By Steve & Tamami Laser
We were glad to see Fiat return to America four years ago following a nearly 30-year absence. Back in the Disco Era, we were attracted to Fiat’s 124 Spider and mid-engine X1/9. Instead of sports cars, Fiat returned with the 500 retro-style hatchback. It offers cheeky Italian styling, a fun-to-drive attitude plus a choice of models including the roll-back-top Cabrio, Abarth performance editions, and 500e Electric Vehicle (EV).
Last year Fiat introduced the 500L. While it shares the 500 name, everything else is new. The 500L rides on Fiat’s “small-wide” platform and competes with compact wagons and MPVs (multi-purpose vehicles) like the Mini Countryman, Mazda5, Kia Soul, and Volkswagen Golf SportWagen.
While the 500L has a roomy interior and very competitive prices, unmistakable Italian styling separates it from the pack. The 500L is 27.7 inches longer than the 500 hatch, has 42 percent greater interior space plus an additional six inches of height and width.
When we opened the door to our 500L Trekking test car and sat in the front seats, we were impressed by the huge glass area and excellent visibility. Our tester also included an optional dual-pane glass sunroof that brought even more light into the cabin.
Compared to the 500L Pop, Easy and Lounge trim levels, Trekking has distinct two-tone Nero-Marrone (black-brown) interior, unique front and rear fascias with Grigo Chiaro (graphite) accents, flared wheel arches and larger 17-inch wheels. The bright Giallo (yellow) exterior paint topped with optional Bianco (white) roof added even more eye-appeal to our tester.
The 500L features a 1.4-liter 4-cylinder MultiAir Turbo engine with 160 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. Power is transferred to the front wheels via a 6-speed manual, optional 6-speed Twin Clutch or new 6-speed automatic transmission.
Our seven-day test drive took us through the steep hills of our neighborhood to the crowded freeways of Downtown Los Angeles and back along the coast route with twisty roads. The small-displacement engine mates well with the new 6-speed automatic. We pushed the 500L pretty hard resulting in 20-mpg for the week. That’s a bit below the EPA city rating of 22 mpg.
The 500L handles surprisingly well for a tall wagon. Credit the touring-tuned chassis with McPherson struts in front and a torsion axle in the rear isolated by bushings unique to the North American market plus a set of Koni Frequency Selective Damping (FSD) shocks to help smooth out the ride.
We really enjoyed the interior design of the 500L made even more special with the Trekking Collection 5. This option package adds leather-trimmed Grigio (light gray) and Cementile (gray) seats, dual-zone climate control, Rear Park Assist, a backup camera, Uconnect® 6.5 entertainment with navigation plus Beats™ premium audio.
The big 6.5-inch touchscreen has excellent resolution and is a joy to use. It includes voice operation for AM/FM and SiriusXM satellite radio, mobile phones and navigation plus hands-free calling and text messaging. It has Bluetooth audio streaming, personalization settings and a media hub with USB and AUX ports, plus SD card reader.
Beats Audio delivers on the promise of “studio-quality” sound through six premium speakers, a 6.5-inch dual-voice coil subwoofer and eight-channel amplifier with digital sound processing.
While North American-market two-door 500 models are built in Mexico, the larger 500L is made in Serbia. Its engine comes from Italy and the automatic transmission in our test car is made by AISIN in Japan.
With a base price of $21,545 our 500L Trekking added the Collection 5 package, automatic and other goodies for a bottom line of $29,795 including destination. Go easy on the options and the 500L remains a solid value. Prices start at just $19,345 for the entry level 500L Pop.
Fiat offers a seven-passenger model in Europe called the 500L MPW that has a much longer wheelbase. We doubt that it will ever come to our shores. Instead, Fiat has expanded its lineup in the U.S. for 2016 with the new 500X.
If you’re seeking a 500 with “crossover” (instead of MPV) styling the 500X might be for you. This model rides on a new platform shared with the Jeep Renegade. The 500X also offers a larger 2.4-liter engine along with optional all-wheel drive.
For more information visit the Fiat USA website.
2015 Fiat 500L press fleet vehicle provided by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) LLC. (Prices and vehicle information applies to models sold in the U.S. at the time of publication. All information including prices is subject to change without notice by the automaker.)
Story, photos and videos ©2015 CarNichiWa.com