The largest offering in the Fiat stable, the 500L wagon offers four-door convenience and the cargo-handling ability of a compact crossover. You also get passenger room and comfort on a scale that makes that 500L a free-spirited alternative to more conventional family vehicles.
2016 FIAT 500L Overview
What's New for 2016
The 500L is essentially unchanged.
Choosing Your FIAT 500L
The 500L's tallish body and high-mounted seats give the impression of riding in a crossover, which is clearly what the designers intended. Even with the rear seat in place, you get 23 cubic feet of cargo space, enough for weekend family trips or a few weeks' worth of groceries. The seat slides and reclines to help keep passengers comfortable. Fold it down and you're looking at 68 cubic feet, a laudable amount for what is essentially a compact wagon.
Every model is powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 160 horsepower. A six-speed manual transmission comes standard, and you can opt for a six-speed automated manual or conventional six-speed automatic. Expect about 25 to 28 mpg in combined driving depending on the transmission.
The 500L is offered in four trim levels:
- Pop: Comes with the manual transmission only and all the expected passenger car conveniences. The six-speaker sound system features Bluetooth phone and audio, a 5-inch touchscreen, and voice controls. The Pop rolls on 16-inch steel wheels.
- Easy: Gives you a choice of all three transmissions (manual, automated manual, automatic) and additional standard equipment such as premium cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a front console, alloy wheels, and an upgraded sound system. The available Popular Equipment group adds dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver seat, a rear armrest, an auto-dimming mirror, and a household-style power outlet. You can also order a premium Beats sound system with satellite radio. Technology gets a boost from the optional Premiere package, which adds a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, and a navigation system.
- Trekking: Builds on the Easy with upgraded interior and exterior trim, foglamps, and 17-inch wheels. The option packages remain available.
- Urbana Trekking: Gets matte black exterior trim with matching alloy wheels and your choice of a black, white, or red roof. The Beats Audio sound system comes standard, and all other equipment and options are shared with the standard Trekking model.
- Lounge: Gets the six-speed automatic transmission and Popular Equipment package as standard, plus leather upholstery and heated front seats. The Lounge reverts to 16-inch wheels; 17s are optional.
The Easy and Trekking can get the Lounge's heated seats as a standalone option. Available on all three are a sunroof and a black- or white-painted roof.
Even in top Lounge trim, the 500L carries a lower price than you would expect for a vehicle of its interior volume. But if you're looking for maximum dollar value, the Easy or Trekking will feel about right.
2016 FIAT 500L Review
Fiat captured the eyes and hearts of many a microcar fancier when the revived 500 coupe and cabriolet debuted for 2012. Few cars looked so cheerful, lively and cute, while handling so nimbly. Then, to attract families, the larger, taller four-door 500L wagon emerged as a 2014 model.
Pricing and Equipment
Starting at $19,495 in Easy trim, the 500L comes in four step-up trim levels. My 500L experience has focused on the Trekking edition, which has an MSRP of $21,880.
Fiat’s turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine develops 160 horsepower. Two transmissions are available: six-speed manual, and six-speed automatic. (Last year’s six-speed automated-manual transmission is no longer available.) Fuel economy with manual shift is estimated at up to 25 mpg in city driving and 33 mpg on the highway. With automatic, the estimate is 22/30 mpg city/highway.
Standard equipment in the Trekking edition of the 500L includes:
- Air conditioning
- Uconnect multimedia
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel
- Cruise Control
- Driver's knee airbag; front seat-mounted airbags
- Remote keyless entry
- 17-inch aluminum wheels
- Fender flares
- When accelerating from lower speeds, the automatic transmission may kick down a gear or two and response is brisk. If downshifting fails to occur, performance barely qualifies as anemic, held back by that sluggish automatic.
- Manual-shift acceleration is adequate if you’re in the best gear for the moment; otherwise, it can be a bit puny.
- A nice tall lever operates the manual gearbox, which shifts easily enough; but underneath, it feels on the clunky side.
- Acceleration is nothing to shout about, marred by an automatic transmission that can slide sloppily between gears. Engine speed drops way down in the process, then has to be prodded back up again.
- Unlike the two-door Fiat 500 coupe and cabrio, which are sheer joy to drive, the 500L falls way short in the fun department. Handling is unabashedly humdrum.
- Starting off smoothly with manual shift isn’t so easy.
- Visibility is top-notch. Even the front quarter windows, far bigger than most, actually provide enhanced visibility, almost qualifying as a safety feature.
- Cargo space is vast for a car of this size. Getting inside is a snap, and passengers sit tall for great views.
- Apart from headroom, the back seat is roomy. Most notably, the center rear position is no worse than the outboard seats, which is a rarity these days.
- Headroom is huge up front, but limited in the back.
- Front seats are comfortable enough, but short on side bolstering. Seat bottoms could be longer, too.
- Instruments are stylish, but not so easily readable.
The Most Pleasant Surprise
Size. That’s an easy one to answer. Anyone who’s tried to squeeze into the back seat of a Fiat 500 coupe or cabriolet might be tempted by this variant with plenty of elbow room.
The Least Pleasant Surprise
How can two versions of a vehicle be so completely different, as if they hailed from different planets? The two-door Fiat 500 is my favorite car. After test-driving one, I invariably regret having to give it back. Following trials in the four-door 500L, I could hardly wait to get rid of it.
The Bottom Line
Obviously, a fair number of folks disagree with my acerbic appraisal of the 500L, which finds the four-door nearly devoid of Fiat character and charm. Several 500Ls were even used to transport Pope Francis during his U.S. visit. Sales haven’t been brisk by any means, but the 500L’s spacious interior evidently attracts buyers who might otherwise opt for a compact crossover.