by Roger Biermann
The Fiat 500L is a larger addition to the 500 range of vehicles, broaching the compact MPV segment with styling influenced by the diminutive 500 microcars - even if it does end up looking bloated rather than cute. But with the 500L’s additional size and weight paired up with the same 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine borrowed from the 500 Abarth, it's no surprise that the four-door, five-seater beseeches for more power. The engine delivers 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through a standard non-optional six-speed automatic transmission. With an MSRP of $21,910, the base 500L Pop offers improved utility at a reasonable price but doesn't quite match up to its rivals in pretty much every other regard. Its lethargic engine, poor fuel economy, limited safety features, and driver assist elements are what set the 500L behind its competitors in the small wagon class.
Staggering into 2019 the 500L receives some basic style updates and additional features including two new exterior color options and an integrated universal garage door opener in the Trekking and Lounge models. Each trim receives their own unique front and rear bumpers and other interior and exterior styling cues.
The 500L holds true to the distinct retro-Italian design, but each of the trims in the 2019 range feature unique front and rear bumper styling purposed to match their individual characters. The base model Pop features the most basic 500L design aesthetic and comes standard with 16-inch aluminum wheels. The mid-tier Trekking portrays a more adventurous personality through its unique front and rear fascia design and black wheel arch cladding around its standard 17-inch aluminum wheels giving it a more rugged off-road appeal. The top-tier Lounge is also equipped with 17-inch wheels but is given a more sophisticated impression with elegant touches of bright chrome exterior mirror caps and exterior accents.
The 2019 Fiat 500L rides on a 102.8-inch wheelbase, with an overall body length of 167.3 inches and width of 79.4 inches, making the 500L a lot more compact than the typical wagon. As a result of the front and rear bumper restyling of the 500L Trekking trim, its length and width are marginally altered to 168.3 inches and 80.1 inches, respectively. All trims share a curb-weight of 3,254 pounds, giving the small 1.4-liter turbo engine a lot to tug around. Because of the 4.7-inch ground clearance, the 500L is able to make easy work of steep inclines or declines and abrupt road surfaces which is a great benefit to the wagon’s drive-comfort.
The base trim Pop receives a basic color palette of nine, including Rosso, Grigio Scuro, Bronzo Metallizzato, Blu Denim, and Blue Tornado. The Trekking trim receives two additional, exclusive colors of Giallo and Arancia Pastello and the Lounge receive an additional, exclusive color option of Verde Bosco Perla. It's the solid dark colors such as Black, Gray Metallic or Blue Tornado, that best complements the exterior chrome accents of the upper-level trims, with Red best suiting the Pop’s black exterior accents.
All 500L models perform identically with the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine sending 160 hp through the standard six-speed shiftable automatic transmission to the front wheels. With the use of the same engine found in the diminutive Fiat 500 Abarth, the 500L’s heavier body puts a toll on power and acceleration, and with no option for a manual gearbox, not much performance can be expected from the wagon. The automatic gearbox does allow for manual control and responds accurately to shifts on the highway and in the city.
Acceleration from a stop is slow with the wagon only getting peppier at speed, that is without any passengers. 0-60 mph takes about 8.5 seconds which is about average for its class, bested by the 2019 Mini Countryman with a significantly finer 0-60 mph time of 7.2 seconds. The compact SUV has not been rated for trailer tow capacity.
All 500L trims are standard in front-wheel-drive with no all-wheel-drive variations available. The upper-level trims of the Mini Cooper Countryman are standard in AWD and feature a six-speed manual gearbox as standard with an eight-speed auto as optional.
Under the hood of all Fiat 500L models is a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine generating 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, matching the outputs of the Fiat 500 Abarth. The 500L is around 900 pounds heavier than the 500 Abarth, which is clearly felt as it burdens the borrowed turbo engine. The entire range comes standard with a six-speed shiftable automatic transmission and all are driven by the front wheels.
When accelerating, the 500L’s engine feels lackluster, only getting more energetic once reaching higher engine speeds. With passengers aboard, however, the 500L feels heavy and the low displacement engine doesn’t feel as well suited as larger, naturally aspirated engines found in some counterparts. The six-speed shiftable automatic responds intuitively at highway and city speeds, but can be slow to shift at times and does nothing to really stand out against what the competition offers. This wagon is no performance vehicle and provides a bland driving experience, as is expected from a car designed with practicality in mind. But we expected more from the 500L’s turbocharged engine, which proves to be a let down due to its average power outputs, peaky delivery, and large dollops of turbo lag.
