by Roger Biermann
Utility, space, and comfort delivered in a concise package are what compact crossover SUVs and wagons are designed for, and the Fiat 500L strives for just that with three coinciding trims. Every Fiat 500L is powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine producing 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque that powers the front-wheel-drive through a six-speed automatic transmission. There are plenty of rivals in this class, however, and matching up to the Kia Soul and Honda Fit could prove challenging for the 500L with its notable fallbacks. Spending some time in the 500L will reveal its inadequacies in drive quality, comfort, and utility, areas in which this type of vehicle is expected to excel. Where the 500L does show promise is in its iconic styling and spacious interior, as well as overall value and economic performance.
For 2018 the Fiat 500L inherits an updated look, with new front and rear fascia design, bodyside molding design, rear side reflector design, wheel designs, and daytime running light lenses. The interior is revamped to improve convenience and ease of use, with features that include a thin-film transistor cluster display, an improved center console with relocated cupholders, new gear shifter and new parking brake handle, an additional USB port, LED ambient lighting, a new steering wheel, and HVAC control knob position. Uconnect four system is now standard on all 2018 Fiat 500L models and includes a seven-inch display and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. There are also three new exterior color options including Blu Denim, Arancio Pastello (Pastel Orange), and Bronzo Metallizzato (Metallic Bronze).
Exterior cues differ in each of the three 500L trims, the base Pop trim exuding the contemporary retro-Italian design with cues borrowed from the Cinquecento. It's fitted with 16-inch wheels and daytime running bi-function halogen projector headlamps. The mid-tier Trekking trim holds distinct, rugged looks in the front and rear fascia designs. It carries unique 17-inch wheels with flared black arches to support its audacious character. The top-tier Lounge trim also has 17-inch wheels but leans toward a sophisticated tenor with its chrome body accents and mirrors.
All three 500L trims share a curb-weight of 3,254 pounds, which is a lot of weight for the proportionately small 1.4-liter turbo engine to lug around. The 500L is one of the more compact crossover SUVs on the market, with a total length of 167.3 inches, a width of 79.4 inches and a height of 65.7 inches. It holds a short wheelbase of 102.8-inches and rides with 4.7-inches of ground clearance, both dimensions giving the 500L easy driveability. The width of the Trekking model is slightly increased to 70.9 inches due to its unique front and rear fascia styling.
The entry-level Pop trim offers seven price-inclusive exterior color options, including Black, Grey Metallic, Graphite Metallic, Blue Tornado, Blu Denim, Red, and White. The Trekking trim has all of the Pop's color options plus two additional exterior colors Yellow and Pastel Orange, while the Lounge trim has Forest Green and Metallic Bronze as its two additional options. The Blu Denim, Pastel Orange and Metallic Bronze are all new options added to the 2018 color palette for the 500L, while the Deep Lava Red and Mocha Latte options from last year have been discontinued.
All three 500L trims are mounted with the same mechanical details and underpinnings, hence all perform identically. The 2018 500L range is kitted with a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine producing 160 hp and 184 pound-feet of torque that powers the front-wheel-drive powertrain through a six-speed shiftable automatic transmission. Acceleration from a standstill is flaccid, considering the bulky wagon's correlatively small engine, even without passengers onboard. Only at mid-range speeds does the engine get peppier, though the wagon is still never really exciting to drive due to the engine's nonlinear power delivery. On a straight, the 500L can advance from 0-60 mph in 8.5 seconds, about average for its segment. The Honda Fit is smaller but manages 0-60 mph in 8.3 seconds and the Kia Soul is more directly comparable and takes the lead with 6.4 seconds.
Available all-wheel-drive models in this segment are rare, with only the more expensive upper-level trims of the Mini Cooper Countryman offering AWD.
The full 2018 range is outfitted with a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine by default, the same engine equipped to the smaller, lighter Fiat 500 microcar range. Though the engine produces the same 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque as the standard Fiat 500, it feels noticeably burdened by the almost 900 extra pounds carried by the 500L. Throughout the drive, from standstill to overtaking maneuvers, power from the turbo engine feels scarce, even worse with passengers or cargo onboard. This low displacement engine just doesn't feel as well suited as larger, naturally aspirated engines in some counterparts.
