2017 FIAT 500L: New Car Review
The 2017 FIAT 500L represents the fourth year on the market for FIAT's four-door, quasi-wagon hatchback, and things haven't exactly gone swimmingly. Maybe it's the odd styling, maybe it's the poor resale value and reliability ratings, or maybe it's the wonky automated manual transmission that's thankfully been discontinued, but for whatever reason, the 500L has not resonated with customers. But, with some updates for 2017, should it do better in the future?
Well, for starters, the now-standard 6-speed automatic dramatically improves the driving experience. It's smoother and quicker as a result despite less-than-stellar fuel economy. FIAT has also streamlined the trim level and options structure, making it easier to buy one. And if you do, you'll still find a vehicle that does a great job of getting the most space out of a small exterior package. The cabin offers commendable comfort for four people and superior visibility. Plus, its styling won't be for everyone, but it's certainly distinctive -- that's something you can't say for many vehicles with similar practicality.
Given the low price that's likely to go down even lower at a dealer, the 500L could be worth a look. Its space, character and improved driveability would probably make for a pretty good low-cost Uber or Lyft car, or perhaps an off-beat choice for young families.
What's New for 2017?
The FIAT 500L loses its terrible dual-clutch automated manual transmission for 2017, disappointing absolutely no one. The loss of the traditional manual transmission is a bit sad, but we doubt many people opted for it. FIAT also streamlined the 500L's trim levels down to three from five.
What We Like
Large and versatile interior; quirky design elements; good visibility; easy-to-use touchscreen
What We Don't
Poor resale value and reliability ratings; rough ride; no advanced safety tech
Things are a lot simpler under the hood for 2017, as every FIAT 500L now comes standard with the same combination of 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder (160 horsepower, 184 lb-ft of torque), front-wheel drive and a 6-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration and driveability have improved considerably thanks to the new automatic transmission, but fuel economy has gone down a bit to a mediocre 22 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg combined.
Standard Features & Options
The 2017 FIAT 500L is available in Pop, Trekking and Lounge trim levels.
Standard equipment on the base Pop ($21,000) includes 16-in alloy wheels, full power accessories, keyless entry, height-adjustable front seats, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 60/40-split folding and sliding back seats, Bluetooth, a 5-in Uconnect touchscreen interface, a USB port, an auxiliary audio jack, a CD player and a 6-speaker sound system.
The Trekking ($23,000) adds vaguely more rugged looks plus 17-in wheels, foglights, leather upholstery, heated front seats, satellite radio and a 6-speaker Beats Audio system upgrade.
The Lounge trim ($23,700) is pretty much the same as the Trekking in regards to feature content, but ditches the rugged looks for more chrome and body-colored pieces. We suppose it's vaguely more premium in appearance.
The Popular Equipment package adds rear parking sensors, a backup camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, 4-way power driver lumbar support, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and satellite radio (if not already specified). The Premium package includes all of those items, plus a compact spare tire and a navigation system integrated into the standard Uconnect touchscreen. The Pop's version of the Premium package includes the Beats Audio system (Pop), while the Trekking and Lounge version includes a dual-pane sunroof that is available separately. You can also add contrasting black or white roofs to the Trekking and Lounge, while the Trekking can be equipped with an Urbana package that adds black wheels and a red roof.
The FIAT 500L has not been rated for crash safety by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It has, however, been crash-tested by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, where it received the best possible Good marks in all tests, save for the newer, more stringent small-overlap test where it received the worst possible Poor rating.
As for safety features, the 500L is behind the times. Yes, it includes necessities like front side airbags, side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and traction control, but its backup camera is optional. It's standard on most cars theses days. The 500L is also not available with any of today's increasingly common safety options, including forward-collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning or a blind spot monitoring system.
Behind the Wheel
It's important to get one point out of the way quickly: The 500L doesn't drive like its baby brother. Shoppers expecting it to drive like its tiny 500 will find the 500L to be flaccid around corners and not especially fun to drive. Even the 500X sub-compact SUV provides a little more verve behind the wheel. We've also found the 500L's ride to be on the rough side.
The good news is that one of the 500L's biggest demerits has been completely exorcised. Gone is the herky-jerky old automated manual transmission and in its place a traditional 6-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy still isn't that great, but power from the 160-hp turbocharged engine manages to flow in a smoother manner. Acceleration is also pretty good, as the 500L feels pretty peppy compared to sub-compact SUVs like its 500X sibling (it can be had with the same turbo engine, but only with a manual transmission).
We're also impressed with the 500L's interior. It looks big on paper with ample legroom and headroom in all directions. But in practice, it's somehow even bigger. The 500L may owe this to its impressively large windows, which provide excellent visibility in every possible direction. They give the cabin a light, airy feel that makes it seem like a vehicle twice its size.
Speaking of the 500L's cabin, some of the trims could be a little more upscale. Considering a well-equipped model can get well north of $25,000, the controls can seem cartoonish at times -- a trait that works a lot better on the less-expensive 500 subcompact. At least every 500L gets an easy-to-use, if small, Uconnect touchscreen.
Other Cars to Consider
2017 Honda Fit -- Want to get the biggest and most versatile interior with the smallest possible exterior? You're looking for the Honda Fit. It boasts better driving dynamics, fuel economy, resale value and reliability than the 500L.
2017 Kia Soul -- It's not the chic new FIAT brand, but the Kia Soul is tremendously popular for a reason. The hatchback combines practicality, equipment and style into one well-priced package.
2017 FIAT 500X -- If you dig the FIAT look and vibe, but are looking for a stronger all-around effort, it's definitely worth considering the 500X. It's more akin to an SUV, is available with all-wheel drive, and we think it looks considerably better inside and out than the 500X.
Used FIAT 500L -- Given the 500L's terrible depreciation, it makes a lot of sense to consider a lightly used one if you think it's the car for you. Sure, you may need to deal with the wonky old automated manual transmission, but you'll also be saving a lot of money.
If we were writing the check, we'd get the 500L Lounge. Even in the hatchback's top trim level, prices are still reasonable, especially with sharp discounts currently offered by FIAT. And the Lounge comes surprisingly well-equipped, touting a lot of comfort features that enhance the driving (or riding) experience.