Any number of things may startle you about the 2014 Fiat 500L the first time you see one. The design that looked bug-eyed and ungainly under bright auto show lights is actually quite pleasing. The notoriously cramped interior here has been stretched and pulled to actually provide more than enough space in all directions. And for a square-shaped mini crossover with small displacement, the new 500L is actually – as we recently found out on a test drive – really fun to drive.
We only had a short amount of driving time in the Verde Bosco Perla (here in America, we call it Forest Green) 500L that Chrysler brought to the mountains of Santa Monica. Without fully putting the car through its paces, we can definitively say the 2014 500L offers the goods to impress curious buyers and probably even win over some doubters. Here's why.
This particular model is a 2014 Fiat 500L Easy, the second out of four trim levels (Pop, Easy, Trekking and Lounge). Even just a step above base, the interior – like that of the two-door 500 – is pleasing to both the eye and touch, with an attractive layout and excellent use of negative space that stops just short of cutesy. More than aesthetics, though, plop into the narrow front seats and check out all the openness around you. The rear doors open extremely wide, and there’s plenty of rear seat space, even for 6” passengers.
So how’s it drive? Start with the 1.4L MultiAir turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the nasty 500 Abarth and you’ve got a pretty good thing going on. In the 500L, the four-banger makes 160 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft of torque. Now, before you ask, it doesn't emit the same Ferrariesque snarl that it does in the Abarth. This is a larger and heavier car at about 3,350 lbs. curb weight, and the engine is competent but not quite adrenaline-inducing. At low speeds the thing is a hoot, easily chirping tires and revving at will. Climb in the gears and the 500L struggles to find more speed, but that also helps it achieve strong 24/33 MPG for the class.
If you’re looking for thrills, you can honestly get excited about two things. Handling is excellent from a thick and weighted leather steering weight that provides quick response and great feedback through the front wheels. The 500L is not a canyon carver, thanks to some body roll and pedestrian anti-lock brakes, but the car will do what you ask when you ask it – a rarity these days. The other thing to watch is the transmission. A six-speed manual is available, but we tested the six-speed twin clutch automatic. It’s wonderful to see this technology seeping into affordable family cars like the 500L, though it isn’t quite perfected here. At speed, the shifts are barely noticeable and fast enough – if you’re accelerating and trying to make a quick escape, however, the transmission needs a second to collect itself before making the change.
The 2014 Fiat 500L Easy starts from $20,195 MSRP and our tester came to $25,454 with the transmission, awesome panoramic sunroof, white roof and a few other options. We’ll have a full review of the 2014 Fiat 500L posted to the site very soon. For now, rest assured that our Italian friends have delivered on their promise to add practicality to their already stylish and exciting stateside vehicles.