The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2015 Fiat 500L Trekking Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2015 Fiat 500L Trekking

The tasty Italian take on the compact crossover

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

            • SEE ALSO: Fiat Buyers Guide


Are you in need of a roomy small-footprint vehicle but bored with lookalike compact crossovers? Dare to be different! Fiat's 500L has character with a capital "C" and looks like nothing else on the road. And with its turbocharged 1.4-liter Multi-Air engine and Euro-tuned suspension, it quick enough for everyday driving and far more fun than one of those cookie-cutter crossovers.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2015 Fiat 500L Trekking

A "stretch limo" version of the cheeky 500 two-door, the 500L is noticeably longer, a bit wider and higher, for 42 percent more interior space. It's far more normal-looking than its spiritual forebears the `50s/`60s 600 Multipla and the more recent, European-only, Multipla. The "L", according to Fiat, stands for "leveraging" Fiat's 500 design language, "large" in interior space thanks to it's high, narrow, cab-forward design, "loft" as in the view through the expansive glass area, especially with the optional panoramic sunroof, "lifestyle" for the varieties of lifestyle the four trim levels can support, and "light" as in light weight for greater efficiency.

Power for the North American market is from the 1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir four-cylinder engine familiar from the 500 Abarth, driving the front wheels through a selection of six-speed transmissions, manual, dual-clutch automanual, or torque-converter automatic. Curb weight is up by around 750 pounds, so the 500L is not the hooligan that the Abarth is, but it is far more entertaining than your typical small crossover, and the "Touring"-spec suspension is much more agreeable to comfort-oriented tastes than the Abarth's stiff sport tuning.

Trim levels are, from most basic to most fully-equipped, Pop, Easy, Trekking, Urban, and Lounge. Option groups are called "collections" and vary with trim level. Pop, being basic, has none. Easy has five, as does Trekking. Urban has three, and Lounge six. Somewhere in there is a 500L that can be perfectly outfitted for nearly any need or desire from basic necessities to near-luxury.

My test car for the past week was a fully-equipped Trekking. "Fully-equipped" here meaning Collection 5 - $6,000 worth of audio, navigation, leather, panoramic sunroof, comfort, and cosmetic upgrades. Add $1,350 for the automatic, and the bottom line comes close to $30,000. Which is still less than the average new car price today ($33k and counting…) for a decidedly not average vehicle. It was surprisingly quick around town and on the highway, at least up to regular highway speeds. One would think that the boxy shape would mean sensitivity to strong winds. One would be wrong there -- it was commendably stable and surefooted. I'll give credit to good basic suspension design and use of high-quality Koni dampers. EPA mileage estimates are 22 city, 30 highway, 25 overall, and the 22 overall I got for the week reflects minimal highway use and maximum driving like it was Italian -- foot to the floor as much as possible. Oh wait, it is Italian. Well, in design and concept -- assembly is in Serbia. The engine is Italian, though. Welcome to the globalized 21st Century.




APPEARANCE: It's not quite the box it came in, the corners and edges are too rounded for that and there is a short hood over the transversely-mounted engine. The 500L is instantly identifiable as a Fiat 500 by the headlights and chrome bar with the corporate logo between them. The front profile is close to that of the two-door, but not identical. The Trekking and Urban get a more pugnacious look than the other models, with a massive-looking textured lower front bumper fascia that incorporates foglamps and merges into the lower perimeter of the car. There are also faux air scoops to the sides. The Trekking gets an SUV-ish metallic-look "skid plate" front and center -- which, being plastic, is more about air management than rock protection. A contrastingly-colored roof is an old Italian styling theme. There is plenty of bright chrome trim, and a protective rub strip on each side. Large taillights define the rear, and the Trekking gets a faux-venturi treatment at the bottom of its rear bumper.

COMFORT: The three-piece windshield makes for a unique view of the road, unless you're used to driving an old Tatra. With the sunshade stowed, there's quite a view to above through the panoramic sunroof as well. The front seats offer an upright, high-eyepoint seating position and very good visibility. And comfort and support. Here, with the Collection 5 option package, they're leather-trimmed, with heated cushions. Adjustment is manual, but with power for lumbar height and depth. The steering wheel has a comfortable leather rim and adjusts manually for both tilt and reach. Phone and cruise controls are found on the front of its horizontal arms, with volume and tuning rocker switches to the rear.

