Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review: 2014 Fiat 500L Trekking

Fiat 500L Trekking at a vineyard
The Fiat 500L Trekking looks at home in front of grapevines and vineyard buildings. 
This wasn’t our first time behind the wheel of Fiat’s larger 500L. The first time we drove the larger Fiat 500L "Gigantica," it was the “Easy” model with a six-speed manual wearing a fairly wretched shade of robin’s-egg blue/gray and featuring a neoprene upholstery that may have been made from recycled wet suits. And despite the fact it wasn’t the prettiest girl at the dance, I couldn’t help but like a lot of aspects about it.

This time around, we’re dealing with the Fiat 500L Trekking model. The Trekking trim level butches up the package by adding some body cladding, a slightly different front fascia, and different 17” wheels. From an aesthetic perspective, I think the 500L Trekking looks better than the Easy, as the body cladding adds some rugged looking characteristics. I also believe the slightly ungainly 500L looks best in dark colors so our dark green 500L has that going for it. So while it still might be somewhat homely, at least it’s wearing the right kind of clothes for its body type.

Fiat 500L Trekking in front of barn

Under the hood is a turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir engine making 160 horsepower and a robust 184 lbs/ft of torque—the same as all 500L models. However, this time around, our review subject is mated to the six-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission, which drastically changes the driving experience and not in a good way. This transmission can’t seem to make up its mind. It never seems to be in the right gear or part of the powerband. In fact, we stopped on a fairly steep incline, and as we applied the throttle, instead of slow forward progress, boost kicked in and we spun the tires up the hill a bit. Wasn’t expecting that!

That scrappy, fun-to-drive personality our previous 500L Easy tester had—which made us think a 500L Abarth might be a good idea—is lost when this car is equipped with the twin-clutch transmission. This is a shame since the 500L Easy with its slick-shifting manual could make you overlook the car’s ungainly exterior. And while acceleration is only on the better side of adequate, the delivery is odd due to the fussy transmission paired with an engine that doesn’t come alive until the middle part of the powerband. FYI, Fiat did a recall 500Ls with twin-clutch transmissions a few months back to address some of the issues. Assuming our tester had the upgrades, I can only imagine what it would’ve been like before the recall.

There is good news, however, and it’s twofold. Firstly, the Trekking can be had with the manual transmission and, secondly, there’s a good chance the 500L will be getting the traditional five-speed automatic transmission that’s now available on the new-for-2015 Fiat 500 Abarth (yes, you can now get an Abarth with a slushbox).

Fiat 500L Trekking interior

Sans the not-so-great gearbox, the 500L Trekking, like the 500L Easy we previously tested, has a lot going for it. The interior is ginormous and comfortable. You can get scads of your belongings (and others’ belongings) inside. Our tester came with the terrific Beats audio system which has a ground-pounding subwoofer. The whole works is controlled by Chrysler’s outstanding U-Connect infotainment system, which I think is at the top of the class. Seriously, there are few better systems no matter how much money you spend on your mode of vehicular transportation. Also, the climate control is a cinch to use and works effectively. Of note: The ignition was fussy. The first time I turned the car off, I couldn’t get the key out. I seriously thought I was going to have to call someone. After a bit of finessing, I learned I needed to turn the car off, turn the key slightly the opposite way, and it’d pop out. Who knew?

Another thing the 500L has going for it (no matter which trim level you opt for) is the handling—it’s way better than you’d expect. Despite its tall-wagon looks, it actually handles quite well with minimal understeer, less body roll than you’d expect, and a surprisingly nimble feeling. I just wish the seats were more supportive and held you in place better. It also may take some time to get used to the large distance between the driver and the front window. That dash is deep!

Fiat 500L sunroof

Additionally, our 500L Trekking came with a fantastic power sunroof (an $1,100 option) that takes up nearly the entire roof. Fiat uses a perforated mesh sunshade to cover the glass up, which still allows a good amount of sunshine in, which can heat up the cabin on hot days. Ask me how I know.

Rated at 24 city, 27 combined, and 33 highway MPG, I averaged 26 MPG in mostly city usage; the 500L drinks premium fuel, too.

Fiat 500L Trekking rear

Our Verde Bosco Perla … er … Forest Green 500L Trekking has a sticker price of $26,845, which includes the $800 destination charge. This model also had $4,650 worth of options including dual-zone climate control, power lumbar on the driver’s seat, heated front seats, the aforementioned Beats Audio and power sunroof, a compact spare, and, oh yeah—the twin-clutch automatic transmission. I was able to build a basic 500L Trekking for $22,445, which doesn’t include any of the options I just listed.

The Trekking’s slightly more rugged looks do indeed make the car more appealing in the styling department. And it is a just-right size for those looking for something big on the inside and somewhat smaller on the outside. Plus, other than the automatic transmission, the car has good overall driving dynamics and a range of options that should satisfy many buyers. My advice would be to get the manual transmission or wait until 2015 for the traditional automatic transmission to arrive.

1 comment:

Tony said...

Every single time I see a 500L it makes my nose wrinkle.. :-/