Today: Aug 23 , 2019

Auto Corner: Italian Love Affair, The four-door Fiat 500L

Falling in love with a stunning, beautiful Italian.

2014 Fiat 500L four door

Personality: The lovechild offspring of a spicy Italian and a practical American

MPG (as tested): 33 mpg highway/25 mpg city

How Much: Starts at about $20k. Options go up from there.

Competition: Kia Soul, Mini Countryman, Scion XB, Ford Fiesta, Nissan Juke

Performance: 0-60 in 9.1 seconds

How fast is that? The slowest vehicle we've tested in four years.

If a practical American falls in love with a stunning, beautiful Italian, what sort of child will they have? They'll probably have something like the new Fiat 500L—a rare combination of American practicality and Italian style.

Lamborghinis are Italian. Ferraris are Italian. And so is the tiny two-door Fiat 500—which invaded local Chrysler and Dodge dealerships in 2012. Like the Mini Cooper, Fiat's 500 brought European style, charm, and dimensions to the U.S. But the teeny Fiat 500 coupe only appealed to a small (pun intended) percentage of Americans.

Now, aware that Americans prefer a bit more space, Fiat has upsized the 500 in its new 500L four-door hatchback. The 500L adds two doors, a roomy wagon hatchback, and lots of space to the lovely 500 coupe. To accomplish this, the new 500L is stretched two feet longer, and stands about 6 inches taller than a standard 500. It grew another 6 inches in width. This makes for a comfortable interior with loads of head and shoulder space in the front seats, as well as generous space for three in the backseat.

The compact, four-door hatchback market is growing in the U.S., with strong competition from Mini's four-door Sportsman, Kia's Soul, Nissan's Juke, and Toyota/Scion's XB. Compared to these others, the Fiat 500L offers a more comfortable backseat, better visibility, a higher-class interior, and unique European styling.

The 500L offers serious space for passengers, realistic cargo storage room behind the backseat, and far better gas mileage than an SUV of similar size. The 500L's European styling sets it apart from competitors. This is particularly true inside, where the 500L's dashboard and high quality materials offer a more luxurious feel and attractive look. I was particularly impressed with the 500L's backseat comfort for adult passengers.

Under the hood, the Fiat hides a 1.4-liter engine that generates a considerable 160 horsepower. With a curb weight of about 3,300 pounds, those 160 ponies may not be enough for some impatient drivers. But I found the engine to be more than sufficient for city and highway driving. It's that smaller engine that makes the 500L great on gas. It only drinks one gallon for every 33 miles on the highway. City driving lands at about 25 mpg. Not bad for a vehicle that can carry five adults and a hatchback stuffed with groceries or gear.

Fiat 500L owners will find that this four-door handles with Italian excellence. And you won't drive a car that's easier to park or maneuver.

Today's small cars are engineered for safety, and the Fiat 500L is no exception. It comes standard with an army of safety features including vehicle stability control, traction control, brake distribution, and a host of airbags protecting driver and passengers. To top it off, the 500L recently received a five star crash test rating for front impact.

Fiat has been building its 500 for decades. That established, time-tested expertise of compact car design shows in every detail of the 500L. If you're shopping for a four-door wagon or hatchback, you would do well to give the Fiat 500L serious consideration—and a test drive.

© 2014John Dickerson and John Kehlenbeck, Horsepower Auto Reviews

 

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John Dickerson, Auto Reviews

Each month John Dickerson tests a worthy car. From smoking teenagers at stoplights to cramming groceries and small appliances into the trunk, Dickerson examines the features you actually care about, like how well a spilled mocha cleans off the upholstery. Dickerson was raised on industrial pollution, deer venison and American steel in Detroit, Michigan. His co-workers often find him in a trance, slumped over his keyboard, uttering words like “torque steer, horsepower-to-displacement ratio” and “nav system.”