Overall the Fiat 500L handles reasonably well for a compact wagon, mostly due to its FWD powertrain, but because of its large size and proportionately small engine, it’ll never feel exactly fulfilling. Throughout the drive the small 1.4-liter engine exhibits conservative, nonlinear power delivery. Fortunately the automatic transmission responds adequately in confined driving spaces and on the highway alike, and offers drivers manual control too.
The steering is moderately accurate, though the weight of the wagon elicits slow responses and predictable understeer at the limit that proves troublesome to correct. The brakes are very grabby, but the pedal feels fairly firm. Stopping from 60 mph takes just more than 120 feet, which is about on par for its class, however panic stops are unstable with the car swaying prominently from side to side. The firmly sprung suspension instills little confidence in the driver as turns are experienced with a lot of precarious lean. The stability control system is combative and is poorly accomplished in the rocky wagon.
Drive quality in the 500L is semi-comfortable, though it could be improved upon as it is mostly rough, overly rigid and always unexciting, and road and wind noise is also always tangible, making it a reasonable vehicle for short daily trips but totally unpleasant for longer journeys. At the cost price of the Fiat 500L, buyers can certainly find more comfort, performance, and overall better drive quality in a lot of class rivals and at even more affordable prices.
Fuel economy scores are considerably low for a city-oriented, small engined compact wagon. It scores lower than almost every other vehicle in its class with estimates of 22/30/25 mpg on the city/highway/combined driving cycles respectively. The 500L’s 13.2-gallon fuel tank takes premium unleaded gas as a requirement for the turbocharged engine, and in mixed driving conditions with a full tank can clear a range of 330 miles with its six-speed automatic transmission. The Toyota Corolla Hatchback with a very similar MSRP, also a five-seater and with 168 horsepower, proves to be a far superior buy compared to the 500L. With a fuel tank capacity of 13.2-gallons and fuel economy estimates of 32/42/36 mpg, the Toyota has a range of 475.2 miles in mixed driving conditions.
The interior of the 500L is comfort focused in many aspects, but tries to retain retro styling cues used on the standard Fiat 500, which don’t seem to work in this larger iteration. Though the interior is visually pleasing, the materials used don’t give an impression of quality. With inconsistent panel gaps and substandard finishes the interior seems to offer little at the 500L’s price point. The four-door crossover seats five occupants comfortably, with plenty of head and legroom provided throughout the cabin thanks to the high-roof styling and wide wheelbase of 102.8 inches. Seating comfort is disserviced by overly firm cushions and an awkward driving position, making the 500L an apprehensive long distance commuter. While it may offer practicality, and style to an extent, it’s let down by poor ergonomics and build quality.
The 500L’s large windows and glass double A-pillars combined with the high-set seats provide paramount visibility, while the driver is positioned high behind the steering wheel and in good proximity to the pedals and controls. The seats are generally set quite high both in the front and back row, resulting in decent amounts of legroom but a lack of comfort while cornering, where the perched feel amplifies the feeling of speed. Headroom is generally impressive across both rows, with only the tallest of adults over six foot two inches in height struggling when the optional sunroof is equipped. The rear seats are 60/40 split-foldable with tilt, tumble and slide functionality with over 50 seating and storage configurations, but unfortunately, do not fold completely flat. However, their versatility makes the 500L one of the most practical compacts around, rivaling the Honda Fit.
In comparison with its rivals, the interior materials of the 500L are subpar, the cheap interior plastics are a letdown and customization is limited. In the Pop trim, a warm gray premium cloth or dark slate gray premium cloth is standard, with the Trekking and Lounge are available with either black leather trim or Carrera gray leather trim seats. All trims feature a leather-wrapped steering wheel and dark Fiat 500 badges on the seats. The classic Fiat dash panel comes matching the exterior body-color selected, the most exquisite being in (Bianco) white.