Interior design and materials are upscale of the 500 hatchback. There is plenty of style, but never at the expense of function. Instrumentation is complete and easily read, with trip information displayed between the tachometer and speedometer. A touchscreen in the center stack controls audio, navigation, phone, and any streaming audio and other apps used via a paired phone. Climate control is taken care of by simple knobs. Audio choices here are AM, FM, and Sirius/XM radio, and SD card, USB, or auxiliary jack which are at the bottom of the stack conveniently above a storage space and next to a 12VDC power point. There is no front console; a European-style folding armrest between the front seats takes its place and has minimal storage inside. There is reasonable storage with bottle holders in the door pickets, plus a second covered compartment above the glove box.

The rear bench sits a bit higher than the front seats for passenger visibility. Minimal contouring and a near-flat floor help make it fit three adults in reasonable comfort. Width will be the constraint, not head- or leg-room. There is a good amount of cargo space behind the rear seat, with a built-in shade and "false floor" divider that sits at the folding height of the 60/40 rear seatback. The rear seats can also tumble forward for even more cargo capacity.

SAFETY: The Fiat 500L has all of the safety equipment required and expected including safety-cage and crumple zone unibody construction, a full complement of airbags, including driver's knee, all-speed traction control, electronic stability control, remote keyless entry with illuminated entry, and Bluetooth connectivity. A rear parking sensor system and backup camera are optionally available.

RIDE AND HANDLING: It's European in heritage and that shows. The 500L's suspension was designed and tuned for supple comfort and good control, ensuring an entertaining driving experience whether going for groceries or on a winding mountain road. The MacPherson strut front suspension was engineered for reduced noise and vibration transmission into the unibody structure, and the rear torsion beam axle is rigid enough not to need a heavy stabilizer bar. Koni frequency-selective dampers are used all around, an unexpected touch in this price class. Steering is not overly assisted and has good feedback, and brakes are discs all around, with antilock, electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist. Small crossovers aren't usually driver's cars; the Fiat 500L is.

PERFORMANCE: If a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine sounds a bit small for a 3200-pound people-carrier, this one is up to the task. It's a derivative of the turbocharged MultiAir unit found in the Abarth, here producing maximum 160 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 184 lb-ft of torque between 2500 and 4000 rpm -- the real secret to its success. It feels bigger than it is, and turbo lag is minimal to nonexistent. The extra 17 lb-ft of torque compared to the Abarth is welcome, as there is more weight to move. While the stick shift would be more engaging, automatics do make life in traffic and congestion more tolerable, and the six-speed AISIN box used here worked just fine. Manual control can be done, for maximum acceleration when needed, but most of the time, no problem. The wide spread of torque is a good thing. My 22 mpg average for the week may not seem too good, but that was with as little highway driving as possible and plenty of use of the throttle pedal.

CONCLUSIONS: Drive something different with a Fiat 500L, a most Italian take on the compact crossover.

SPECIFICATIONS

2015 Fiat 500L Trekking

Base Price $ 21,545

Price As Tested $ 29,795

Engine Type SOHC 16-valve turbocharged inline 4-cylinder with MultiAir variable intake lift and phasing

Engine Size 1.4 liters / 83 cu. in.

Horsepower 160 @ 5500 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 184 @ 2500-4000 rpm

Transmission 6-speed automatic

Wheelbase / Length 102.8 in. / 168.1 in.

Curb Weight 3254 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 20.3

Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal.

Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline recommended, 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline acceptable with decreased power

Tires 225/45R17 Continental Conti Pro Contact

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA, HSA, ESC, TCS standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / twist-beam axle

Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 22 / 30 / 22

0 to 60 mph est 9 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Trekking Collection 5 -- includes: Uconnect® 6.5A AM/FM/BT/Voice, Sirius/XM satellite radio with 1-year subscription, GPS navigation, ParkView™ rear backup camera, Park Sense ® rear park assist system, power sunroof, power driver 4-way lumbar adjustment, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather-trimmed bucket seats, Beats™ audio system, 17-inch painted alloy wheels, rear armrest with cup holder, white roof $ 6,000

AISIN heavy-duty 6-speed automatic transmission $ 1,350

Destination Charge $ 900