by John Tallodi
The Fiat 500L is a larger, more practical variant of the cute but tiny Fiat 500. It has been on sale for a number of years now and while its smaller sibling is the most stylish option in its class, the 500L needs to compete on a more practical level against a brace of newer competitors. For 2017 the 500L range has seen a rationalizing of trim offerings and the standardization of a new automatic transmission.
While from the outside it may look like a Fiat 500 that has been left in the oven too long, the 500L offers a stylish and interesting interior design. It also has ample space for occupants up front and the tall ride-height and large glass area give the drive a commanding view of the road. You sit on rather than in the 500L but that is acceptable for a vehicle whose intended role is of an urban commuter.
Space in the rear is acceptable too, miles better than in the little 500 and on par with the other offerings in its class too. Two adults will be quite happy to travel in the back although the center seat is best reserved for children.
The cargo space is very generous, whether the rear seats are folded up or down you can load more into the 500L than just about any other small station wagon or crossover around.
The news is not so good when it comes to fit and finish and the quality of some of the materials used. Despite the interesting design, the minor controls and buttons also feel as if they were built to a price, forgivable on a cheap little city runabout like the standard 500 but not so much on something like the 500L.
The 500L is clearly not intended to be hustled along in a spirited manner, the vague controls and shoddy dynamics remind you of this whenever you attempt to push the car beyond its limits. The car dips under braking, leans in corners and the transmission does not like to be hurried along.
Driven more sedately the 500L offers decent ride quality on unchallenging road surfaces, although it can soon get choppy on rougher roads.
The Fiat 500L is front-wheel drive and powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Producing 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque it provides decent acceleration when unladen, although a full complement of passengers can make highway overtaking maneuvers a tense affair. The standard 6-speed automatic transmission is the only option available and while it changes cogs smoothly, its responses can be frustratingly slow when a quick burst of speed is required.
Fuel consumption figures of 22mpg in the city and 30mpg on the highway are about average for the class.
The Fiat 500L is available in three trim options, all come fitted with the same engine/transmission combination.
The base Pop Trim includes 16-inch alloy wheels, 6-speaker audio system, Uconnect 5.0 touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, cloth seats with leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, heated exterior power mirrors, foldable rear seats and remote keyless entry.
Trekking Trim adds additional exterior color choices, fog lamps, all-season tires and 17-inch alloy wheels, leather covered seats with heating for the front pair, premium audio system and unique exterior details. Available options include a power sunroof, auto-dimming rearview mirror and dual-zone climate control.
The top Lounge trim level includes most of the above as well as the available Trekking specifications excluding the sunroof which remains an option. It also adds body colored exterior plastic details, power driver seat, unique 17-inch alloy wheels and rear armrest with cup holder. Safety systems include a rear park assist system and rear back up camera.
Optional packages can be chosen for each trim level which add most of the options available on the top Lounge trim variants.
The Fiat 500L struggles to transfer the diminutive standard 500s charm into a more practical package. Inside it offers a stylish design with ample passenger space and a very generous cargo.
Those awkward looks and poor handling may keep some shoppers away and there are better alternatives out there in this segment, not least Fiat's own 500X.