Full 2014 FIAT 500L Review
What's New for 2014
The 2014 Fiat 500L is an all-new model.
When Fiat returned to the U.S. in 2011, it was pretty much guaranteed that the ultracompact 500 hatchback would have narrow appeal. The 500's origins and soul are from Europe, where tight city streets and shorter distances between destinations make small cars a way of life. Fiat always planned to expand the 500 family to include a larger, more useful variation aimed at North American drivers, and now the 2014 Fiat 500L is here.
With two more doors, more than 2 feet of added length and as much interior volume as many full-size cars, the 2014 500L is a wholly different car from the standard Fiat 500: It's a compact wagon and it's close in size to many compact crossovers. High-mounted front seats give the driver and front passenger a commanding view of the road, and rear headroom and legroom are more plentiful than you might think.
This is also a much wider car than the 500 hatchback, and thanks to significant gains in shoulder room and hiproom, getting three children across in the backseat is a legitimate proposition. So is a stop at the grocery store on your way home: The Fiat 500L offers a comparatively titanic 23.1 cubic feet of capacity behind its rear seats compared with just 9.5 in the standard Fiat 500.
To accommodate all that extra size, the new 500L has a standard 160-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It provides ample power for quick trips around town, but not surprisingly, acceleration gets a bit more leisurely when you load up the whole family for a weekend road trip. Then again, most small-wagon and crossover buyers aren't expecting brisk performance.
The 2014 Fiat 500L's key rival is surely the Mini Cooper Countryman, and although the Mini offers sportier handling and the option of all-wheel drive, it's quite a bit slower unless you pony up for the more expensive S model and its turbocharged engine. Another option is the Nissan Juke: It's the quickest of the three with its base engine, but it isn't as roomy on the inside. The Mazda 5 is an interesting alternative if you don't mind a minivan, as it's enjoyable to drive and offers even more utility, thanks to its seven-passenger seating.
Of course, for not a lot more money, you could also think about getting a larger, more powerful crossover such as the Ford Escape or Honda CR-V. All of these vehicles might be too mainstream, however, if you're craving a small utility vehicle with a unique character and appearance. It's not for everyone, but the 2014 Fiat 500L successfully combines the elan of the standard 500 with the usefulness and room of a crossover.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2014 Fiat 500L is a four-door compact wagon sold in four trim levels: Pop, Easy, Trekking and Lounge.
The base-level Pop comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels; keyless entry; power windows and locks; air-conditioning; cruise control; six-way manually adjustable cloth front seats; a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with audio controls; a six-speaker CD stereo with a 5-inch touchscreen display, USB/iPod integration, an auxiliary input and voice control for audio functions; Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity; and 60/40 split-folding rear seats that recline and adjust fore and aft.
The Easy trim level adds 16-inch alloy wheels, body-colored exterior mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a front seat center console and armrest, upgraded seat fabric and a premium 520-watt audio system with six speakers. For 2014, Fiat is offering the optional Premier package, which includes a rearview camera, rear parking sensors and a larger 6.5-inch touchscreen interface with a navigation system, free of charge on all 500L Easy, Trekking or Lounge models.
Other option packages available starting with the Easy trim include a Popular Equipment group, which bundles dual-zone automatic climate control, a six-way power driver seat, rear armrest, auto-dimming rearview mirror and 115-volt power outlet; and the Beats audio group, which provides an upgraded amplifier and subwoofer for the audio system, plus satellite radio. A sunroof, heated seats, a compact spare tire and a black- or white-painted roof are à la carte options.
Move to the Trekking trim and the 2014 Fiat 500L gets 17-inch wheels, foglights, unique front and rear body panels and trim, two-tone interior trim and premium cloth upholstery. The 500L Trekking trim offers the same options as the Easy.
At the top of the 2014 Fiat 500L line you'll find the Lounge model, which reverts to 16-inch wheels but adds chrome exterior trim and mirrors; heated leather front seats with six-way power adjustments for the driver; dual-zone automatic climate control and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The Beats audio upgrade, sunroof, spare tire and white or black roof remain optional on the Lounge, and you can also order 17-inch wheels.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2014 Fiat 500L is front-wheel drive and powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 160 hp and 180 pound-feet of torque. For all but the top-trim Lounge model, a six-speed manual transmission is standard. A six-speed automated manual transmission takes the place of a conventional automatic transmission. It's optional for the 500L Easy and Trekking and standard on the 500L Lounge.
With the manual transmission, the 1.4-liter Multiair engine delivers EPA-rated fuel economy numbers of 25 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined. The automanual version serves up 24/33/27 ratings, which is average for a small wagon/crossover. Fiat says a 500L with the automanual transmission will accelerate to 60 mph in 9.1 seconds, a competitive if not invigorating performance for the class.
All 2014 Fiat 500L models come standard with antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, a driver-side knee airbag and active head restraints for front-seat occupants.
The 2014 500L also comes standard with four-wheel antilock disc brakes, stability control and a tire-pressure monitoring system. A rearview camera and rear parking sensors are also available as part of the no-cost Premier package offered on the 2014 500L Easy, Trekking and Lounge models.
Interior Design and Special Features
Large doors, an upright roof line and high-mounted front seats make it easy to slide right into the 2014 Fiat 500L. The front seats are wide and comfortable, but not especially supportive if you like to drive quickly around corners. Once you're seated, you'll be struck by the expansive field of vision that comes from the wagon's large glass area. This imparts a unique sense of security, as the 500L driver enjoys practically unimpeded views in any direction.
The dashboard design of the 500L is contemporary, fresh and airy, complementing the overall impression of a light-filled interior. The dual-gauge instrument cluster looks modern, and the dials deliver needed information clearly, although some of the ancillary information in the center cluster display comes with small fonts and a slightly muddy presentation. The padded upper dash is particularly nice in this class, as is the generously sized infotainment interface.
The 500L's ample interior room is obvious in the backseat, where the car's width provides a comfortable perch for two adults or three children. There's a wealth of legroom, too, particularly if the sliding 60/40 seats are in their rearmost position.
If you drop the rear seatbacks, you can also stuff quite a bit of cargo in the back of this small wagon. The fact that the rear-seat backrests don't fold totally flat robs the 500L of a little utility, but its luggage compartment volume of 21.3 cubic feet surpasses that of the Countryman and the Juke.
There's little about driving the 2014 Fiat 500L that transfers from the miniscule two-door Fiat 500. Although it's still diminutive among wagons, the 500L feels several times larger than the phone-booth-size 500 hatchback. As such, the 500L's ride and handling traits are softer and less nimble than those of the regular 500. Still, the 500L's steering is precise and feels composed when going around turns.
Although its power delivery is very smooth, the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine meets its match in the not-exactly-svelte 500L. Acceleration in suburban-crawl conditions is adequate, but even with just a couple of people aboard, accelerating up to highway speeds requires some patience.
Prospective 2014 Fiat 500L buyers should also be aware that the wagon's available automated manual transmission doesn't always feel like a conventional automatic transmission. It can be a touch slow to respond when you're pulling away from traffic lights or trying to creep at parking-lot speeds. We've also observed that it's anxious to shift into its most efficient gear as quickly as possible (to maximize fuel economy), which can leave you short on thrust while trying to catch short-lived gaps in traffic. On the upside, when you're making passing maneuvers on the highway, this automanual transmission shifts smoothly and quickly.