Trunk and cargo space are the 500L’s strengths, with 22.4 cubic feet of space in the trunk that can be expanded to 68 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. With the rear seat up that’s enough space for a weekend getaway for a small family. The trunk also features a multi-position cargo panel that helps organize storage by adding a shelving element to the trunk. The rear seats are 60/40 split-foldable with tilt, tumble and slide functionality providing over 50 seating and storage configurations to maximize passenger comfort and storage consideration. As for interior storage for small items, spacing is average, with decent-size cupholders, only one available in the back row, and an array of storage bins hidden throughout the cabin, including door panel pockets and a slim front compartment below the glovebox.
For all the 500L trims, interior features are basic, designed to provide a simplistic and driver-centric configuration. The leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel features buttons for audio and cruise control. There’s an electronic driver information display and all trims also feature a rearview camera, multi-position cargo panel, 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, front/rear one-touch up/down power windows, power door locks, and a front seat center console with armrest. The Trekking trim receives additional features including premium leather-trimmed seats, heated front seats, universal garage door opener, and ambient LED lighting. In addition to that, the Lounge trim includes a rear park assist system, dual-zone automatic climate control, and power two-way driver lumbar adjusting as standard.
The 500L range features a top-of-the-line infotainment system which is easy to use and up-to-date, a benefit to sharing of technology within the FCA brand umbrella. The Uconnect four system features a customizable menu bar on a seven-inch touchscreen display compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and integrated voice command with Bluetooth connectivity. There are six speakers with the standard setup, a USB port, and an auxiliary input. The Pop's Premium Group package adds features such as satellite radio, a navigation system, and a seven-speaker Beats Audio premium sound system which come standard in the Trekking and Lounge trims.
There have been no recalls or complaints about the 2019 Fiat 500L, with the last recalls pertaining to 2014 models. As a small sales volume vehicle, it’s less of an exact science calculating reliability, but the lack of complaints bodes well. Fiat covers the 2019 500L with a four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty and four-year/unlimited-mile roadside assistance, which is average in terms of warranty offers throughout makes.
The 2019 Fiat 500L has not yet been crash tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but the virtually identical 2018 model received mostly Good scores - the best rating available from the IIHS. The NHTSA has not conducted any evaluations on the Fiat 500L in any model year.
The 500L carries five occupants and being a passenger vehicle has a need for high levels of safety. Key safety features include the mandatory rearview backup camera, rear parking sensors, high beam daytime running headlamps, hill start assist and electronic roll mitigation and stability control. It also has ABS brakes with EBD, but notably lacks any form of advanced driver aids such as a forward collision warning system. The 500L features a system of seven airbags that includes driver and front passenger multistage airbags, a driver-side knee bolster airbag, full-length side-curtain airbags and front seat-mounted pelvic-thoracic side airbags.
In comparison with its class rivals, the Fiat 500L isn’t a top-of-the-line vehicle. Where the 500L excels is in its vast cargo and storage space and in its intuitive infotainment system, though the screen could be a tad larger to keep with current standards. That is, however, about the gist of it. Most notably the 500L is short on advanced driver assist features, and compared to rivals doesn't nearly match up in drive quality and core features. It’s rendered uncomfortable for long journeys due to its stiff seats, rigid ride, and simple, noisy cabin. It doesn’t particularly excel in gas mileage or performance stakes, and the turbocharged engine is erratic and peaky, whilst not capable of dealing with a full passenger contingent aboard. The Mini Cooper Countryman is more expensive but delivers accordingly with sportier handling, high-quality interior materials and a more powerful fuel-efficient engine. As a result of lacking these rather important passenger vehicle elements, the Fiat 500L isn't the best vehicle on the market. It does however offer a lot of utility at an affordable price.
The base-level Pop model has a starting MSRP of $21,910, for an additional $1,415 the Trekking model at an MSRP of $23,325 receives some additional standard features and unique styling cues exclusive to the trim. The top of the range Lounge model has a starting MSRP of $24,320 and boasts the most standard features of the selection. All prices are excluding tax, registration, licensing, and a $1,495 destination charge.
The Fiat 500L is available in three trims: the base Pop, mid-range Trekking, and top-tier Lounge. All models are powered by a 160-hp 1.4-liter turbo engine driving the front wheels. All trims are four-doored and seat five occupants, feature 60/40 split-folding rear seats with tilt, tumble and slide functionality, multi-positional cargo panel, Uconnect four with a seven-inch touchscreen display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and come with a mandated rearview backup camera.
