Driving test: Fiat 500L Pop Star 1.3 MultiJet
We had to wait for a very long time, but we have finally driven the Fiat 500L and are here to tell you what’s what. After this long wait, we wanted to be thorough and decided to take this big cinquecento to the Alsace (France) for the weekend. The idea was to combine the testing of the 500L with some walks in this lovely area, but little did we know that the weather had other plans in store for us. The planned strolls had to be traded in for wine tastings, a lot of them. This region, for those of you who don’t know, is located in France and lies at the border with Germany and Switzerland.
Anyway, you didn’t come here to learn about the Alsace-region, but to read all about our test of the Fiat 500L, and testing we did! The Pop Star-edition which we drove was fitted with the 1.3 MultiJet II-diesel engine producing 85 bhp. The 550km-drive (340 miles) towards our destination quickly revealed its one and only flaw: the lack of a sixth gear. All is well at speeds up to 140 km/h (87 mph), but the consumption- and noise-levels are a bit too much once you go past that. Fortunately, though, 99% of the population never exceeds that speed limit and will be perfectly happy with what this small diesel offers. Power is sufficient, gear changes are short and very smooth and noise is kept at a minimum, just like the consumption. This MultiJet is particularly suited for city traffic with its high amount of torques (200Nm, 148Lb Ft), while the 500L could do with just a little more power at higher speeds. Driving 120 km/h (75 mph) is done at a little less than 3.000 rpm which, rather miraculously, doesn’t seem to make any noise at all and makes for an average consumption of 4,8-5.3l/100km (49-44 mpg), which is good.
During our five-hour drive, we turned on the cruise control and had the chance to examine the lovely interior of the 500L and all of its features. One thing which you simply can’t ignore is the sheer amount of space this car offers. Fiat gave their designers the following assignment: the 500L should be able to transport five people, each 2m or 6 ft long, and their luggage in all comfort. Well, it seems like they’ve succeeded wonderfully. In a car which is only 4,15m long, you get the feeling like you have 5 meters worth of space. Both in front as well as in the back, there is enough headroom for a giraffe and plenty of legroom for an elephant. All this space combined with the comfortable seats, the gentle ride (it is literally like floating on a carpet) and the silence of the engine/lack of wind noise makes for an extremely smooth and relaxed ride. Something our passengers, who fell asleep in no time and only woke up when we arrived, will be able to confirm.
But let’s go back to the interior. The dashboard is funky and well-designed, much like the center console which is dominated by the brilliant 5” Uconnect-touchscreen. This latter offers everything you could possibly desire from an infotainment system: USB-connection, Bluetooth audio streaming and phone connection, AUX-IN,… It works like a charm, is easy to operate and looks beautiful. One possible downside is that it can’t be fitted with a GPS, but this is easily fixed by choosing for the optional TomTom which can be integrated in the interior and will show you the location of speed cameras. The eco:Drive-system (a system which tells you how to drive more economical) is something we couldn’t test yet, as it apparently needs an USB-drive to function and we didn’t have one on us during the weekend.
The touchscreen is surrounded by a number of buttons. None of them do anything special, except for one: ‘CITY’. This is a feature which we’ve seen before on other cars coming from the FIAT-group, but it is still a handy trick in city traffic. The steering on the 500L is light in general, but it is made even easier when this CITY-button is pressed in. This lightens the steering even more and makes it possible to turn the wheel with your pinkie (yes, we tried) when standing still. We’d strongly advise to turn it off at speeds over 50 km/h (30 mph), but it makes driving the 500L in city traffic even easier, especially for the ladies.
The rest of the interior, with the manual climate control including aircon, feels high-quality and looks brilliant. The awkwardly-shaped steering wheel is actually good-looking and pleasant to use. It is adjustable in both height as well as depth and has a couple of control-buttons on it. The voice command works fine, but why anyone would use it is beyond us, as nearly everything is available after just three touches with the Uconnect-system.
The all-round visibility is exceptionally good thanks to the large (number of) windows and the big side mirrors
We’ve addressed nearly everything, except for… the exterior. Calling it a big 500 would actually be a lie. It is quite a bit bigger than the cinquecento: + 60cm in length, + 17cm in height and + 15cm in width (+ 24, + 7 and + 6 inches) which means they had no other choice than to redesign the entire thing. Using the 500-indication as a marketing-strategy was of course clever, but did they succeed at making the 500L a worthy addition to the range? Of course they did! Many say that Fiat stole the idea from Mini who turned their style icon into the family-friendly Countryman. Perhaps they have, but Fiat have turned it into something beautiful, while Mini… well… haven’t exactly. We turned a lot of heads during our brief holiday and received many positive comments. Especially this two-toned exterior (also available in other combinations) looks lovely, almost adorable in some strange way.
Our stay in the Alsace was, despite the weather, very enjoyable and there were two good reasons for that: the many wine tastings and the Fiat 500L. This funky car can be best described as a cuddly teddy bear on wheels which will take the entire family (and their luggage) everywhere in all comfort. A wonderful addition to the 500-range, and we haven’t driven the, in our humble opinion, even better-looking Trekking-version yet. The 1.6 MultiJet is also something we’re looking forward to, as we think this will be the perfect match for this otherwise brilliant car.
We would like to thank BUGA for lending us this 500L for the weekend. Your perfect partner for Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Fiat Professional, Abarth and Jeep in Belgium and its neighboring countries! More info at BUGA-AUTO.be. We are now testing the 500L Turbo TwinAir and will be sharing our opinion somewhere next week.