2014 Fiat 500L Review

2014 Fiat 500L - The new 2014 Fiat 500L is largely a utilitarian sedan with some Italian flair


The 2014 Fiat 500L sedan doesn't have much in common with the lively but smaller two-door 500 models.

For instance,the $19,100-$24,195 500L four-door hatchback sedan is 27.7 inches longer and has approximately six inches more height and width than the two-door 500. Its grille looks as if pasted on to provide a family resemblance to other 500 models.

The front-wheel-drive 500L isn't as cute as the smaller 500. It has a short nose you can't see from the driver's seat and a raked windshield. A large glass area allow good vision. It's no head-turner, but has a clean Italian design.

Rivals include the Audi A3, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Mazda2 and Mini  Countryman, not to mention the offbeat Kia Soul and Scion xB. The 500L is more stylish than those Kia and Scion models and seems primarily aimed at the more expensive Countryman.

The 500L is made at a Fiat plant in Serbia. It generally feels solid, but I heard a few squeaks and rattles from my test car.   

Power comes from the same 1.4-liter, turbocharged 160-horsepower four-cylinder with 180 pound-feet of torque found in the racy Abarth 500.

However, the 500L is considerably heavier than the smaller 500, and the extra weight causes performance to suffer. While lively in town, the 500L provides only moderate highway performance-and its engine is noisy when during 65-75 mph passing.

Estimated fuel economy is with its six-speed Euro Twin Clutch automatic transmission is 24 miles per gallon in the city and 33 on highways. It's 25 and 33 with the standard six-speed manual transmission.

In keeping with Fiat 500 tradition, the 500L comes in four unconventionally named models: Pop, Easy, Trekking and Lounge. All are pretty well-equipped.

For instance, the $19,100 Pop's items include air conditioning, power locks and windows, cruise control, tilt/telescopic wheel, 5-inch touchscreen display, six speakers, manually adjustable cloth seats, 60/40 split-fold rear seatbacks and 16-inch wheels.

Safety features include seven air bags.

The $20,195 Easy adds aluminum wheels, body color mirror caps, leather-wrapped wheel, unique cloth seat fabric and a six-speaker premium audio system.

The $21,195 Trekking adds "aggressively designed" front and rear fascias, fog lamps, body-side sill moldings and larger (17-inch) aluminum wheels with wider tires.

Finally, the $24,195 Lounge adds the Euro Twin Clutch transmission, chrome bodyside moldings and mirror caps, lower front and rear fascia accents, heated leather front seats and split-fold rear seatbacks with fore-aft adjustment that completely tumble forward. Also standard are automatic dual-zone climate control and sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors.

Options include a power sunroof. During its first year of production, Fiat says a no-charge Premier Package will be included with Easy, Trekking and Lounge models. This package will include rear-park assist, rear backup camera and Uconnect 6.5 with a larger 6.5-inch touchscreen and navigation. Uconnect 6.5 has voice operation of navigation, AM/FM and hands-free calling, among other functions.
Italian cars generally are fun to drive, but the 500L isn't much fun. Its steering is quick, but stiff and lifeless. The brake pedal, which controls anti-lock brakes, is soft and has a non-linear action-causing a driver to apply more brake pedal effort than initially seems necessary. Handling is average, but  electronic stability control enhances roadability.

The test 500L had the Euro Twin Clutch transmission. It was smooth during average acceleration, but caused the car to become a bit jerky in fully automatic mode during certain common acceleration conditions. However, this transmission has an easily used manual shift feature, using the shift lever on the console. (No shift paddles offered.)

I recommend the standard six-speed manual transmission, which gets a little more out of the small engine. A conventional torque-converter automatic is scheduled to be available in calendar 2014 and likely will become the most popular 500L transmission.

The 500L has an impressively large cabin with lots of glass area for good visibility. A high roof provides an airy interior, and four tall adults easily fit. Five fit if the rear-center occupant doesn't mind sitting on the stiff backseat center area, which is best occupied by a small fold-down armrest.

A tall stance, large door handles and wide doorways make it easy to slide in and out of both front and rear of the generally quiet interior, which has lots of hard, but moderately attractive, plastic. All doors have storage pockets and there are two glove compartments-one small, the other fairly large.

Gauges are generally easy to read, although black speedometer/tachometer numbers on a silver background seem more stylish than practical. Controls can be worked efficiently, and the stiff front armrest with a covered storage bin can be folded up if a driver wants it out of the way. The parking brake on the front console looks dandy.

Front seats are supportive in curves, but rather flat. Some tall drivers may feel that the tilt steering wheel must be pushed all the way toward the dash to prevent them from feeling too close to the wheel.

The hatchback opens to reveal a low, wide cargo opening, and the hatch has a convenient interior pull-down handle. The hood raises easily on twin hydraulic struts.

The 500L is "no trip to Hollywood," as the saying goes, but offers good room and versatility while providing a small footprint.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

For more reviews from Dan, visit Facebook.