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View Full Version : A test drive of the 500L



ciddyguy
06-23-2013, 10:57 AM
On a whim, I decided to take a drive north after some errands today to see if I could view the new Fiat 500L, and am glad I did as I came away with a very positive view of the car. Right away, I want to say, this is no hot hatch, and it isn’t designed to be that through its performance, and its ride, but it is a VERY pleasant vehicle to be in overall.

First off, I at first only got to see the car inside the showroom so it was hard to really see the car’s size in a space that was filled up with several other Fiats, including one custom Abarth with gullwing doors, nice, but not my thang.

This is apparently the largest Fiat dealer in the state, and rumors are, by another sales guy who was standing there who’d helped open another Fiat store in Tukwilla, and they didn’t need him there, so he’s at Rairdon’s Fiat of Kirkland. He said that they are the largest Fiat dealer in the state, and may get the Alfa Franchise, which is rumored to arrive by year’s end, remember, this IS a rumor I heard, so don’t take it as gospel.

Then another 500L showed up. They had others, but they were not ready for display as yet, it was the Easy, but no Pops to see – and the lot was pretty full of regular, turbo, and Abarth 500’s, and used vehicles, so where they were going to put the L, I don’t know. Couple of things, the trekking is supposed to hit in early July, I heard July 1 as the date for that, and am on the list to see one when they are in. BTW, no one, not even the dealer can special order these things yet so what they get are what the factory builds for the moment.

I see plenty of Fiats all over, including, I’m sure the turbo as it blends in with the o0ther regular 500’s except for the snout, but do see the occasional Abarth on a semi regular basis, so they ARE selling.

Anyway, the Easy went right back out but when it came back again, I was able to snag a quick test drive, and while I waited for the sales lady to come back with my license, I got to really look at the car in the bright early afternoon sun (red with white top), noting the overall design philosophy. One thing of note, while this car dimensionally is very close to my Mazda, except it is a touch wider, but a good bit taller. Dimensions of the Fiat: 167.1 inches long, 69.8 inches wide, and 65.7 inches tall. My car is 167.9 inches long, 67.1 inches wide, and 58 inches tall. I would imagine the wheelbase on both are quilt close as well, and my car appears to hug the ground, so ground clearance will be less on my car. This results in the Fiat having more of a visual presence than mine, which I’ve always felt to look small for its size. Both have spacious interiors that feel larger than the car’s actual overall dimensions, a benefit to the transverse front wheel drive, drive train and why virtually all small cars today utilize it, except for 2 seat sports cars like the Miata which do fine with a conventional layout.

Thus the Fiat looks much larger than it actually is, so it should not be as easily overlooked on the highways than some other small cars, though today’s small cars generally aren’t as small as they once were. That is not a bad thing, though a car the size of the 500 is mighty fine in my humble opinion. I spent 6 years in a Honda Civic, a second gen hatchback at that, and it was 148 inches long, so not much bigger than the smaller 500. I drove it all over creation and back, including a trip to Medford Oregon (twice) from Tacoma, and back via I-5 and had no issues whatsoever so small cars don’t faze me in the least.

Even though in 2003, the Mazda was considered a compact, the Fiat is considered a subcompact by Fiat, despite being more of a compact size wise, even though the EPA confusingly classified it as a large car due to interior volume, whatever. I like it and really would not want anything much larger than either car as by then, one is nearing 180”, and that is generally the cutoff for anything still considered as a compact. Even though I’m only 5’10”, in the general 50th percentile bracket in size, I found it easy to get comfortable in the car as I find the seats, though firm, comfortable. Then again, I’m used to firm seats as I have them in my Mazda, though they do lack lumbar support, which the Fiat does support, thankfully. I like how the car has not only the tilt, but telescoping wheel, making it easier to find a comfortable position.

I found the DCT transmission quite nice, but as the sales guy I was talking to recommended, it is preferred that you use the manual shift option as the transmission shifts quickly from one gear to the next and almost as quickly, was in third, never letting the little turbo’d motor truly spool up so that blunted performance I think. Still though, it hustled nonetheless as I mashed down on the go pedal. That is something to remember, there is turbo lag from a stop as from idle until it kicks in, the torque is weak, and for a car that weighs in just over 3200#, it’s got a lot of weight to hustle along. However, when that turbo hits, the power comes on and the car surges ahead, provided you are in the right gear.

