Talk about good timing…the Fiat 500L was welcomed in time for its big spotlight in the Twin Cities.
The week the 500L came in for its review, the Twin Cities Auto Show opened its doors. Just so happens that it is the Official Car of the show. A huge boost for the Fiat brand as it continues to grow upon its return to the North American market.
Though the auto show was a mere backdrop for the arrival of the Serbian-made Italian small MPV/Crossover, one would believe that the 500L is worthy of its Official Car status.
There are more questions to answer beyond just its auto show spotlight. Fiat and Chrysler are now one. The Italian brand has only shown the Cinquecento lineage between the small three-door subcompact through the new five-door wagon/MPV/crossover. We know there are other products – some designed specifically for specific regions other than its home European market – so, we wonder if the 500’s design would help Fiat’s cause on this continent.
The 500L provides its own argument. It fills a need between all brands of Fiat Chrysler Automobile in this country. The departure of the Chrysler PT Cruiser some years ago left a void where its consumers found its versatility as an advantage against mere compact hatchbacks. The 500L appears to have filled that void for FCA – though some may question whether it truly belongs to the Mopar family or not.
We could go on with other summary questions that might not have anything to do with the North American market. Let us put these questions on hold and drive the 500L into our own spotlight.
At first sight, you could tell the Cinquecento’s influence has permeated onto a very useful vehicle. It is a short vehicle – about the size of a subcompact car – with quite a long wheelbase – 102.8 inches to be exact. In-between is a huge cabin adorned with a sizeable glasshouse. In this Lounge tester, there is more glass above with half of it being a moonroof that slides above the panoramic fixed part towards the rear. There is more glass in front of you, creating an absence of A-pillar blind spots normally found in some of today’s vehicles.
Below the glass line is a happy character. The smiling face of the 500L is almost comical – in a good way. The rear hatch has more of a European flavor than what we are used to. It is both simple and useful. Goodyear Eagle LS2 tires are shod on upgraded seventeen-inch alloys, finishing the Lounge’s “luxury” look.
When you start the comparison process, one thing you need to factor in here is the volume of cabin space. This is no mere crossover. This is a two-row MPV with real adult space for five and a huge, adaptable cargo hold. There is plenty of driver space that accommodates any size that dares to drive the 500L. Seats are on the firm side, but you do get plenty of manual adjustments, along with an electric lumbar support and a seat heater for both driver and passenger. Rear seat passengers sit tall on the same leather upholstery as up front.
You might be surprised by the mix of Fiat and Chrysler elements that reside in the instrument panel. The instrumentation binnacle is purely Fiat. You get analog speedometer, tachometer, fuel and temp gauges. There is a LCD screen that displays trip and fuel consumption information – all customizable by either a series of switches on the center stack or at the tip of the wiper stalk. Tall drivers may have to loom down on the binnacle for readouts, however.
However, that screen in the middle is UConnect Touch. If you happen to drive a recent Chrysler product, then you know how it works – with navigation, SiriusXM, Bluetooth connectivity and so forth. The sound from the UConnect system is pumped through seven Beats by Dr. Dre speakers. The sound quality is absolutely wonderful. This is not a mere specific market installation – the UConnect and the Beats by Dr. Dre speaker system is available worldwide on practically every 500L.
The HVAC switchgear is perhaps one of the better setups amongst Fiat Chrysler products. Huge knobs with digital readouts compliment logical switches for airflow and heat controls. You could always set it in Auto and let the system work for you. In fact, once you understand all of the switches – including the stalks and on the steering wheel – you will find they are good to the touch and operation. Let us not forget about the handbrake – though you have to negotiate the armrest to fully get to it. The best word to describe this handbrake is “epic” – wide and fun to use.
Powering the North American 500L is Fiat’s MultiAir 1.4liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. In the 500L, you get 160 horsepower with 184 pound-feet of torque showcasing nice motivation and flexibility throughout the rev band. A six-speed Euro Twin-Clutch transmission sends power down to the front wheels. While the shifts were quick, the dual clutch setup relaxes the turbocharged engine at 2000RPM at highway cruise. The Electronic Stability Control offers greater response and improved grip on icy and wet surfaces. In extreme traction loss situations, you may find the engine/transmission combination lagging to recover power.
When driving the 500L, do not expect a sporting ride. Instead, you are given a more comfortable setup with compliant ride and soft handling. While offering a supple and smooth ride, the 500L will get through the potholes and cracks on the road. The ride quality is fantastic, though you will experience some roll and lean in the corners. One thing that was a bit of a concern is the upgraded seventeen-inch low profile Goodyear Eagle LS2 tires with a 45-aspect sidewall. While they do fit the wheel wheels just fine, a bit more sidewall would help the 500L in stability. Standard wheels on the Lounge model are sixteen inches.
Steering in the 500L is well-weighted and excellent on-center. Turning the 500L is done with ease and offers a good turning radius and decent response. Brakes are a bit on the grabby side, yet are effective both in normal and panic stops.
When you think small vehicles, you think fuel economy. In the case of this small MPV, the 500L turned an average of 24.5MPG. To put this in perspective, even as temps went from sub-zero to near melting, these figures were actually better than any PT Cruiser I have driven in the past. Yet, you could see even better numbers in warmer weather.
For North America, the 500L lineup starts with the Pop model at around $20,000. You do get a 6-speed manual gearbox standard in the Pop model. Our Lounge tester came with a sticker priced at $27,445 with the Premier package a few other options. In-between the Pop and the Lounge are the Easy and Trekking models – the latter adding more of a true crossover look that is ready to go outdoors in.
Fiat offers a good proposition for buyers here in the States. The 500L taps into a market where families have been searching for – a spacious vehicle for growing kids and their stuff. It also taps into a crowd looking to do more at home or outdoors by utilizing the space behind the driver’s seat. All of this is wrapped up in a style that harkens back to Fiat’s past, even if the critics point out how much the Cinquecento look had been stretched to its limits.
However, if you are looking at a small lifestyle vehicle that will carry people, things and whatnot – how come you have not driven the Fiat 500L? Just like the Twin Cities Auto Show, the 500L arrived just in time.