2014 Fiat 500L Review

Moving people with Italian style.

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July 3, 2013

2014 Fiat 500L Review

Keeping the manual in the lower four gears ensures that the Fiat will be moving a decent clip.

Introduction
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, than the folks at Mini are probably blushing right now, thanks to the looks of the new Fiat 500L.

One might reasonably expect the 500L to simply be a stretched version of the Fiat 500 subcompact, but it's not. It rides on a different platform -- the company's new 'small wide' platform -- than the 500, and it looks different. So different, in fact, that even our trained eyes damn near mistook it for its rival, the Mini Countryman, upon first glance.

Once our eyes adjusted and we hopped behind the wheel, the differences between the two (as well as between the 500L and every other boxmobile on the market) became apparent. First, though, a primer on the newest Fiat.

Fiat calls the 500L a 'multi-purpose vehicle,' and in a bid to capture young, urban buyers, those 500Ls sold with a two-tone roof will have more than 30 color combinations. Buyers who opt for all but the most basic trim will also get a Premier Package free of charge, if they purchase during the first model year. This $1,745 value (according to Fiat) includes navigation, parking assist, a rearview camera, and Chrysler's UConnect infotainment system.

Speaking of trims, there are four for the 500L: base Pop, Easy, Trekking, and top-line Lounge. The Trekking trim is meant to curry favor among those who live more 'outdoorsy' lifestyles, while the Easy should appeal to those who want a little more content than offered in the Pop (or who want an automatic transmission, which isn't available on the Pop).

There's only one engine, a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 160 horsepower, and two transmissions for now (a traditional six-speed automatic comes later): a six-speed manual and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (essentially, an automated clutchless manual). If you want a transmission choice, choose a Trekking or Easy -- Pop is manual only, while the Lounge is stickshift-less.

Front-wheel drive is the only available powertrain layout (sorry Snowbelters) and thanks to the new platform, Fiat is promising 120.1 cubic feet of interior volume.

Sales of the 500L are beginning as you read this, with the cheapest Pop going out the door for $19,900, including destination. Is the 500L a worthy imitator (competitor) to the Mini and the rest? Read on.

2014 Fiat 500L On the Road We took whacks at both transmissions and found the manual-transmission car to be the more enjoyable of the two, since the 1.4-liter's dearth of low-end torque was more easily countered by the shift-it-yourself option.

Keeping the transmission in the lower gears helps the 500L get moving, and it needs the help at times. It also seems to run out of breath in fifth and sixth -- keeping the manual in the lower four gears ensures that the Fiat will be moving a decent clip. Switching to the automatic takes a bit more oomph away.

Fiat had vehicles from the 500L's competitive set on hand for assembled journalists to drive during our visit to Baltimore (which will be the first point of entry for the Serbian-built 500L, which will be assembled in the former Yugo plant), and one of those was the Mini Countryman. We immediately found the Countryman to be far more enthusiastic about being pushed, thanks to accurate, responsive steering that's sharper than what's in the 500L. The Countryman feels a tad quicker, too. On the other hand, it gets slightly pricier with options than the 500L.

For around-town scooting, the 500L will be fine for most folks. But it doesn't register high on the enthusiast scale.
2014 Fiat 500L Exterior Comparisons to the Countryman aside, we like the overall look of the 500L. It does look a bit like a stretched 500, with plenty of jellybean-type rounded edges and lots of circular and ovoid shapes. Opting for the Trekking trim gets you a more aggressive front fascia that gives a bit of a sportier/more outdoorsy air to the car.

The 500L isn't quite wagon or a crossover SUV or a sedan -- Fiat calls it a people-mover, we call it a four-door hatchback that looks just a bit wagon-esque. It's distinctive, that's for sure.
2014 Fiat 500L Interior Those expecting the same cockpit details from the 500 will be surprised; the cabin is completely different here, from the gauges to the large steering wheel to the integrated nav system to the HVAC controls. We took issue with the aesthetics of the steering wheel -- it looks a little bus-like -- but the HVAC controls have a modern look, and the nav system/UConnect infotainment system is an improvement over the spawn of Satan attachable unit in the regular 500. Not only does it look better, but it works better, too, for the most part. Our only quibble was an occasionally slow transition between menus.

Thanks to the tall greenhouse, headroom isn't an issue, and taller drivers will find plenty of legroom up front, although the rear gets tight for taller adults. Switches are generally where they should be, and only one piece of Italian design causes us to scratch our heads -- the squared-off parking brake handle. It's clunky to use and not pleasing to the eyes.

The cabin is generally quiet at around-town speeds, as well.

Fiat offers 99.7 cubic feet of passenger volume, so the 500L doesn't lack for space. Take note, young families and couples who like to camp.
2014 Fiat 500L Final Thoughts This not-quite van, not-quite SUV, not-quite wagon enters a niche of boxy small cargo and kid haulers with Italian design flair as its primary weapon. It offers space, attractive (if slightly derivative) styling, and perhaps best of all, a high feature-per-dollar ratio. Fiat says a loaded Lounge will go out the door for about $27,500.

Enthusiasts will want to save some pennies for the Countryman, but those with a higher priority on budget and cargo/people moving might be enticed by this Italian-Serbian immigrant. We have our wishes -- more power and sharper handling responses chief among them -- but we can't argue with the packaging. It's not as weird as the Nissan Cube, not as boring as the Scion xB, not as edgy as the Kia Soul -- it simply offers a lot of interior space while still pleasing the eyes. Yes, it looks like the Mini, but it also offers 12 cubic feet more passenger volume for less cash.

Fiat might be flattering Mini, or it might be doing the formula better. Your take will depend on where your priorities lie.
2014 Fiat 500L Specs, Features, & Prices Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder

Transmission: Six-speed manual, dual-clutch automated manual, six-speed automatic (late availability).

Drive Wheels: Front-wheel-drive

Fuel Economy: 24 mpg city (automatic), 25 (manual)/33 mpg highway

Base Price: $19,100

Available Features: Navigation, Bluetooth, USB, satellite radio, infotainment system, heated front seats, leather seats, rearview camera, rear obstacle detection, dual-zone climate control, panoramic sunroof, tilt/telescope steering wheel.

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