The Pop model features 16-inch aluminum wheels, body-color door moldings with black inserts, chrome exterior accents, body-color instrument panel bezel, power heated exterior mirrors in body-color, premium cloth bucket seats, and access to the Chrome Appearance Package.
The Trekking model is equipped with 17-inch aluminum wheels, body-color side door moldings with black inserts, rugged-design fascia cladding and wheel arches, satin silver exterior accents, front fog lamps, premium leather-trimmed seats, heated front seats, ambient LED interior lighting, universal garage door opener, and a Beats Audio premium sound system.
The Lounge model is geared up with 17-inch aluminum wheels, body-side door molding with chrome inserts, rear park assist, dual-zone automatic climate control, power two-way driver lumbar adjusting, and power heated exterior mirrors in chrome.
|Pop||1.4-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas||6-Speed Automatic||Front Wheel Drive||$21,705||$22,160|
|Trekking||1.4-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas||6-Speed Automatic||Front Wheel Drive||$23,028||$23,575|
|Urbana||1.4-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas||6-Speed Automatic||Front Wheel Drive||$23,028||$23,575|
|Lounge||1.4-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas||6-Speed Automatic||Front Wheel Drive||$23,958||$24,570|
Standard features are limited in the Fiat 500L, but access to a variety of packages allows for fluid customization. Available packages for the base-level Pop includes a Chrome Appearance Package which outfits the Pop model with chrome accents on the front fascia, rear reflectors, and exterior side moldings. It also receives 17-inch aluminum wheels with black pockets all for an additional $495. The $795 Convenience Group package adds dual-zone automatic temperature control, a rear park-assist system, power two-way driver lumbar adjusting, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and SiriusXM satellite. The Premium Group package includes everything in the Convenience Group package plus GPS navigation and the Beats Audio premium sound system for $1,795. For the mid-range Trekking model only the $795 Convenience Group package is available, with the Lounge model receiving a Graphite Appearance package for $1,595, which adds some adjusted exterior cosmetics and color themes.
Every 2019 500L comes with the same base outlay: a 160-hp four-cylinder turbo engine with a six-speed shiftable automatic transmission, and front-wheel drive. Going up the trim levels adds cosmetic alterations and additional features but don’t improve performance. The Lounge offers the most standard features at only a marginally higher price than the Pop, making it the more desirable trim. Its standard features included over the Pop comprise a rearview auto-dimming mirror, premium leather-trimmed seats, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic temperature control, and the Beats Audio premium sound system. The available options above the standard setup at the Lounge level are a panoramic dual-pane power sunroof and the Graphite Edition package, which pairs the sunroof with minor cosmetic modifications.
Starting with a base MSRP of $16,490 the Kia Soul is a lot cheaper than the 500L, yet offers slightly more utility in cargo and storage space, better fuel economy rankings, and prevailing drive comfort. The Kia Soul base trim does however fall short in standard features present in comparison to the 500L base trim, receiving a smaller touchscreen display on the infotainment center with no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality. The Kia takes the lead with a larger 24.2 cubic feet trunk, and option for either a six-speed manual or automatic gearbox, both of which deliver dominant fuel economy estimates of 24/30/27 mpg and 26/31/28 mpg respectively. The seats in the Kia are more cushioned and sound insulation is slightly on step ahead of the 500L. Opting for the 500L will get you those common necessities such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, but at a price far higher than the Kia Soul, which, along with the ten-year/100,000-mile warranty, offers better value for money overall.
The Mini Cooper Countryman is marginally more expensive at a starting MSRP of $27,750 but offers higher quality interior and material than any of its compact rivals and is one of the only vehicles in the class that offers a manual transmission. As expected, the Mini offers a fun driving experience too, leaving the 500L in the dust in more than one way. Where the Mini falls short in comparison to the 500L is in interior space and in cargo and trunk space, with a cargo capacity of only 17.6 cubic feet. But with fuel economy rankings of 24/33/28 mpg, a more intuitive infotainment interface, higher levels of safety, greater levels of specification, and greater ride composure, the Mini proves as the better buy in this class.