2014 Fiat 500L Review

2014 Fiat 500L - The not-so-small 500L packs a few surprises beneath it's playful exterior.


Vehicle Tested
2014 Fiat 500L Lounge
Base Price: $24,195
As-Tested Price: $27,445
Built in Serbia.

Beats Audio Package
17-Inch Aluminum Wheels

Engine: Turbocharged 1.4-liter I4, 160 horsepower
Transmission: 6-Speed Automatic
Drive Wheels: Front-Wheel Drive

For 2014, Fiat grows its lineup with the addition of the 500L. The 500L is a front-drive four-door hatchback/wagon that straddles the fence between subcompact car and crossover. Competitors include the Honda Fit, Kia Soul, MINI Countryman and Nissan Juke.

Despite sharing a name with the diminutive 500, the 500L shares components with a vehicle not sold in the U.S., the Fiat Panda. Compared to the 500, the 500L is 27 inches longer, six inches wider and six inches taller. Even so, it's only about 168 inches long - shorter than a Ford Fiesta.

Flavors include Pop, Easy, Trekking and Lounge. All get a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 160 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. The engine mates to either a six-speed manual transmission or six-speed automatic.

Safety features standard on all models includes front airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags, side-curtain front airbags, driver-knee airbag, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic stability control, hill start assist. Rear park assist and a rearview camera are optional.

The $19,100 500L Pop comes with manually adjustable seats with driver and passenger height adjustment, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, power windows, remote keyless entry, trip computer, Bluetooth, the a six-speaker audio system with Fiat's Uconnect interface, a USB port, auxiliary audio jack, heated power outside mirrors, rear window wiper and 16-inch steel wheels with plastic covers.

Fiat 500L Easy lists for $20,195 and adds leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and 16-inch aluminum wheels. Fiat 500L Trekking starts at $21,195 and gets premium cloth bucket seats, unique interior and exterior trim, floor mats, and 17-inch aluminum wheels with wider 225/45R17 all-season tires.

The line-topping Fiat 500L Lounge sells for $24,195 and comes standard with the dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, four-way power adjustable driver's seat with lumbar, 60/40-split folding rear seats with fore-aft adjustment and a recline and tumble feature, integrated armrest with cup holders, auto-dimming rear-view mirror with compass, fog lamps and chrome body trim.

The Fiat 500L is built in Serbia and has an $800 destination charge.

Get Up and Go  The 500L's turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine produces a respectable 160 hp, which makes it one of the more powerful engines in the class. Given a heavy throttle foot, the engine drives the 500L around smartly. Passing power is also quite good. Getting the most out of the engine, requires keeping up turbo boost, which means more noise and lots of downshifting from the transmission.

Thankfully, the transmission is quick to respond to the demands of the right foot and downshifts with minimal fuss. Part-throttle shifts are sometimes balky, which grows tiresome in stop and go traffic.

EPA ratings are 24 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. Those numbers are on par with most competitors but fall short of the economy-minded class leaders like the Honda Fit and Kia Soul. In routine suburban commuting, the 500L will likely average about 25 mpg. If you spend a lot of time on the highway when commuting, you might see as high as 28 mpg. Straight highway driving nets about 30 mpg.

On the Road  Where the Fiat 500 is sporty and athletic, the 500L feels a little tipsy and sloppy. That's not to say the suspension is soft, it's just not as firm as you'd expect. Tuned for American tastes, the 500L rides quite nicely with good bump absorption and minimal secondary bobbing.

On twisty roads, the 500L can't match the sporty moves of the MINI Countryman, but does hold its own compared others in the class. The tall build and compliant suspension contribute to a fair amount of body lean in tight corners. The steering is accurate and quick but a trifle over boosted. Brakes have good stopping power.

Interior noise levels are respectable for the class but higher than a typical subcompact. The biggest culprit is an engine that booms under hard acceleration. However, the open hatch area also contributes a fair amount of tire noise at highway speeds.

Behind the Wheel  Inside, the 500L nicely blends European design with user-friendly ergonomics. Materials are fresh and feel upscale, but the look hides mostly hard plastics. Gauges are simple and straight forward - easy to read and nicely lit, day or night. Center stack holds radio and climate controls. Once again, simple and user friendly. 

The only complaint is the available navigation system. It doesn't mate well with control interface and tends to be distracting rather than helpful. The biggest flaws are hard-to-program destination entry and a frustrating auto-zoom function that is constantly resizing the display.

Front seats are tall and upright. They provide good comfort and support. Head room is great and leg room good. Getting in and out is a snap thanks to the tall build. Outward visibility is decent, but it takes some getting used to the unusual unique multi-front-pillar setup. Thankfully, after some time behind the wheel forward blind spots seem to disappear.

Rear seats are roomier than expected, perhaps best in class. Seat comfort is nothing special but certainly adequate for most needs. Knee room is exceptional and head room good on models without the sunroof and adequate on models with. Once again, getting in and out is a snap.

Cargo area is smaller than expected, but the hatch opening is large and the rear seats fold nearly flat. Interior storage is great with lots of cubbies and bins.

Bottom Line  If you're thinking the 500L is just a four-door 500, you're in for quite a shock. It's much more a small crossover than compact hatch. The high ride height, upright seating position, large greenhouse and functional design are strong points that make it an excellent urban assault vehicle. Not without faults, the 500L is worth considering for those looking for affordable and practical transportation with a bit of a European flair.

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.