2015 FIAT 500L Review
Pros & Cons
- Big-car passenger and cargo space
- good outward visibility
- lots of European personality inside and out
- available touchscreen is easy to use.
- Lackluster acceleration
- uncomfortable ride quality
- brakes are difficult to modulate
- rear seats don't fold flat
- quirky behavior from Pop trim level's optional automated manual transmission.
Edmunds' Expert Review
For people who are lured to the adorable Fiat 500 two-door hatchback but find its tiny size to be a deal breaker, the four-door 2015 Fiat 500L would seem to be a compelling alternative. But we've found it has too many drawbacks. Other small wagons will be better choices.
Depending on your impressions of Fiat, you might hold it in high regard considering it was a founding member of the earliest world-class racing machines, or take a rather dim view given that it was the butt of jokes when it withdrew from the U.S. market decades ago. But this is a new kind of Fiat for today's buyer. The company has partnered with Chrysler and is making a concerted effort to woo consumers with its uniquely Italian style, admirable fuel economy and competitive content. Doing this for family-oriented buyers is the 2015 Fiat 500L.
Introduced last year, the 2015 Fiat 500L may share its name with the plucky two-door hatchback and cabriolet we've grown accustomed to seeing, but that's where the similarities end. With two more doors, more than 2 feet of added length and as much interior volume as some small crossovers, the 2015 500L is a wholly different car from the standard Fiat 500. High-mounted front seats give the driver and front passenger a commanding view of the road, and rear head- and legroom and cargo capacity are plentiful. Have a carload of kids but need a stop at the grocery store on the way home? The Fiat 500L has a generous 23 cubic feet of room behind the rear seats.
On paper, the 500L seems like a great combination of the personality of the pocket-sized 500 hatchback with the roominess of a small crossover. Alas, it doesn't quite work out that way. Much of the blame falls on what Fiat has put in the engine bay. The 500L's 160-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine provides enough power for trips around town, but acceleration is more leisurely when you load up the whole family for a weekend road trip, especially with the quirky automated manual transmission. Last year, this was the only automatic available, but there is good news for 2015: Fiat is now offering a traditional automatic across several trim levels. The new six-speed automatic is definitely more refined and helps make better use of the 500L's limited power.
Yet the transmission and power woes aren't the only reasons the Fiat 500L scores an Edmunds "C" rating when measured against other family wagons. For a vehicle meant to cater to a family's needs, the 500L's tricky brake pedal feel, uncomfortable suspension tuning, lackluster build quality and inefficient cargo packaging are all notable downsides.
Overall, we think you'll be better off with one of the 500L's rivals. The closest competitor in terms of interior dimensions and personality is the 2015 Kia Soul, which is a superior vehicle in virtually every way. When you consider that a top-shelf Soul with its 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 (though costlier) 2015 Mini Cooper Countryman 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.
2015 FIAT 500L models
The 2015 Fiat 500L is a four-door compact wagon sold in five trim levels: Pop, Easy, Trekking, Urbana Trekking and Lounge.
The base-level Pop comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, heated and power-adjustable exterior mirrors, air-conditioning, six-way manually adjustable cloth front seats, a floor console, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 60/40 split-folding rear seats that slide fore and aft, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a 5-inch color touchscreen, a CD player, USB/iPod integration, an auxiliary input and voice controls for audio functions.
The Easy trim level adds 16-inch alloy wheels, body-colored exterior mirrors, tinted glass, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a front armrest with storage, upgraded seat fabric and a premium sound system with six speakers.
For 2015, Fiat is offering four Easy Collection packages, numbered 1 to 4. Easy Collection 1 includes satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, power driver lumbar adjust and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Collection 2 includes those items and adds black-accented 16-inch alloy wheels and a choice of either a black- or white-painted roof. Collection 3 further adds a Beats premium audio system. Finally, Collection 4 includes everything above plus a sunroof, an 6.5-inch touchscreen, smartphone app integration (Uconnect Access) and a navigation system. There's also the Mutually Exclusive option package that includes Collection 4 and adds heated front seats.