The shift gate is correctly setup, up is downshifting, down is up shifting (up is towards the dash, down towards you, and my Mazda does it like this too). This gearbox is a 6spd unit so there are plenty of gears to choose from. I found that for around town, depending upon speed, third gear is largely what you need, as it’ll keep the revs up high enough to reduce turbo lag. That said, when you initiate a shift, the transmission doesn’t respond instantly, there is a bit of a lag before it shifts, mine does it too, but it’s a lot less, and it’s also more firm in its shifts, thanks to the lock up torque converter. The DCT disengages the current gear while engaging the next gear, at the same time but very quickly, so the shifts aren’t as precise a feel as one would get in a true manual, though not a bad thing, but something to note anyway if you spring for the DCT. I can’t comment on the manual as there was not one to try out.

Ride is great, it absorbs bumps and uneven pavement quite nicely, and it didn’t rattle or anything like that, though the ride isn’t crisp, though it does feel like it is heavier than my car, but I didn’t note it feeling ponderous while driving. The view out is fantastic, and I think the rear view camera is almost superfluous because the sills are low enough to see easily out in all directions. It is an easy car to get used to, the biggest issue being out the windshield as you simply don’t see the nose of the car, so that’ll take time to get used to knowing where your wheels are. It’s size will fool you initially as you want to think you are in something larger, but aren’t. However, I would not mind if there was a trim with a firmer suspension for those of us who prefer it. Supposedly, the Trekking has the same compliant ride as the rest.

Overall, I found the car well finished, and appointed, and looks to be a very good value for your hard earned money, though I’d wished it was a bit more connected to the outside world. I was reminded of this when I got back in my car, I felt connected to the car in a direct way, and the power band is much more linear too than in the Fiat. Overall, the Fiat is a very pleasant vehicle to be in and I’d highly consider one, but not before I rent one for a weekend to be sure.

Andree
06-23-2013, 12:17 PM
Thorough review! Good job!

I'm thinking the turbo lag from a standstill as being a feature, a good thing. In my area, general around town errands often consist of stop and go traffic. The LAST thing I'd need or want is a touchy accelerator launching me into the rear end of someone else. People in the long lines picking kids up from school, they don't need it. After loading in groceries or building materials or landscaping items, there is still the need to get out of the parking lot without killing the wandering pedestrians, that's not a good time to have frisky acceleration.

The places that a quick zip is important would be highway/freeway. To pass, to get over in that far lane to make your exit, etc.

I watched as a fella in a truck with a load of flat-laying drywall punched it from a stop, losing his drywall in the process. The old "things at rest tend to stay at rest" thing, and the drywall didn't move, while the vehicle did move. Of course, some of the drywall broke. Or was run over. And created a hazard in a busy area. Right outside Home Depot.

I think the Trekking is more "a look" than it is anything else. You can dress like a lumberjack but it doesn't mean you've ever laid hands on a chainsaw. Nevertheless, "a look" can be empowering or comforting or a source of confidence. Think of all the sales of vehicles that have 4WD, AWD, or off-road capability. I realize these are practically a necessity in hard winter areas with snow. But I still see them around my area, in San Francisco... There is no snow. There is nowhere to off-road in the county. It's "a look" for people in the area, most of the time. If they travel to snow country, they can use the AWD, but around town, it's not necessary.

I can see the Trekking on summer trips, to lakes, seashores, up to Tahoe, etc. It FEELS outdoorsy, it LOOKS outdoorsy, which is powerful mind medicine.

Can the suspension be toughened up a bit? I'm not sure if that's a good idea, as it may have people thinking they can take corners that the vehicle isn't made for. It's TALL. Lowering it to the ground, it will still be TALL and have a high center of gravity.

I'd guess it would be better in the case of wanting stiffer suspension to wait for the 500x.

ciddyguy
06-23-2013, 12:31 PM
Thorough review! Good job!

I'm thinking the turbo lag from a standstill as being a feature, a good thing. In my area, general around town errands often consist of stop and go traffic. The LAST thing I'd need or want is a touchy accelerator launching me into the rear end of someone else. People in the long lines picking kids up from school, they don't need it. After loading in groceries or building materials or landscaping items, there is still the need to get out of the parking lot without killing the wandering pedestrians, that's not a good time to have frisky acceleration.

The places that a quick zip is important would be highway/freeway. To pass, to get over in that far lane to make your exit, etc.

I watched as a fella in a truck with a load of flat-laying drywall punched it from a stop, losing his drywall in the process. The old "things at rest tend to stay at rest" thing, and the drywall didn't move, while the vehicle did move. Of course, some of the drywall broke. Or was run over. And created a hazard in a busy area. Right outside Home Depot.

I think the Trekking is more "a look" than it is anything else. You can dress like a lumberjack but it doesn't mean you've ever laid hands on a chainsaw. Nevertheless, "a look" can be empowering or comforting or a source of confidence. Think of all the sales of vehicles that have 4WD, AWD, or off-road capability. I realize these are practically a necessity in hard winter areas with snow. But I still see them around my area, in San Francisco... There is no snow. There is nowhere to off-road in the county. It's "a look" for people in the area, most of the time. If they travel to snow country, they can use the AWD, but around town, it's not necessary.

