but the connection with the very Italian 500 is minimal.
Fiat re-entered the United States car market in 2009, after a 25-year hiatus, with the introduction of the sporty, fun Fiat 500 two-door hatchback, known to enthusiasts as the Cinquencento. This small, highly maneuverable car comes in four variants and was Fiat’s only model until the 2014 introduction of the 500L, with the L standing for Large. So what is the 500L and what did it add to the Fiat line-up?
The 2015 Fiat 500L Trekking Clean Fleet Report drove for a week came with the turbocharged, liquid-cooled 16-valve 1.4-liter Inline Four MultiAir, SOHC engine with sequential multiport electronic fuel injection. This 83-cubic-inch cast iron block engine with aluminum cylinder head produces 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque through Fiat’s Aisin six-speed automatic transmission, delivering an EPA rating of 22 city/30 highway/25 combined. This is the same engine in the Fiat 500 Abarth.
In 412 miles of 65-percent/35-percent highway/city driving Clean Fleet Report averaged 26.3 mpg, which means we were a bit better than the EPA numbers and, with the 13.2 gallon fuel tank,
could have gone around 345 miles before stopping to refill.
Note: The EPA’s gas mileage formula is 45-percent highway and 55-percent city. Here in Southern California the 65-percent/35-percent highway/city driving pattern we experienced is far more real world and is why we report it to you.
Running on unleaded regular, the 1.4L engine was smooth cruising at highway speeds, but when first starting the car had slight a “diesel” sound and we sensed a bit of a rough idle. We would have liked more oomph to get the 3,254 pound 500L Trekking up-to-speed; as even with the turbocharged engine, it felt underpowered. The six-speed automatic, with ECO mode, handled highway tasks competently, but hard shifts were felt during acceleration when launching from a full stop or rising through slower speeds, such as in-town traffic or stop-and-go on the highway. Placing the center console mounted shift lever in the M+/- position, you can manually take the transmission through gear selections and avoid the rough shifts.
Driving Experience: On the Road
Clean Fleet Report’s front wheel drive 500L Trekking was equipped with 225/45R17 all-season tires mounted on 17-inch aluminum wheels with a seven hole design for a nice looking wheel and tire combination. Fiat touts the “touring-tuned chassis” and “exceptional rigidity” that deliver “improved road-holding,” which comes from the McPherson front suspension with Koni selective damping front strut and rear shocks.
My take was the 500L Trekking handled well to its limits, including being stable and generally smooth, but a bit stiff, at highway speeds. There was noticeable body roll, whether it was on a sweeping highway corner at 70+ mph or slower, tight twisties. When taking your test drive, make sure the dealer lets you get on the highway for a few miles to judge the ride comfort yourself. Wind noise was low except when the optional sunroof was open at more than 30 mph.
Turning came via a power rack-and-pinion with variable-speed assisted sensitivity Electric Power Steering (EPS). I found the steering to be vague, as in a lack of direct feedback when I really wanted to feel connected to the road.
Stopping was through the single piston, front vented and solid rear rotors. It took me a while to get a handle on the brake consistency and feel before I had confidence the brakes were doing a good job. The 500L Trekking comes with Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Brake Assist, all-speed Traction Control System (TCS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Electronic Stability Control (ESC).
Driving Experience: Interior
The first things you notice when sliding behind the wheel of the 2015 Fiat 500L is the easy access through a wide door leading to a high driver seat position. You’re
inside a large and accommodating interior that includes a spacious rear seat for five with excellent leg room and very good storage behind that rear seat even when it is in the upright position. So far, so good; but when buckling-in, I spent a considerable amount of time trying to find a comfortable driving position, partially due to the upright steering column (which can both tilt and telescope) and steering wheel position that is more akin to a bus. While the heated, leather-trimmed driver and passenger seats had manual height adjusters and good lumbar (4-way power adjustment for the driver) and thigh bolstering support, I felt the seats up front were too firm.
There were also a few oddities to the interior design, which I’ll enumerate:
- The distance between the driver and front passenger seats was too far from the armrests for their comfortable use;
- The driver and front passenger seat heat controls are awkwardly located on the lower front side of the seats;
- The center console cup holders are too low and far forward for the driver to conveniently – and safely – reach when using a standard size cup;
- The floor-mounted parking brake handle was flimsy and felt like it would come off in your hand if yanked too hard;
- The center armrest needed to be lifted from the down position to attach the front seat belts;
- The rear headroom is good up-to a six-footer, where it starts getting tight;
- There are no rear HVAC vents or power ports;
- There is only one cup holder in the rear seat center armrest;
- There is an overly large air vent on the top of the dash; and
- The screen for the sunroof can be closed when the roof panel is open – a feature that is not unique to the 500L – and debris can collect on the screen and would need to be brushed off before the power sliding glass roof could be closed.