Move to the Trekking trim and the 2015 Fiat 500L gets all the Easy standards plus 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 Collections 1 through 4 as the Easy but rather than the Easy's Mutually Exclusive option, it's called the Trekking Collection 5. This package also includes leather upholstery, heated front seats and a rear-seat armrest.
For 2015, Fiat is also offering the Urbana Trekking Limited Edition. It's essentially outfitted like a standard Trekking but with black-painted exterior trim details and wheels, a leather steering wheel, leatherette door panels and the Beats Audio system as standard. Leather seating with the rear-seat armrest is a stand-alone option, and Collections 1 through 3 are also available.
At the top of the 2015 Fiat 500L line you'll find the Lounge model, which reverts to 16-inch alloy wheels but adds chrome exterior trim and mirrors, foglights, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a rear-seat armrest, dual-zone automatic climate control and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The optional Collection packages 1 through 6 and a Mutually Exclusive package largely follow those above, but because the Lounge comes with so many features already standard, the Collection packages are pared down a bit in the Lounge. More premium items such as painted or machine-finished 17-inch alloy wheels, black- or white-painted roof, Beats audio upgrade, sunroof and navigation are variously found within these option packages for the Lounge.
Performance & mpg
Every 2015 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 is optional on the Pop trim. On the remaining Easy, Trekking and Urbana Trekking models, the optional transmission is a traditional six-speed automatic. This automatic is standard on the 500L Lounge.
In Edmunds testing, a 2014 500L with the automated-manual transmission accelerated to 60 mph in 9.3 seconds, a competitive, though hardly invigorating, performance for the class. A 500L Trekking with the automatic transmission did the sprint to 60 in a quicker 8.5 seconds.
With the manual transmission, the EPA-estimated fuel economy is 28 mpg combined (25 city/33 highway). The automated manual serves up 27 mpg combined (24/33), and the new automatic is estimated at 25 mpg combined (22/30). These estimates are average for a small wagon/crossover.
All 2015 Fiat 500L models come standard with antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, hill-hold assist, 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. The optional Uconnect Access feature that comes with the 6.5-inch touchscreen includes remote vehicle access (via a smartphone app), emergency assistance and stolen vehicle location.
In simulated panic stops from 60 mph, a 500L Lounge required 120 feet to stop, while a 500L Trekking took 122 feet, both of which are a little better than average for this class.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 500L its top rating of "Good" in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset impact test but the lowest "Poor" rating in the small-overlap frontal-offset impact test. In the remaining side-impact, roof-strength and seat and head restraint (whiplash protection) tests, the 500L earned a "Good" rating.
There's little about driving the 2015 Fiat 500L that transfers from the diminutive two-door Fiat 500. Although it's still considered a small wagon, the 500L feels several times larger than the 500 hatchback and larger than its peers. 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. We're also not fond of the brake pedal, which can feel grabby and hard to modulate smoothly.
Fiat's turbocharged 1.4-liter engine works out fine in the smaller 500, but it meets its match in the not-exactly-svelte 500L. Even with just a couple of people aboard, accelerating up to highway speeds requires some patience. Also disappointing is the automated-manual transmission. It can be slow to respond when you're pulling away from traffic lights or trying to creep at parking lot speeds. Thankfully, though, it's only offered on the Pop trim level this year. Picking the manual transmission or the "regular" automatic transmission on the remaining 500L trim levels is the way to go.
Large doors, an essentially level roof line and high-mounted front seats make it easy to slide right into the 2015 Fiat 500L. The front seats are wide and comfortable, but they are also stiff and not especially supportive if you like to drive quickly around corners. What's more, they lack any sort of power adjustment other than the available power lumbar.
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 idea and ingenuity of double A-pillars, in practice there are four pillars where there could be two.
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, but the stalks, buttons and levers have a hollow feel that does not impart a sense of quality. Both of the 500L's touchscreens work well, but we're particularly fond of the optional 6.5-inch touchscreen. Its quick processing times and large icons make it easy to use.
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. However the non-reclining seatbacks are rather upright all the time.
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.