Full 2014 FIAT 500L Review
What's New for 2014
The 2014 Fiat 500L is an all-new model.
When Fiat returned to the United States 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. The result is the 2014 Fiat 500L.
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 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 modest power for trips around town, but not surprisingly, acceleration is more leisurely when you load up the whole family for a weekend road trip. This is especially true when optioned with the automated manual transmission, which sucks much of the life out of the 500L due to its unresponsive nature and an over-eagerness to shift into its top gear at the earliest opportunity.
The 2014 Fiat 500L's faults don't end there, and Edmunds' "C" rating reveals why it comes up short on being the measure of a competent family wagon. True, the 500L does combine the personality of the diminutive 500 hatchback with the room of a crossover, but for a vehicle that should cater to a family's needs, the 500L substandard transmission, brakes, suspension tuning, interior quality and cargo packaging shouldn't be ignored.
The closest competitor in terms of interior dimensions and quirkiness is the 2014 Kia Soul, which is a superior vehicle in virtually every way. When you consider that a top-shelf Soul with its far more powerful engine and traditional automatic transmission comes in at a comparable price to the base 500L with a manual, the Fiat cannot compete. The similarly positioned but costlier 2014 Mini Cooper Countryman (the largest Mini) offers a far more sophisticated driving experience, with sportier handling and the option of all-wheel drive. Other recommended options include the Nissan Juke or smaller, similarly priced compact crossovers like the Kia Sportage.
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 stand-alone 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.
In Edmunds testing, a 500L Lounge accelerated to 60 mph in 9.3 seconds, a competitive, though hardly invigorating, performance for the class.
With the manual transmission, the 1.4-liter Multiair engine delivers EPA-estimated fuel economy of 28 mpg combined (25 city/33 highway). The automated manual serves up 27 mpg combined (24/33), which is average for a small wagon/crossover. With this transmission, we managed 31.2 mpg on the 116-mile Edmunds evaluation loop.
All 2014 Fiat 500L models come standard with antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, a tire-pressure monitoring system, front seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, a driver-side knee airbag and active head restraints for front-seat occupants. 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.
In simulated panic stops from 60 mph, a 500L Lounge required 120 feet to stop, which is a little better than average for its vehicle class.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 500L its top rating of "Good" in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests. Its seat/head restraint design was also rated "Good" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
Interior Design and Special Features
Large doors, an essentially level 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 minivan-like openness, as the 500L driver enjoys practically unimpeded views in any direction. Yet while we appreciate the design ingenuity of double front roof pillars framing the windshield, in practice two pillars would have worked just as well.
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 muddled presentation. The padded upper dash is particularly nice in this class, as is the generously sized infotainment interface, but the stalks, buttons and levers have a hollow feel that does not impart a sense of quality.
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. In this configuration, its luggage compartment volume of 21.3 cubic feet surpasses that of the Soul, Countryman and Juke.
The 500L's maximum cargo capacity of 68 cubic feet rivals that of larger compact crossovers, let alone the Kia Soul (61 cubic feet), Mini Countryman (41) and Nissan Juke (36). Its 21.3 cubic feet with the seats raised is similarly segment leading. However, the 500L's real-world utility is hampered by a high cargo lift-over height and rear-seat backrests that don't fold totally flat.
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. Unfortunately, the L's ride quality gets busy and bouncy on uneven roads, and there's quite a din of wind noise because of the upright windshield and large side mirrors. On the bright side, steering is precise and the 500L feels confident and composed when going around turns.
Although its power delivery is reasonably good once underway, the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine meets its match in the not-exactly-svelte 500L, particularly when paired with the automated-manual transmission. Even with just a couple of people aboard, accelerating up to highway speeds requires some patience. Also, the automated manual can be slow to respond when you're pulling away from traffic lights or trying to creep at parking lot speeds. On many occasions, we found ourselves practically motionless with the accelerator pinned to the floor. 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 accelerate in traffic. To make matters worse, the numb and grabby brake pedal is hard to modulate smoothly.