The Fiat 500L is a compact, front-drive 4-door hatchback that seats five. It competes with vehicles like the Honda HR-V, Kia Soul, MINI Countryman, Nissan Juke and Subaru Crosstrek. 500L straddles the fence between subcompact car and crossover and shares components with a vehicle not sold in the U.S., the Fiat Panda. Compared to the two-door Fiat 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, Urbana Trekking and Lounge. All get a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. On all but the Lounge, the engine mates to a 6-speed manual transmission. Standard on the Lounge and optional on the others is a 6-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.
Prices start at 19,495 for the Pop and climb all the way to $24,795 for the Lounge. The Fiat 500L is built in Serbia and has an $995 destination charge.
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 22 mpg city and 30 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 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.
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.
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 awkward cell-phone integration.
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.
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.