Each trim in the 500L range has a six-speed shiftable automatic transmission, which does an adequate job for what the 500L is purposed for, with intuitive shift responses in tight city streets and on the highway. Overall, the engine and transmission feel incompetent because of the wagon's hefty dimensions, declaring average power outputs, prominent bouts of turbo lag, and a craving for more vigor.
Thanks to the front-mounted engine, the wagon handles reasonably well with the weight of the engine over the front axle, but because of its hefty dimensions and 500-borrowed engine, it feels mostly burdensome to drive. Although the steering is reasonably accurate, the weight of the vehicle causes slow responses and difficult-to-correct understeer at the limit. Notwithstanding the grabby brakes, the pedal feels moderately firm, and stopping from 60 mph takes around 120 feet, which is about on par for its class.
The 500L feels top heavy and conveys substantial side-to-side sway and instability during panic stops as well as spirited cornering. Because of the tightly sprung suspension and along with the high set seats, turns tend to result in a lot of confidence-eroding lean and a perched sensation.
Ride quality overall is average, the tightly sprung suspension, firm seats, and open interior making for rough, overly rigid cruising, while the cabin is flooded by outside and engine, wind, and ire noise, hindering the 500L's use as a refined long distance journey maker. Other vehicles in this segment offer far more quality overall and many at lower prices as well.
The city-oriented, small engined compact wagon has unimpressive fuel consumption. With its 1.4-liter turbo engine and six-speed shiftable automatic transmission, it earns estimates of 22/30/25 mpg with city/highway/combined driving cycles respectively. Premium unleaded gas is recommended for the 13.2-gallon fuel tank for optimal performance of the turbocharged engine. With a full tank, the 500L can travel for 330 miles in combined driving conditions. In comparison to segment rivals, the 500L presents about average EPA estimates, with the Kia Soul delivering 25/30/27 mpg and the Honda Fit is the class leader, delivering 33/40/36 mpg.
The 500L is a four-door crossover wagon seating five occupants with plenty of head and legroom throughout, thanks to the high-roof styling, wide body and stretched wheelbase of 102.8 inches. In general, interior space is comfort-oriented and designed to offer impeccable spaciousness and utility. Where the 500L falters in that regard is with the firmly cushioned and high set seats that provide little support during cornering and over rougher undulations, making the 500L an apprehensive long distance commuter. Though the interior is visually pleasing at first glance, the materials used throughout the cabin are low-quality with substandard finishes and inconsistent panel gaps in the hard-touch plastics. While the 500L may offer exceptional utility and spaciousness, it is let down by poor ergonomics and build quality.
The 500L features a super-versatile "floating" roof design, which gives the interior an exceedingly spacious feeling and provides more than appreciable headroom throughout the cabin. The large windows and glass double A-frame pillars provide ample all-around visibility. The front seats are set high, positioning the driver with good sight over the front of the vehicle and ergonomically behind the steering wheel and pedals. Because the rear seats are also set high, legroom is plentiful, though at the detriment of comfort: cornering on winding roads and around turns is felt with an amplified feeling of lean. The rear seats are 60/40 split-foldable with tilt, tumble, and sliding functionality offering super flexible configurations for seating and storage, but unfortunately, they do not fold completely flat. Their versatility does, however, make the 500L one of the most practical compacts around, rivaling the Honda Fit.
The Pop features a body-color dashboard panel with a silver vinyl-wrapped instrument console. The premium cloth bucket seats and interior are in either dark slate gray as standard or warm gray, depending on the exterior color. The Trekking has a textured-painted instrument panel and the premium leather-trimmed seats and interior are in black or Carrera gray. Interior color options and the leather-trimmed seats are the same for the Lounge but the dashboard panel is body-colored and the instrument panel wrapped for a leather appearance. All trims feature a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shifter.
