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2017 Fiat 500L

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 7/10/2017 TONY SWAN
2017 Fiat 500L

Overview: The 500L arrived as a 2014 model, giving hungry Fiat dealers something that would have more utility—and hence a broader appeal—than the cute but tiny standard 500. With four doors and actual room for four (there’s a fifth seatbelt, but only those shorter than four-feet tall will commit to the rear center seat without complaint), the 500L technically fulfilled a need. Although dynamically challenged, the 500L has respectable cargo capacity and is reasonably handy around town. The Fiat design team sought to stretch the 500’s cuteness to the 500L’s bigger dimensions, and, love it or hate it, the results speak for themselves.

The power source is Fiat’s widely employed, turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir inline-four. Horsepower—160 at 5500 rpm—is modest, but the little turbo’s 184 lb-ft of torque makes it a decent performer around town. EPA fuel-economy ratings are only so-so: 22 mpg city, 30 highway, and 25 combined, with premium fuel recommended. Fiat enhances the 500L’s persona with a color palette sure to send your friends scurrying for their Italian-English dictionaries: Grigio Chiaro, Grigio Scuro, Verde Bosco Perla, Rosso, Rosso Perla, Mocha Latte, Bianco, Nero, Giallo, and Blu Tornado. There’s also a two-tone option, with a Bianco, Nero, or Rosso roof available, depending on body color.

What’s New: Fiat has simplified the 2017 500L lineup, reducing trim levels to three, although the remaining trio continues with some of the funkiest names in the industry: the base-model Pop, SUV-like Trekking, and more luxurious Lounge. The Trekking trim also offers a dress-up option, the Urbana Appearance package. It includes 17-inch wheels in Matte Nero (black), a color that’s repeated on the side mirrors, side sills, and moldings; door handles in satin silver; and a contrasting roof. But the biggest news is something that’s gone: the six-speed manual transmission, which means that all 2017 500Ls have a six-speed automatic.

What We Like: Most designers will tell you it’s better to create a polarizing design than one that’s bland, and the 500L definitely scores on that scale. The question is whether the polarity is out of balance—too strong on the negative side of the equation. Be that as it may, the 500L has a distinctive appearance in a market segment populated by vehicles that look all too similar. Other strong suits: comfortable urban ride, good cargo capacity, and interior décor treatments that verge on exotic.

What We Don’t Like: Thanks to the likes of Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, and Alfa Romeo, we’ve been conditioned to equate all Italian makes with at least a bit of dynamic passion. But that trait is essentially absent in the 500L. The steering is rubbery, the automatic transmission takes its time shifting, body motions are significant, understeer quickly escalates to mulish, and throttle response and acceleration are languid. Ride quality that’s creamy on metropolitan streets is not so pleasant on pavement punctuated by nasty little irregularities.

Verdict: While the 500L once made some sense next to the wee 500, the arrival of the 500X—similar in size and price, more agile, and with the option of more power and all-wheel drive—has us asking why the L persists.

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Specifications >VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback

BASE PRICES: Pop, $21,990;

Trekking, $23,990;

Lounge, $24,690

ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled SOHC 16-valve inline-4, iron block and aluminum head, port fuel injection

Displacement: 83 cu in, 1368 cc

Power: 160 hp @ 5500 rpm

Torque: 184 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode

DIMENSIONS:

Wheelbase: 102.8 in

Length: 167.3–168.1 in

Width: 69.8–70.9 in Height: 65.7 in

Passenger volume: 98–99 cu ft

Cargo volume: 22 cu ft

Curb weight (C/D est): 3300 lb

FUEL ECONOMY:

EPA combined/city/highway: 25/22/30 mpg

C/D TEST RESULTS FOR:

2016 Fiat 500L Trekking

Zero to 60 mph: 8.0 sec

Zero to 100 mph: 23.9 sec

Zero to 110 mph: 34.5 sec

Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 8.6 sec

Top gear, 30–50 mph: 4.7 sec

Top gear, 50–70 mph: 5.5 sec

Standing ¼-mile: 16.2 sec @ 86 mph

Top speed (drag limited): 126 mph

Braking, 70–0 mph: 176 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad*: 0.76 g

Curb weight: 3308 lb

C/D observed fuel economy: 25 mpg

*stability-control-inhibited

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