Funky 2014 Fiat 500L is functional and even affordable

This wee wagon joins our test fleet to a mixed response

Published: August 09, 2013 11:00 AM

Small wagons are really useful. Most are economical, roomy, and efficient, but tend to run short on personality. Now Fiat has answered the call for a wee-wagon that is practical and, some would say, fun with the 500L. We just bought ours in Verde Bosco Perla (Forest Green) for $24,595, including $800 destination.

To keep the price in check, we chose the second-lowest Easy trim level. Other variations include the basic Pop, well-dressed Trekking, and tricked-out Lounge. Our Easy 500L includes the six-speed “Euro Twin Clutch” automatic transmission ($1,350), Beats audio system with a subwoofer and one year of free satellite radio ($700), heated front seats ($350), and a white (Bianco) roof ($500.) The Easy trim level also has Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system. Nattily dressed in its green tux and white shirt, our 500L has attracted lots of attention!

When we first drove the 500L, we said it felt like driving a big top hat. The roof is tall, the dashboard far away, and the windows panoramic. The windshield is so distant that it might be difficult to see cars approaching in an intersection, or even passing on the highway, were it not for the tall, wide panes built into the windshield pillars. Rather than piloting a top hat, during my recent stint behind the wheel, I felt more like I was in a fishbowl, with abundant glass all around.

As Fiat followed in the footsteps of Mini with its funky, premium small cars, the 500L seems to invite comparison to the Mini Cooper Countryman–albeit at a lower price. Like that crossover, the 500L offers a similar style to a signature car in a bigger, more practical package. But the 500L is more of a pure people-mover than a small SUV, and it has a big backseat.

It is based on Fiat’s “small wide” platform*, not the "compact wide" platform for the United States that underpins the Dodge Dart and the coming Jeep Cherokee. The 500L has the same 160-hp, 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the Dart, and our test car is fitted with the same six-speed automated manual transmission that we found jerky and uncoordinated in the Dart.

When it comes to how it drives, the 500L has made mixed impressions thus far. One driver said that the turbocharged engine and automatic transmission were unresponsive at times. The 500L seems agile enough, but it isn’t entertaining in the same way as either the little 500 or the even Mini Countryman.

As more of our staff members drive the car, we will soon begin our full regimen of more than 50 tests, allowing us to determine just how well the 500L lives up to its potential as a desirable small wagon with character.

Eric Evarts

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* Clarification:

Platform is the "small wide."



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