The 500L holds a useful trunk capacity of 21.3 cubic feet, enough room for the whole family's vacation luggage, expanding to 68 cubic feet with the 60/40 split-folding rear seats down. A shelving element can be added using the multi-position cargo panel, helpful for compartmentalizing multiple storage items. The utility is further increased with the 60/40 split-folding rear seats, with tilt, tumble and slide functionality providing super-flexible seating and storage configurations to maximize passenger comfort and storage capabilities.
In-cabin storage is poor with underwhelming door pockets and front cabin storage bin. Cupholders are decently sized but only one is available in the back row. There are driver and passenger front seatback pockets and a small array of modest storage bins hidden throughout the cabin.
Features throughout all three trims comprise a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, with audio and cruise control buttons: there's an electronic driver information display, a rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring system, and the 60/40 split-folding rear seats with tilt, tumble and slide functionality. With the Pop trim comes air conditioning, power windows, and a front seat center console with armrests. On top of those features, the Trekking trim receives heated front seats and ambient LED lighting, while the Lounge trim includes a rear park assist system, dual-zone climate control, rearview auto-dimming mirror, and power two-way driver lumbar adjust.
Infotainment starting with the Pop comprises a Uconnect Four system hitched to a seven-inch touchscreen display with six-speaker configuration. It is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and has integrated voice command, with hands-free calling and Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming. Satellite radio and GPS functionality are available for the Pop. The Trekking and Lounge receive the upgraded Beats Audio system, which delivers quality high definition sound. It is available in the Premium Group Package for the Pop. The media hub in all three trims consists of a host USB port for charging and an auxiliary input for device connectivity, while the steering wheel features mounted audio controls for ergonomic use.
For the 2018 500L model, no recalls have been commissioned and no complaints have been logged by drivers. The last official recall was commissioned by the NHTSA for the 2014 variant of the 500L, which was also rated the worst year model in reliability. The 500L has since evidently improved in reliability, with complaints falling each consecutive year, and with no complaints for 2018. Fiat covers the 2018 500L with a four-year/50,000-mile limited basic and powertrain warranty and four-year/unlimited-mile roadside assistance.
The IIHS has evaluated the 2018 Fiat 500L, scoring it top results of Good overall except in the small overlap driver test, in which it scored the lowest result of Poor. The NHTSA has not tested any year model of the 500L to date.
All trims feature the same safety features of high beam daytime running headlamps, electronic roll mitigation, electronic stability control, hill start assist, ParkView rear backup camera, a tire specific pressure monitoring display, and vehicle dynamics controls/systems. Airbags throughout the 500L consist of advanced multistage front airbags, supplemental front seat-mounted side airbags, passenger front airbag, and supplemental side-curtain airbags in the front and rear cabin. Featured restraint systems include a driver inflatable knee-bolster airbag and a LATCH child seat anchor system.
The Fiat 500L may present some advantages in its ample trunk, cargo, and interior space as well as in its intuitive infotainment system, but it lacks in many areas in which segment rivals excel. The wagon could benefit from a few more safety and advanced driver assist features and could do with some adjustments mechanically and to the seats and cabin to improve its overall ride quality. It doesn't have the best gas mileage estimates either, and the turbo engine proves far too feeble for the substantial dimensions, incapable of dealing with the weight of a full passenger contingent aboard. The 500L offers a lot of utility at an affordable price, but falls short on rather important passenger vehicle elements, specifically in comfort. Competing rivals simply have more to offer for the same price range. The 2018 Kia Soul is more affordable than the 500L, with more interior space, utility and power and a bigger 201-hp turbocharged engine in the upper trim. It also receives exemplary crash test scores. All of these factors reveal how much more the 500L needs to offer to be a worthy contender in the segment.
The base-level Pop is the cheapest trim, with an MSRP of $20,995. At this level, the 500L is reasonably equipped with a range of appreciable features and capabilities. Moving up to the adventure-centric Trekking trim will cost around $2,330 more: with its MSRP of $23,325 you'll get the unique rugged styling cues and 17-inch wheels, along with a few additional tech upgrades and comfort features. The top-level Lounge trim has a starting MSRP of $23,895 and offers a more formal exterior, with chrome accents and mirrors, and all the comfort, convenience, and technology features available in the 500L range as standard. All above prices are excluding tax, registration, licensing, and a $1,245 destination charge.