I can see the Trekking on summer trips, to lakes, seashores, up to Tahoe, etc. It FEELS outdoorsy, it LOOKS outdoorsy, which is powerful mind medicine.

Can the suspension be toughened up a bit? I'm not sure if that's a good idea, as it may have people thinking they can take corners that the vehicle isn't made for. It's TALL. Lowering it to the ground, it will still be TALL and have a high center of gravity.

I'd guess it would be better in the case of wanting stiffer suspension to wait for the 500x.

In my humble opinion, I don't think so, you really have to lay in it to get a car to really hustle as it is, and I felt it could be a bit snappier a response when you HAVE to get out of the way quickly, that said, I drive a Mazda P5, and it has a N/A 2.0L4, and it has enough torque at idle to have the car roll on its own once I put it in gear, and let off the brake (I have the sport stick automatic) and thus it has a more linear throttle response, though when the tach hits 2500-2800rpm, the power thrust kicks in to around 4Krpm before it plateaus. But it gives the car a rush when doing hard acceleration, making the car alive when doing so. Nevertheless, the throttle is not touchy at all, and I've never had any issues of running into other people in parking lots. It's more of a direct feeling in the Mazda overall.

As to the suspension, I'm used to a firm ride, so actually prefer it, though I would not mind a bit better damping than what the Mazda provides over extreme rough roads, but is very livable on a daily basis otherwise. Yes, I believe you can stiffen the suspension up, by adding an antisway bar out back, and a strut brace up front, and drop the entire car down a tad to reduce body roll some. It won't corner as flatly as the Mazda even then, but it will help for fun driving when the mood strikes. From what I hear, the Mini is even firmer than my car so you can get TOO firm with your ride.

I'm in agreement with you on the trekking being more show than anything else, but even there, I'd have expected it to have a bit firmer ride, a la the 500 sport, and its turbo sibling. Even in snow, unless it's major snows, get decent M+S all seasons, or true snow tires and even a FWD vehicle will more than be capable in the snow. It's a false sense of security for just about everybody because it won't help you to stop, or steer, but will help you to get going from a stop when it snows, and that is about it.

MadSetter
06-23-2013, 06:21 PM
Nice review, Ciddyguy!

I was a bit surprised at how "heavy" the L seemed. I don't think it's a bad thing, but just something I'd have to get used to. My Durango is looser with the steering wheel and feels a bit lighter. Perhaps "floaty" might be a better term.

But the sole reason why I'm waiting for the Trekking *is* looks. And it matches my personality more. Yup, I'm one of those types. Heck, I roll in a purple Durango. And that one can serve my 4x4 needs.

Felnus
06-23-2013, 06:28 PM
I'm willing to bet a Sprint Booster or GoPedal will get rid of the lazy throttle response. The turbo spools pretty quickly but the electronic throttle calibration is pretty lazy on the 500s and the Abarths I've driven. I'm guessing it is the same on the 500L. Perhaps someone at 500Madness can share their experience since they have already put a GoPedal on their 500L.

ciddyguy
06-23-2013, 06:38 PM
Nice review, Ciddyguy!

I was a bit surprised at how "heavy" the L seemed. I don't think it's a bad thing, but just something I'd have to get used to. My Durango is looser with the steering wheel and feels a bit lighter. Perhaps "floaty" might be a better term.

But the sole reason why I'm waiting for the Trekking *is* looks. And it matches my personality more. Yup, I'm one of those types. Heck, I roll in a purple Durango. And that one can serve my 4x4 needs.

Prior to the Mazda, I drove a very aged Ford Ranger that relied on I think recirculating ball for it's steering, and so yeah, floaty is a pretty apt description. :-)

ciddyguy
06-23-2013, 06:40 PM
I'm willing to bet a Sprint Booster or GoPedal will get rid of the lazy throttle response. The turbo spools pretty quickly but the electronic throttle calibration is pretty lazy on the 500s and the Abarths I've driven. I'm guessing it is the same on the 500L. Perhaps someone at 500Madness can share their experience since they have already put a GoPedal on their 500L.

That would be nice if such a thing works on these cars because I think it'd help things a bit when you gotta get a move on, STAT.

Felnus
06-23-2013, 07:05 PM
That would be nice if such a thing works on these cars because I think it'd help things a bit when you gotta get a move on, STAT.

The Sprint Booster works wonders on the 500. Changes the throttle response from, "Oh, you want to move? Ok, hang on a sec..." to "Ok, NOW!"