There’s nothing normal about the Fiat 500 L. Even the key-fob, it seems to me, has the unlock function where I would have expected the lock button to be. And that feeling of 'now for something completely non-mainstream' persists when you first set eyes on the little bus.
Not that it’s ugly –far from it. It has managed to convey the essence of 500 well, in its much- expanded bus-shaped largeness (in comparison to the Fiat 500 it is huge), and yet it has clean, well-proportioned lines that are a credit to its stylist.
Whatever the 500 L is, many people on our travels with the car in and about the greater Randburg suburbs found it highly attractive. Especially women, and young women at that, who actually stopped us and asked for a closer look.
The 500 L comes in two trim levels and with two powertrains, here on the South African market. There is a basic model called the Easy and the more up-market one called the Lounge. And a very good name that is for the top model, as it has a cabin that is elegantly trimmed, our test car’s interior colour scheme being contrasting beige and black which is extremely easy on the eye and has a feeling of classiness well beyond its segment.
What exactly is that market segment? Well, it’s a cross-over and meant for people who need plenty of space, but place style well ahead of performance in their priorities.
SpaciousnessAs you enter the 500 L, the feeling of spaciousness blows you away. In this car, the factor that takes the most getting-used-to is that the windscreen is way up ahead of the steering wheel, and that there are two A-pillar supports that need to be factored into your placement of the vehicle in certain situations.
The second factor to get your attention is the amazing lightness of controls. The steering is super-assisted, and in fact I would recommend that you locate the 'city' button on the dash asap, and dial it to normal, because in city mode there is practically no steering feel at all and it makes steering a bit weird.
Fiat 500 L Engine, Ride and HandlingThe other bit that needs acclimatisation is the engine. There is a 1.6-litre Multijet diesel available too, and I would like to try that sometime, to see how it shapes up. In the Lounge trim and fitted with the 1.4-litre non-turbo petrol four-cylinder unit, the 500 L weighs some 1 365 kg. That’s a not inconsiderable mass, and at Jhb altitudes the 70 kW (rated for sea level operation, and 127 Nm of torque, also at sea level) feels more like 55 kW.
This means that the car is not quick in general operation at all. However, there are a few factors compensating for the basic lack of urge. Firstly, the first and second gears are extremely short, and if you rev the engine to the red-line, as it is all too willing to do, you can get some decent forward motion going. In fact the engine gives off a strangely sportive induction note when you wring its neck!
As for the rest, you tend to drive the car sedately because it’s a people mover after all. And part of the idea of buying a small-capacity-engined car today is to save fuel, and if you drive gently you will indeed get very close to a sub-8-litres/100 km consumption for town use.
Interior space and featuresThe interior space is quite amazing, thanks to a very tall roof line. And apart from that fore-located windscreen, the Lounge model comes standard with a Skydome sun roof, a huge area of fixed glass covered by an attractive weaved mesh material that lets filtered light into the cabin, for an even more airy feel!
There is automatic climate control on the Lounge model, a steering column that is adjustable for height and reach, and cruise control, to mention just some of the features not normally found on such a spacious people mover costing, for the 500 L Lounge 1.4 petrol, R257 900. For instance, a base Nissan Qashqai now costs R281 90, and while it has a much improved interior it doesn’t come close in terms of chic-ness to the 500 L.
It has side and head protection airbags for both front passengers, as well as the usual frontal airbags, an adjustable rear back-rest location that, while still in upright position, expands the luggage capacity to 400 litres, and the obvious full-fold-down options.
Fiat 500 L Price in South AfricaThe Fiat 500 L range starts at R242 490, with the 500 L Lounge costing R257 900. The 1.6-litre diesel sells for R299 490.
Conclusion and summaryOverall it has an impressive feeling of solidity too, although how long that beautiful tan suede finish will stay spiffy with a family on kids on board is anyone’s guess. Despite the fact that, okay, it is definitely underpowered in petrol form, I found myself liking the 500 L, simply because it offers such a unique driving experience.
Fiat 500 L Quick Specs
|Engine||1.4-litre four cylinder petrol|
|0-100km/h||12.8 seconds (claimed)|
|Fuel economy||6.2 l/100km (claimed)|
We like: . Style . Standard features . Easy to drive . Spaciousness
We dislike: . Petrol engine is underpowered . Cabin quality longevity