New & Used Fiat 500L: In Depth
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The Fiat 500L is a compact tall wagon that was the first of several vehicles to extend the popular Fiat 500 line into new segments. It actually shares almost nothing but a powertrain and some styling cues with the Fiat 500 minicar that brought the brand back to the U.S. market several years prior. The 500L's main strength is remarkable interior room compared to its small footprint.
The biggest little 500 competes with the smallest wagons and crossovers, including the MINI Countryman, Kia Soul, and perhaps even the flexible and versatile Honda Fit subcompact hatch. It will soon be joined by a 500X crossover model, which itself will compete with some of the same models.
At launch, it came with a single engine and a choice of two transmissions (recently expanded to three). The 160-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine comes standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, with an optional six-speed automatic dual-clutch transmission available as well. It's only offered in front-wheel-drive form, though; a Fiat 500X that offers AWD will arrive for the 2016 model year. Gas mileage is rated at 27 mpg combined (24 mpg city, 33 mpg highway) with the dual-clutch automatic and marginally better, at 28 mpg combined (25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway), with the manual. The recently added conventional automatic fares worse than those two in fuel-economy testing.
Fiat made few changes to the 500L for 2015. A six-speed automatic was added as an option, bringing the total transmission choices to an unusual three for the lone 1.4-liter engine; it was added in response to consumers and reviewers not liking the dual-clutch automatic option. The six-speed is optional on Easy and Trekking models, and standard on the 500L Lounge. Fuel economy ratings for the conventional auto are the worst among the three transmission offerings, at 22/30 mpg. Fiat will also offer a special-edition 500L Urbana Trekking model, which gets its own options and aesthetic extras, including trim in matte black.
The 500L's styling is tall, glassy, and distinctive when specified with the contrasting roof--especially effective when the roof is white and the lower body is black. The front end is the least successful aspect of the design, with high-set lights and a very tall approximation of the smaller and cuter 500 minicar's nose. The interior is pleasingly simple and intuitive, though, with excellent storage space in a multitude of bins, trays, containers, and pockets for all the loose items we carry with us on road trips these days.
The Fiat 500L comes in four trim levels: Pop, Easy, Trekking, and Lounge. The basic Pop and all other models include standard air conditioning, cruise control, audio controls on the steering wheel, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, and a six-speaker audio system with a 5.0-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth audio streaming, and both audio and USB ports.
The next level up, Easy, adds 16-inch alloy wheels, a front center console/armrest, cloth upholstery, an upgraded sound system, tinted rear glass, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. The Trekking, as its name indicates, adds lots of rugged-look accessories that give it the appearance of being ready to go off road (but again, it's still front-drive only). Those include larger, 17-inch wheels; fog lamps; fender flares; and tougher-looking front and rear fascias. Trekking models also add a unique two-tone black and brown interior.
Move up to the top-of-the-line Lounge model, which costs around $25,000, and you add power heated leather seats; a rear seat that slides back and forth, reclines, splits, folds, and tumbles; a dual-zone climate control system; and fog lamps up front. Options are offered as various packages and individual items, including a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, and a fairly rudimentary navigation system.
The 2016 model year marks the arrival of the Fiat 500X, a crossover extension of the 500 family. It is also related to the hatchback/cabrio in name only, and uses a variation of the 500L's platform. Thankfully, the X does a better job extending the original's look to a larger vehicle than the 500L. The 500X is directly related to Jeep's new Renegade small SUV, but carries a more style- and street-centered focus.