You will appreciate the excellent sightlines in what Fiat calls their “Loft – a trendsetting environment with segment-exclusive glass…for panoramic views.” No argument, the visuals were the best
for any car we have tested, with one exception: a 500L design quirk of spit A-pillars. Maybe it is an engineering thing, but I could not figure out why Fiat needs to have two pillars running from the roof to the front fenders since they added a visual distraction to what should have been a very clean view out the windshield.
The rear seats easily accommodate three on a 60/40 bench seat that was a bit too firm. When that rear seat needs to be folded for more storage space, the 500L has the Tilt, Tumble and Slide system that worked easily by rotating the seatback down and then flipping the seatback and bottom against the driver and front passenger seatbacks. It worked well and the resulting open space was a nice feature.
The Fiat 500L Trekking dash is non-flashy with a straight-forward, conveniently laid-out design. The combination of knobs, switches and buttons for the climate and radio controls are exactly where you want and need them. Our car was equipped with the Trekking Collection 5, which included the ParkView rear backup camera
and ParkSense rear parking assist features. The Beats Audio system with Digital Sound Processing (DSP) and an eight-channel amplifier kicks-out good sound with six speakers and a trunk-mounted subwoofer. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has audio controls that are easy to use for the SiriusXM satellite radio (One-year subscription included) and the AM/FM/CD/MP3/HD Radio and voice command with Bluetooth for your mobile phone. Completing the infotainment system is a 6.5-inch touchscreen, with Uconnect, navigation, audio input jacks with iPod control and USB port. All in all, it was an easy system to operate with a quick learning curve.
The 500L had convenience features such as power windows with one-touch up and down, power door locks, power exterior mirrors, A/C with automatic climate control, front and rear floor mats, remote keyless entry, 12V power outlet, tilt and telescoping steering column, multiple cup holders, auto-dimming rear view mirror, rear view camera and cruise control.
Driving Experience: Exterior
The 500L Trekking is offered in 11 different exterior colors, including our test car’s Giallo (Yellow) and the optional Bianco (White) roof, which is also available on the Trekking in Nero (Black) or the body color. The 500L has no unnecessary cladding or chrome work and adds tasteful black insets below the rear hatch and on the front fascia. The front-end lighting is composed of Bi-halogen projector-type High Intensity Displacement headlights (HID) and Halogen projector fog lights integrated into the lower fascia.
I like the look of the 500L Trekking and give Fiat credit for bringing their “small-wide vehicle architecture” to the United States.
Safety and Convenience
The 2015 Fiat 500L has not been rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration but is equipped with seven airbags, rearview camera and in-dash monitor, engine immobilizer and
security alarm, Tire Pressure Monitoring (TPM), brake assist, hill start assist and Adaptive Cruise Control.
Pricing and Warranties
The 2015 Fiat 500L has a base price of $19,345 with the 500L Trekking model Clean Fleet Report was driving having a MSRP of $29,795, including the $900 Destination Charge.
All 2015 Fiat 500L models come with these warranties:
- Basic Four-year/50,000-mile
- Powertrain Four-year/50,000-mile
- Rust-Through Five-year/Unlimited mile
- Roadside Assistance Four-year/Unlimited mile
Observations: 2015 Fiat 500L Trekking
So the 2015 Fiat 500L is supposed to be about “Italian automotive design.”
It is unique in its design and I do think it’s a good design, but I’m not convinced it’s ready to join even the cute 500 on the lower rungs of the Ital design world.
But, if, like me, you like the 500L design, then by all means you should take it for a test drive. If you have a family that hauls around lots of stuff, then take a look at the 500L, because for a nicely equipped and versatile car for under $20,000, it should be on your consideration list. Also, while on your shopping trip you would be looking at the Kia Soul, Mini Countryman, Scion xB, Yaris 5 Door, Honda Fit and Nissan Versa 5-Door. None of these vehicles offer the interior space of the 500L, but they offer similar features and capabilities.
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!
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