The Fiat 500L range consists of three progressing and cosmetically varying trims, including the base level Pop, well-equipped Trekking, and fully-loaded Lounge.
The entry-level Pop trim comes with a contemporary retro-Italian design and exterior cues borrowed from the 500 range. It comes standard with 16-inch aluminum wheels, daytime running headlights, heated exterior mirrors, tinted windows, remote locking and unlocking, a rearview backup camera, air conditioning, cruise control, premium cloth low-back bucket seats, height-adjustable front seats, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 60/40-split folding rear seats that slide fore and aft, Bluetooth, a seven-inch touchscreen, and a six-speaker audio system with two USB ports for device connectivity and charging, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility.
Moving on to the mid-level Trekking trim adds 17-inch wheels with flared black arches, and unique body panels and trim for an adventurous appeal, front fog lights, LED ambient interior lighting, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a rear-seat armrest and the Beats Audio system, navigation, and satellite radio.
The top-level Lounge trim also has 17-inch alloy wheels with a painted finish and receives chrome exterior body accents and mirrors for a more sophisticated look.
Available for the Pop trim is the Chrome Appearance Group, which for $495 includes 17-inch machined aluminum wheels, black pocket 225/45R17 BSW all-season tires, and bright chrome exterior accents. The $1,795 Premium Package suites the Pop with dual-zone automatic temperature control, the Beats Premium Audio System, GPS navigation, a ParkSense rear park-assist system, power two-way driver lumbar adjust, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and SiriusXM satellite radio with one-year subscription.
The Pop and Trekking have access to the Convenience Group, which for $795 adds dual-zone automatic temperature control, power two-way driver lumbar adjust, manual two-way passenger lumbar adjust, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and the ParkSense rear park-assist system. The Trekking has exclusive access to the Urbana Appearance Package, which adds 17-inch black aluminum wheels, black exterior mirrors, and an accent color roof all for $395.
A Graphite Edition Package can be optioned with the Lounge trim, which configures the Lounge with 17-inch aluminum wheels, a dual-pane power sunroof, and a grey roof with matching exterior mirrors.
Considering the shared mechanical particulars and underpinnings of the three optional trims and with only a mild price jump from the base level Pop trim to the fully-loaded Lounge trim, we suggest going straight for the feature-rich top-level 500L Lounge. With this trim come the 17-inch wheels and chrome exterior accents and mirrors, features above those of the Pop and Trekking, including rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, two-way power lumbar adjustment for the driver and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Some available options can be equipped at the Lounge level, including a panoramic dual-pane power sunroof and the Graphite Edition package, which pairs the sunroof with minor cosmetic modifications.
At around $3,500 cheaper than the 500L, and packed with utility and appreciable features, the Kia Soul is a pertinent rival for compact wagon hunters to consider. Also featured in three varying and progressing trims, the Kia Soul offers different engine and transmission options with each trim, getting more powerful moving up the trim tiers. That considered, even the base level Soul's 1.6-liter engine proves sufficient. The top-tier Kia Soul trim is cheaper than the 500L's top-tiering Lounge but holds a far more vigorous 1.6-liter turbocharged engine producing 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, and a superior seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission, both giving the Soul way better handling and drive dynamics than the 500L. In all other aspects, however, the two rivals perform relatively similarly. We do feel that the Kia Soul delivers more value for money though, which is why it would be the option to choose here.
The Honda Fit is a tenacious segment rival for the 500L, with its impressive roominess, next level utility and frugal fuel economy estimates. Well-respected in the Honda Fit is the magic rear seats that allow for an array of storage and seating arrangements; on top of that, the Fit is unrivaled in cargo and trunk space capabilities. The Fit also boasts a greater selection of advanced driver safety features, including adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning and intervention, an area where the 500L could receive some attention. Comfort-wise the Fit has improved noise insulation and enhanced suspension and steering for quicker responses, keeping the Fit a pleasant daily commuter and the enjoyable long journey maker it has always been. Though the Fit holds a smaller less powerful engine, it still feels a lot more refined and better overall to drive, which is why for the price correlation to the 500L, it is the more appealing choice.