Hip-hop Fiat fails to step up
The 500L might look bright and cheerful but it just doesn't have the required class, writes Campbell Spray
THE figures for the first month's sales of cars produced a lot of joy last week, with Hyundai storming into third place and Ford Ireland boss Eddie Murphy talking of 100,000 units being sold by the end of the year. This would be the first time that has happened since 2008.
In the premium sector, Lexus was celebrating its best performance for years, with its hybrid cars making a strong impression, but Lexus was still 24th in the table with 105 sales, ahead of Mini with 91 and behind Fiat with 120, who in turn were behind Land Rover with 147.
If the sales of the three premium models could be expected, those for Fiat are still frighteningly low although, amazingly, they are 287 per cent up on the 89 cars they sold in the same month last year. By contrast, at the other end of the table, Toyota, Volkswagen and Hyundai sold respectively 2,794, 2,669 and 2,320 cars last month.
Looking into the Fiat details, you see that apart from a couple of dozen Pandas being sold – and I hope they were the brilliant 4x4 version – nearly all the others were the 500 model and its extended big sister, the 500L, which aims to do for the little Italian job what the Countryman does for the Mini.
However, while the latter is a great car in its own right, I'm not sure the same can be said for the 500L. Yet it was the car I was really looking forward to driving as I'm nostalgic for Fiat to do well again. But while the 500L huffs and puffs and comes in funky colour schemes, including a "unique" Hip Hop Yellow, it just doesn't have the class you want.
I was driving the Trekking version, which claims to have a sophisticated Traction+ system. Instead of permanent all-wheel drive, this continuously monitors the vehicle dynamics to direct engine torque to whatever wheel has the most grip. While that aspect of the vehicle was okay, the rest seemed a bit hurried and unsure of itself.
I was worried about the build quality and it reminded me of the pumped-up Renault 4 of a lifetime ago. My confidence in the 500L Trekking was not helped by a visit to the gym on quite a cold, but not freezing, January evening. On the way up there, the car said the temperature outside was a balmy 14C. On the way back an hour later, the temperature read -7C. Okay, it's not the end of the world but for a marque that suffered terribly from a crisis of credibility over the last decade or so, getting it wrong with the small details takes away all confidence.
Yet you could not help smile when you saw the Hip Hop 500L first thing in the morning. It seemed to open up all sorts of opportunities; throw the bike in the back and go for scramble up the mountains or head for the beach and look pretty cool.
Yet while room was good, the load area wasn't totally flat; the gearbox wasn't very precise – and you need to use it a lot to get the car really moving; the ride was a bit choppy; and the view at the front and to the side was a bit obstructed by the twin pillars.
The 500L Trekking starts at €24,000 and while the spec is pretty good, you'll be spending more than €30,000 for the 105BHP 1.6Multijet version, by the time the Hip Hop colour scheme is added in, as well as the panoramic roof, five-inch touch screen, navigation and dual zone air-conditioning.
If it hadn't got the temperature wrong, I might have better feelings about it. But for the moment it can't be recommended, except for that early morning smile, which isn't the same way as Goldie Hawn likes to wake up.