You probably know FIAT from its tiny 3-door 500 hatchback. You know the one: cute yet bold styling, tiny exterior dimensions and an interior designed to make you smile. As of the 2014 model year, however, FIAT is no longer just a small hatchback. Enter the 2014 FIAT 500L, a 5-door hatch sized to compete with larger models such as the Kia Soul, Mazda5 and MINI Countryman. It boasts a new look, a larger interior and increased power -- all in the name of bringing the FIAT badge to a larger group of people.
What's New for 2014?
The 500L is all-new for the 2014 model year.
What We Like
Large interior; exceptional visibility; decent acceleration; competitive pricing when compared to rivals
What We Don't
Lazy dual-clutch transmission; handling doesn't match the smaller 500; interior materials far from high-grade
The 2014 FIAT 500L is offered with one engine: a 160-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. That's the same powerplant found in turbocharged versions of the FIAT 500. Fuel economy is a little worse in the 500L, with the standard 6-speed manual returning 25 miles per gallon city and 33 mpg highway, for 28 mpg combined. The available dual-clutch automatic is rated at 24 mpg city/33 mpg hwy, for a total of 27 mpg combined.
Standard Features & Options
The FIAT 500L is offered in four versions: Pop, Easy, Trekking and Lounge. Similar unusual trim level names are also found on the standard FIAT 500.
On the base-level Pop ($20,000), FIAT includes 16-inch steel wheels with hubcaps, a CD player with USB and iPod integration, keyless entry, Bluetooth, split-folding rear seats and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.
Drivers who step up to the Easy ($21,000) add alloy wheels and several upgraded trim pieces, such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob and revised seat fabric. The Easy also includes a front center console and a driver's seat armrest.
Next up is the Trekking ($22,000), which adds premium 2-tone cloth seats, larger alloy wheels, fog lights and upgraded front and rear body panels.
Topping the line is the 500L Lounge, which starts at $25,000. That model includes leather upholstery, heated front seats, chrome trim, dual-zone automatic climate control and a power driver's seat.
The 500L includes one major option package. The first is dubbed the Premier package, which includes a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, a 6.5-in touchscreen and a navigation system. FIAT is adding that package for free to all 2014 Easy, Trekking and Lounge models.
Other options include a power sunroof, a white or black roof and an upgraded Beats by Dre sound system. Cargo space in the 500L is around 23 cu ft with the seats up, or nearly 60 cu ft with the rear seats down.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have yet to rate the FIAT 500L for crash safety. Standard safety features include traction control, stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, side airbags, curtain airbags and a driver's side knee airbag. Those who add the Premier package receive a standard rearview camera and rear parking sensors.
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 used to the tiny 500 may find the 500L a bit sluggish through the corners compared to the zippy subcompact. And at around 2.5 feet longer than a 500, the 500L can't be parked in tight spaces or expertly driven through tiny, cramped city centers.
Still, the 500L has more than a few virtues. One is power. While the regular 500 feels sluggish from a stop, the 500L uses the engine from the 500 Turbo. The standard 160 hp is more than adequate in most situations, with FIAT claiming 0-to-60 miles per hour times of around 9 seconds.
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 trim 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. Another demerit is the 500L's automatic transmission, which sometimes feels a little sluggish compared to dual-clutch units in other models.
Other Cars to Consider
Honda Fit -- While the Fit boasts five doors and a surprisingly large interior, it isn't as big as the 500L. So, consider it a 500L Lite. It does offer strong gas mileage in a nimble, easy-to-maneuver package.
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.
Mazda5 -- The Mazda5 touts similar dimensions to the 500L with one big difference: The Mazda has sliding rear doors. To most buyers, that makes it a minivan -- though those who can see past the doors will be impressed with the Mazda5's functionality and value.
MINI Countryman -- Although MINI bills the Countryman as a crossover, it's roughly the same size as a 500L. Power is a little light for the base model, though the Countryman S can outrun a 500L. The only catch: The MINI brand name comes at a premium.
We strongly suggest acting now on a 2014 500L before FIAT removes the Premier package from the standard equipment list. That means we'd narrow our choices to an Easy, Trekking or Lounge -- all of which include the package standard this year. To us, the best value is the high-end Lounge, thanks to sought-after features such as leather, dual-zone automatic climate control and heated front seats.