Simplified Slushbox-Only Lineup Suits the Largest 500
Fiat dealers have had a rough row to hoe for the last eight or nine years. They signed up to help resuscitate a brand that shuttered its showrooms 27 years ago due in large part to its reputation for dodgy quality. They were then offered one model name to sell: 500. This alarming dearth of product was in part compensated for by a proliferation of variants—Cabrio, Abarth, electric, then stretched four-door L, and all-wheel-drive X models joined, each with multiple trim levels to choose so that there were 25 different orderable 500s last year. Well, for 2017, as the first totally new model number (124) begins to dribble in, the extended 500 family gets some much-needed trim-level and equipment rationalizing down to three orderable trim levels each. (An E-sport version was added to the electric 500e.) Because it’s been ages since we sampled the four-door 500L, we decided to focus our critical attention on this largest, most practical of the 500s.
The 2017 Fiat 500L’s remaining trim choices are Pop, Trekking, and Lounge. All get slight increases in standard equipment, and the base Pop upgrades much of its rental-grade trim items, such as steel wheels, black door handles, a urethane steering wheel, and minimally tinted glass to essentially the level of the previous Easy grade. The price also rises to $200 USD above the 2016 Easy, at $21,990 USD. The Trekking model starts $1,115 USD higher but includes $2,700 USD worth of Uconnect/6.5-inch touchscreen telematics and a white roof. The matte-black trim that distinguished the Trekking Urbana model now becomes a stand-alone $595 USD Urbana package. And the Lounge price drops $1,100 USD to $24,690 USD, but formerly standard items such as the ParkView rear camera, dual-zone climate controls, and power lumbar adjustment move to a Premium option package.
Another big simplification is in the powertrain combinations. The 160-horsepower, 184-lb-ft turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder engine remains unchanged but of the three transmissions originally offered on the 500L—a so-so manual, a slightly clunky dry dual-clutch, and a lovely planetary automatic—only the lovely one remains. Sadly its 25-mpg (9.4 L/100km) combined fuel economy trails that of the other trannies; EPA-rated mileage is 22/30 mpg (10.7/7.8 L/100km) city/highway.
Sliding into the driver’s seat after a long absence, I feel a bit like Captain Nemo helming the Nautilus in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, looking out through this giant windshield. I am also intrigued by the squared circle steering wheel. Its outer rim is round, but the leather wrapping is stitched in a pattern that makes it look sort of square. Other than that, this interior looks upscale in keeping with the car’s low- to mid-$20,000 USD price range. There’s plenty of piano-black trim, a nice big touchscreen, and rotary control knobs with knurled edges (though they are plastic).
Out on the open road, this little engine struggles a bit to hustle the biggest 500 up to speed. For around-town driving it is just fine, but I am concerned about how it would perform on mountain vacations with the whole family onboard and a cargo compartment filled with weekend gear. The ride quality feels quite European, which is to say slightly flinty. For a relatively small cabin, albeit one with the large sunroof, the structure does not feel as rigid as the newest vehicles in the size class do. On the Chrysler proving ground handling circuit, the engine pulls quite strongly, but the body rolls disconcertingly—a feeling exacerbated by the view out of that huge windshield and by seats that don’t offer much lateral support.
The combined result is that the 2017 Fiat 500L doesn’t feel like a very sporty car deep down, which may explain why there’s no Abarth variant offered and why Fiat has never done one of those “little blue pill” Viagra-gag commercial featuring the 500L. No, if you’re into cheeky, boutiquey small four-doors and you need a bit more sport, the Mini Clubman might be a better choice.
|2017 Fiat 500L|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||1.4L/160-hp/184-lb-ft turbocharged SOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,250 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||167.3-168.1 x 69.8-70.9 x 65.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.8 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||22/30/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||153/112 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.78 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Fall 2016|