We drove the Fiat 500 L: your perfect travel companion

The stylish 500 L in front of the Amphitheatre in Nîmes…

We were always quite charmed by the clever rounded shape and styling of the Fiat 500 L. Its curves and lines are drawn by Italian designers which have an uncanny genial talent to hit those ideal, timeless proportions. Indeed, this compact people carrier will still hit the tune of the times within say, fifteen or twenty years. It came to us this time with a restyled front end, clad in charming Donatello bronze metallic and a black gleaming roof which sported a large glass panorama ceiling. We took it on an extensive continental tour through France, and it filled our car loving hearts with joy, every meter we drove it…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Indeed, our minds were lifted when the dynamic PR people of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Belgium agreed to put the already iconic 500 L at our disposal to test it on a longer continental voyage. This car has many good qualities, as we already discovered in a previous test drive which you can read in our columns.

Driving through the imposing gates in Belfort…

A thoroughbred engine…

This time, in tune with the trend of the times, it came to us in a petrol engined version. Under the hood sat the well proven 1,4 liter four cylinder double overhead cam 16 valve turbo unit, which is everything a state of the art modern petrol engine should be.

Italian engineers do have a heart and unique talent for creating thoroughbred engines, and indeed, this unit contributes fully to this enviable tradition.

In the 120 HP version we tested, it has turbo boost, and this maximum power is achieved at 5000 rpm. But it is the shape of the power curve which counts most, and this one is close to ideal thanks to a corresponding torque curve which peaks at 215 Nm at merely 2500 rpm, and is available over a wide rev range.

Only just below 1500 rpm, there is no substitute for cubic inches, and tackling steeper hills or coming out of tight mountain turns in second gear at crawling speeds takes some patience – albeit only a few tenths of a second – before turbo boost truly sets in. Of course, the spirited and sporting driver will have chosen first gear, and then the 500 L just sprints away, in true Mille Miglia fashion.

Despite its truly thoroughbred character, the engine is very flexible and docile, and crawling very slowly trough narrow and crowded village streets is totally smooth, silent and civilized. This engine with its ideally geared and slick six speed manual and progressive clutch is born for today’s traffic conditions.

Cruising at the now omnipresent 30 km/h urban speed limits is absolved in third gear without the slightest noise or vibration, with the engine revving at 1500 rpm, having enough (turbo) power for immediate powerful accelerations.

The gear change indicator also urges you when adopting a quiet driving style to stay in the rev ranges below 2000 rpm, and this is also where the engine shows its efficiency, resulting in very creditable (urban) consumption figures. Indeed, we registered averages of around 7 to 8 liters in these circumstances, and cruising on country roads brought the consumption even down to around 6 liters.

Motorway cruising is very much a question of aerodynamics, cruising at higher speeds with the airco working at full blast resulted in averages around 8 liters.

Agile, comfortable and… connected!

The 500 L also comes very much into its own when driven with more spirit, and reveals itself also as a talented drivers’ car. Not only does the engine roar with a very pleasing sound, it endows the 500 L with agile performance. What to think of an acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in 10,2 seconds, and a top speed of 189 km/h.

On winding roads the 500L steers with precision, and it awakens the better driver in you. Agile in corners, it stays neutral and flat throughout with braking being also stable and powerful. Urban nimbleness is also greatly enhanced by the “city mode” option in the electric power steering, which makes the 500L feather light to steer in urban traffic.

Visibility is very good, with the higher seating position helping here. We enjoyed a rear view camera and a panorama glass roof, which gets you even more in a joyous mood behind the wheel. The 500 L is quite comfortable too, coping with frost ridden and deteriorated sections of otherwise quite nice Routes Départementales and narrow country roads.

Space is quite good, with sufficient head- and legroom fore and aft, and good boot space, with in standard configuration 412 L being available, expandable to 1375 L. Seats are firm and comfortable, offering excellent support on our long trips through the French “Hexagone.”

The restyled dashboard layout has is clear and uncluttered, with two nice round dials for speed and revs, and a large 7 inch touchscreen for all the essential infotainment functions. The 500 L has excellent Tom-Tom based navigation, precise and easy and intuitive to use and handle, and you are even able to pinch and zoom to get the optimum view of the map.

The airco unit came of course quite handy in this very hot continental summer…

The same goes for the superb (DAB) radio, a boon for us music lovers. Also FM reception is very good, which remains essential in mountainous areas. U connect LIVE does many things, and amongst others you can monitor your eco driving style. It is called eco:Drive, and monitors four driving parameters in real time: Acceleration, Deceleration, Changing Gears, Speed variation. During each trip, you get points for each parameter and calculate your own eco:Index.

The Uconnect™ LIVE app loads these values on your profile at the end of each trip. You can view your saved data both on board, and from your computer or smartphone. Just magical! Of course, through the My car app you can monitor the status of your vehicle, when it needs its next service, etc. Besides that, Android Auto Compatibility, Apple Car Play predisposition, it is all there.

Beneath the touchscreen are two large dials for individual temperature control, simple and easy to use, and to maintain the ideal cabin temperature –literally- in a breeze. Needless to say that in this very hot summer with several succeeding heat waves, the excellent airco was superbly useful.


Versatile, elegant, full of the unique “Cinquecento” flair and character, this is a compact people carrier which truly stands out. It is endearing, certainly with the throbbing thoroughbred heart of a willing petrol engine, which adds zest and refinement to its progress. The 500 L is roomy and comfortable, well finished and marvelously and tastefully quipped in the top end equipment version we drove.

The infotainment is nothing less than state of the art, and makes this Fiat your modern companion for years to come, with a timeless design and styling language which will please many (and your family) and will never ever look dated and out of place…but rather grow into an icon!

Hans Knol ten Bensel