Fiat cemented its recent American comeback with the 500, a diminutive two-door seemingly ideal for urban commuters and metro dwellers. What the "Cinquecento" lacked in class-leading standards, it made up for with small-car charisma not seen since the reintroduction of the Mini. For some buyers, however, the 500 is too small. And that's where the larger, four-door Fiat 500L comes in.
This family-oriented Fiat provides more than 2 feet of added length along with its extra pair of doors and yields as much interior volume as some small crossovers. High-mounted front seats give the driver and front passenger a commanding view of the road. And in contrast to the painfully cramped rear quarters in the two-door 500, the 500L delivers plentiful rear head- and legroom.
That's pretty much where the good news ends, however. If you fill the 500L with passengers and cargo, for example, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine struggles with the added weight. Throw in a choppy ride, lackluster build quality and a brake pedal that's hard to operate smoothly, and it's not surprising that the 500L brings up the rear in this segment.
Unless you have to have an Italian hatchback, it's worth considering one of the 500L's rivals such as the Kia Soul. It offers similar interior dimensions and personality, and it's a superior vehicle in most ways. The Mini Cooper Countryman offers a far more sophisticated driving experience, with sportier handling, faster acceleration and optional all-wheel drive, but at a higher price. Other choices we recommend include compact crossovers such as the Nissan Juke, Fiat's own 500X, the Honda HR-V and the Hyundai Tucson.
The 2017 Fiat 500L comes standard with antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, hill hold assist, front-seat-mounted airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, a driver 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 distances 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 front-impact test, but the lowest Poor rating in the small-overlap front-impact test. In the remaining side-impact, roof strength, and seat/head restraint (whiplash protection) tests, the 500L earned a Good rating.
trim levels & features
The 2017 Fiat 500L is a four-door compact wagon sold in three trim levels: Pop, Trekking and Lounge.
The base-level Pop comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, daytime running lights, tinted glass, power windows/mirrors/door locks, air-conditioning, remote keyless entry, six-way manually adjustable cloth front seats, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 60/40-split folding rear seats that slide fore and aft, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a 5-inch touchscreen interface, voice controls and a six-speaker audio system with a CD player, a USB port and an auxiliary input.
The Trekking level adds 17-inch wheels, foglights, unique body panels and trim with a rugged theme, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a rear seat armrest, satellite radio, and a Beats Audio sound system with six speakers and a trunk-mounted subwoofer.
Moving up to the Lounge adds 17-inch alloy wheels with a painted finish, chrome exterior mirrors and body accents, and a 115-volt auxiliary power outlet.
Most options are grouped into bundles for each trim level. Highlights include the Popular Equipment package, which adds dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, four-way front seat power lumbar adjustment, a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, and satellite radio. The Premium package bundles the same items and adds a spare tire, the Beats audio system, navigation, and upgraded Uconnect entertainment with the 6.5-inch touchscreen.
A sunroof, matte black finish wheels, and color combinations that match the roof and exterior mirrors are other available options.
The front-wheel-drive 2017 Fiat 500L is powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It pairs with a six-speed automatic transmission.
In Edmunds testing, a 500L Trekking with the automatic transmission accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, a respectable time for a small wagon/hatchback.
The EPA-estimated fuel economy is 25 mpg combined (22 city/30 highway).
Little about driving the 2017 Fiat 500L compares to the diminutive two-door Fiat 500. Although it's considered a small wagon, the 500L feels many times larger than the 500 hatchback and larger than its peers. Its ride and handling traits are softer and clumsier than what we're accustomed to in this class, especially on bumpy road surfaces where it pitches and rolls a little too much. There's also quite a bit of of wind noise from the upright windshield and large side mirrors.
Fiat's turbocharged four-cylinder engine works fine in the smaller 500 but meets its match trying to haul the added weight — about 800 pounds — of the 500L. With a couple of passengers aboard, accelerating to highway speeds requires a plan and patience. We're not particularly fond of the brakes, either. The braking system performs fine (see Safety section), but the pedal makes its hard to slow down smoothly and without excessive jerking and grabbing.
Large doors, a level roof line and high-mounted front seats make it easy to slide right into the Fiat 500L. The front seats are wide and comfortable, but they're also stiff and not especially supportive during spirited driving. They also lack any sort of power adjustment other than the available power lumbar.
Once seated, you'll be struck by the expansive field of vision that comes from the wagon's large glass area. Unimpeded views in all directions give the 500L a feeling of space and openness almost like a minivan, although the large pillars on either side of the windshield take some getting used to.
The dash design has a cool and contemporary feel that gives it a unique charm. The dual-gauge instrument cluster delivers clear information to the driver at a glance. Some of the smaller details and information displayed in the center cluster are harder to read, however, with smaller fonts and a somewhat muddled presentation.
Both of the 500L's touchscreens work well, but we're particularly fond of the optional 6.5-inch touchscreen because its quick processing times and large icons make it easier to use.
The 500L's ample interior room compared to the two-door 500 is obvious in the backseat, where added width provides a comfortable perch for two adults or three children. There's plenty of legroom, too, particularly with the sliding 60/40-split seats in the rearmost position, but the non-reclining seatbacks feel a bit too upright.
The 500L's maximum cargo capacity of 68 cubic feet rivals that of larger compact crossovers and it's more than the Kia Soul (61 cubic feet), Mini Countryman (41) and Nissan Juke (36), not to mention the related Fiat 500X (51). Just as impressive is the 21.3 cubic feet behind the upright rear seats. The 500L's real-world utility is hampered by a high liftover height and rear seat backrests that don't fold totally flat, however.
edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.