Nice to see the quirky-little-wagon market expanding.
As subcompacts grow into taller and wider versions of themselves, they bring more choices for those looking for maximum cargo and people room in a parkable length. They can also come with a bit of SUV flair, and that’s where the tested 500L Trekking comes in.
The Fiat 500L should look familiar; it grows up from the Fiat 500 hatchback’s platform by adding six inches of width and more than two feet of length.
Competitors that nod to SUVs are the Mini Countryman, with its ALL4 all-wheel drive, and the Nissan Juke, which, according to Nissan, has “the best aspects of an SUV – such as a robust lower body, raised ground height…” and available all-wheel drive. The 500L Trekking has the bulkier detailing of an SUV but sticks with front-wheel drive.
The 500L has four trim levels – Pop, Easy, Trekking and Lounge – and they span a base price range that starts at $19,195 and jumps $5,200 to $24,395 for for the Lounge. The Trekking is just below the top Lounge trim level; it starts at $21,395, and this one came to $26,845 with options and destination.
Options included the $700 six-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission, basically Fiat’s version of a CVT. For 2015, the twin-clutch will be available only in the Easy trim, and a new Aisin six-speed automatic with traditional gears will be the Trekking’s and Lounge’s option.
The tested Trekking also had the $700 Beats Audio and satellite radio package, which sounded pretty much like a middling factory unit, branding aside
The seats were heated and the driver had an adjustable lumbar support, These and other options can be grouped into six Trekking Collection option packages.
All 500Ls have this 160-horspower, 1.4-liter “MultiAir” turbo engine, same as in the Dodge Dart. Fiat recommends premium gas for it. This engine feels livelier in the 500L than in the Dart, with a much sharper throttle response.
The quick-shifting twin-clutch automatic makes it easy to keep the turbo on the boil, although it is still possible to catch the 500L flat-footed when the turbo is down, and it can get noisy.
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Handling is pleasantly firm, and the 500L is very maneuverable, with a turning diameter of less than 33 feet. The ride is busy but rarely harsh.
Inside, the first thing that hits you is the wide-open visibility, which for some might be reason alone to buy a 500L. The view out the front is expansive, and the windows in the rear pillars really open up the view back there, particularly with the back seat down and the headrests out of the way. Of course, the optional backup camera is also helpful, so the 500L can give confidence where more bunkered-in cars can obscure your surroundings.
Front seats are well-padded, and they place you in an upright posture.
The rear seats are a little short on headroom, but they slide on tracks and fold easily. The cargo area has a sturdy shelf and a shallow patch beneath it.
Chrysler/Fiat drivers will know the instrument panel’s controls well, especially the always-welcome buttons on the back of the wheel for stereo volume and track selection. But the Uconnect interface appears to be made for a larger screen than this 6.5-inch unit – you see only the first few words of your song titles.
There are plenty of inputs – auxiliary, SD card and USB, and of course Bluetooth. Climate controls are particularly well executed, with large knobs. Dial in temperatures for each side, sync them up, adjust the fan, turn the whole thing off. Logical and easy.
There’s a large glove box, a curved shelf with a rubberized floor, and another compartment above, so it’s easy to chuck a gadget behind a door.
On the other hand, the bits that you use every day were a little picky. The parking brake sits on the console with a shape that reminds us of a frog, and while that can be cute, it releases on a close-to-horizontal track, making it awkward to disengage.
Also, the shifter button would not release from park if you had first pulled back on the handle without pushing the button all the way in, so you had to focus your pressure on the button, being careful not to pull back at the same time.
And, key removal could require some jiggling – it was rare that it released on the first attempt.
Another oddity; the door panels have no lock indicators, and the lock controller is a nondescript button in the center stack. Good way for Fiat to save a few manufacturing bucks, but it was an adjustment to not be able to glance at the door to see if it was locked.
Balancing these annoyances were the number of people who looked at the 500L and stopped to talk about it. It definitely has a look, even in a market with many distinct looks
Overall, the Fiat 500L is more attention-getting than sporty, But it is another appealing entry into a market that adds a dash of SUV flair to a small wagon.
2014 Fiat 500L Trekking
Base Price: $21,395
Price as Tested: $26,845
Six-speed Euro Twin Clutch Automatic Transmission: $1,350
Power Sunroof: $1,100
Popular Equipment Group: $700 (dual-zone climate control, driver’s power lumbar adjustment, auto-dimming rear view mirror, 115-volt power outlet, etc.)
Trekking Premier Package Plus Beats Audio/SiriusXM: $700
Compact Spare Tire: $450
Heated Front Seats: $350
Premium gas recommended