Are you taking things too seriously?
Been following politics? Fighting holiday crowds?
Dreading a New Year’s resolution?
We have a cure for you. The Fiat 500L. While it is a real SUV, capable of meeting your daily needs, there’s just enough slightly wacky, off-the-beaten-path, Euro-quirkiness to help take you out of the doldrums and put a smile on your face.
It started out with the cute as a bug’s ear 500. Enthusiasts rejoiced when the brand added the Mighty Mouse 500 Abarth. And we have many frugal friends enjoying the super-green 500e electric vehicle (especially at the $99/month lease!).
For those needing more room, they created the larger 500L SUV. And those looking for a bit more ruggedness, they took to the hills in the soft-roader 500X.
Style-conscious sports car lovers got their prayers answered with the tasty Fiat 124 Spider – essentially a Mazda Miata in a fine, fitted Italian Suit.
But if Fiat is going to be more than just a bit player here in the States, it’s the 500L and 500x that are going to have make headway – that’s where you’ll find the kind of sales that will allow Fiat to keep bringing in fun cars like the 124 Spider and 500 Abarth.
So if you love fun-to-drive cars, put your friends in Fiat 500L’s!
The Fiat 500L wants you to have fun. Just look at it. While it has the requisite, large 4-door body with rear hatch, it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. It has a face with a hint of a smile and a jut-out chin. Our tester was a Trekking model, which also adds a body-color front and rear fascia with graphite and chrome accents for bling, and 17-inch alloys for a more rugged look. Along with the Blue Tornado exterior, our tester wore a white roof and white exterior mirrors, giving it the visual pop to stand out from the herd of silver and gray SUV’s that seem to be everywhere.
The party continues inside. The interior is full of interesting, organic shapes. Even the owner’s manual holder looks like it comes from a fashion house. The knobs are large and easy to operate, there’s an interesting grab handle for the parking brake. You sit tall, in comfortable leather bucket seats, and the view is panoramic, thanks to tall, large windows, and a monstrous sunroof – the largest in its class. Cutouts in the a-pillars make parking a snap.
At night, the white-face gauges give off a soft glow, and the Uconnect info-tainment and navi system works beautifully, as it does in other Fiat/Chrysler products. We also appreciated the rearview monitor’s sharp image – SUV’s are often a handful in tight parking spots.
Filling a large cabin like this with Little Feat is no easy feat, but our tester’s optional Beats audio system was up to the job with 6 speakers, an 8” subwoofer, and an 8-channel, 368-watt amp.
An SUV has to be about function, too, and the Fiat doesn’t disappoint. There’s little things, like a dual-level glovebox and tilt, tumble, and slide (wasn’t that a song?) rear seats that provide over 50 seating and storage configurations – more than you’ll probably ever need.
We liked the multiple-height cargo floor that gives you protected storage and still allows a large area for gear. With the rear seats up, you have over 22 cubic feet of cargo space, and a best-in-class 68 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. Impressive.
Stylish inside and out, how is it to drive?
Well, stylish, of course.
How does MultiAir Turbo engine sound? Pretty snazzy, eh? Well, in the 500L, which is a pretty decent-sized vehicle, this little turbocharged 4-cylinder tips the scales at just 1.4 liters, which sounds small. We were concerned. But the specs are good – 160 hp, and a best-in-class standard torque rating of 184 lb.-ft.
Teamed up to a new Aisin 6-speed automatic – miles ahead of the clunky dual-clutch auto previously in the 500L – the Fiat zips along, especially around town, where that fat low-end torque curve gives strong off the line performance. If you didn’t know what a small engine was under the hood, you’d never guess.
Even on the freeway, the 500 rolls up to speed easily and the engine is quiet and subdued. We even managed 24 mpg despite our lead-footed driving style. Powerful and thrifty, we can live with.
And the Fiat encourages driving con brio too. The fat steering wheel relays sharp, precise feel, and fools you into thinking you’re tossing around a jumbo 500 Abarth. A Koni-engineered front and rear suspension adds to the feeling of competence and control. High quality stuff.
The good handling – including a best-in-class turning diameter – make the 500L a delight to drive around town and in traffic. We could see ourselves happily touring around the Italian countryside in one. Back in the real world, it worked just as well at the crowded Costco parking lot.
So how much to enjoy this small slice of La Dolce Vita? Well, the most affordable 500L is the Pop model, and popping for one will cost you $20,995. Stepping up to our Trekking model bumps you to $21,880. Add $1,350 for the automatic transmission. Reasonable.
Of course, our tester was loaded to the gills, and featured $6,300 (gulp) of options, including leather, panoramic sunroof, navigation, climate control – you name it, we got it, and that rang us up to $30,525.
That said, for 2017, Fiat offers the options in smaller bite-size chunks, so you should be able to design a 500L to your needs without busting the budget.
And while we did enjoy all the luxuries on our tester, the real goodness comes in the packaging, performance, style, and everyday usability that’s found in every 500L. We came away charmed with our Fiat. It does everything you want from a small SUV, but it does it in a fun and stylish way that’s far too rare. And it certainly should be on your shopping list.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.