Think of the Fiat 500L as a little big car. It has the cachet of the tiny 500, yet it is 27 inches longer, six inches wider and six inches taller. The five-passenger interior is 42 percent larger. With tall windows all around, it looks a bit like a mini people mover, yet it retains the 500’s big-eyed face.
By TOM STRONGMAN
The 500L is for customers who like the Fiat 500’s Italian style but need more space. It reflects what appears to be an increasing interest in compact utility vehicles, and competitors include the Mini Cooper Countryman, the Buick Encore and perhaps the Nissan Juke. Other manufacturers have small utility vehicles in the wings, and for good reason. These vehicles offer excellent fuel economy, easy maneuverability and a reasonable price.
There are four trim levels: Pop, Easy, Trekking and Lounge. The Pop starts at $19,100, Easy at $20,195, Trekking at $21,195 and Lounge at $24,195. The Trekking model gets rugged front and rear fascias and 17-inch wheels. The Lounge is a more upscale model with a dual-clutch automatic transmission, heated leather seats and dual-zone climate control. I drove an Easy model with the six-speed manual transmission.
My first impression of the 500L with the six-speed manual transmission was that it lacked horsepower. The 1.4-liter, MultiAir Turbo engine delivers 160 horsepower, but it feels pretty flat until you get the rpms past 3,000. After 3,000 rpms, the turbo kicks in and the car moves out smartly. At full throttle, the front wheels dart side to side as they struggle to find traction.
The six-speed manual has wide ratios so the engine turns over very slowly in fifth or sixth gear, giving good highway fuel economy. Slight hills or passing maneuvers often require downshifting a gear or two.
Fuel economy is listed at 25 miles per gallon in the city and 33 on the highway. I often recorded 30 mpg around town, according to the car’s trip computer.
Steering is light and accurate, and while there is noticeable lean in turns, the 500L feels stable and lively.
The 500L’s “small-wide” architecture, as Fiat calls it, has a cab-forward design with a low beltline so that it feels light and airy. Wide front doors and an upright driving position make the 500L easy to get into. The driver has a commanding view of the road, much like that of a crossover utility vehicle.
The split-folding rear seat can be laid flat or tumbled forward. I could carry a bike with the front wheel removed with the seat laid flat but it was a snug fit.
The test car’s two-tone upholstery felt like a synthetic material that would wear well and be easy to clean.
The instrumentation consisted of a tachometer and a speedometer with a small digital screen in between. The speedometer numbers were small and not as readable as I like.
Standard equipment on the Easy test car included stability control, keyless entry, power windows and locks, air conditioning, cruise control, heated outside mirrors and anti-lock brakes. The test car had, at no extra charge, the Premier package that included a 6.5-inch touchscreen with a rearview camera and navigation system and Uconnect handsfree calling.
The base price of the test car was $20,195. The destination fee brought the sticker price to $20,995.
The warranty is for four years or 50,000 miles.
Tom Strongman’s e-mail address is email@example.com.