Fiat is following the path blazed by BMW's MINI division and turning its popular 500 city car into a small family of models. Introduced across Europe in 2012, the roomy 500L five-door hatchback is the latest and biggest member of the lineup.
Not counting the numerous off-shoots of the 500, the 500L is Fiat's second model since returning to the United States in 2011. It stretches 162 inches long, 70 inches wide and 65 inches tall, dimensions that make it five inches longer than a MINI Countryman and roughly the same size as a Scion xB. It rides on Fiat's new "Small Wide" platform, which is an evolution of the chassis that underpins the 500.
The L's front end draws design cues such as its oval headlights and its retro-inspired grille from the 500, while the rear end gets its own identity thanks to a tall and upright hatch and horizontal tail lamps.
Buyers are able to mix and match eleven exterior colors, two roof colors and a full panoply of different wheel designs.
Fiat offers a crossover-ized variant of the 500L called Trekking, a name borrowed from its European lineup. Based on the regular 500L, the Trekking adds features such as tougher-looking front and rear fascias with flat gray trim, plastic fender flares and side skirts as well as 17-inch alloy wheels.
The 500L's interior offers room for five adults and loads of storage bins hidden throughout the car. The 60/40 rear seat is adjustable while the front seatback folds flat to facilitate the task of carrying long items.
The dashboard is considerably more modern in appearance than the one found in the 500 city car, and the steering is commanded through an oval three-spoke multifunction wheel. The instrument cluster consists of four analog gauges and a TFT screen that gives vital information about the car in addition to the time and the outside temperature.
A direct product of the tie-up between Fiat and Chrysler, the 500L comes standard with the latter's well-regarded Uconnect Access infotainment system. Often considered one of the more user-friendly infotainment setups on the market, Uconnect Access integrates most of the 500L's audio, navigation and climate control functions into one unit. A 5-inch touch screen mounted on the dashboard is the central component of the system, but buttons and knobs for climate and audio volume and tuning are also included.
Uconnect Access features a voice command system that allows the driver to place phone calls, use the sound system, input navigation destinations and more without taking his or her hands off the wheel. Other notable aspects of the system include the ability to function as a Wi-Fi hotspot over a 3G network - for an additional monthly fee - and downloadable applications such as Bing search.
The main options are a larger 6.5-inch touch screen, a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, a rearview camera, ParkSense park assist and SiriusXM satellite radio. Buyers can also choose from a wide range of upholstery choices.
Under the hood
The 500L is only available with a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder MultiAir engine that is identical to the one found in the Dodge Dart's engine bay. Linked to either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed dual-clutch unit, it sends 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque to the front set of wheels.
The 500L comes standard with electronic stability control and seven airbags, including a knee airbag for the driver.
Buyers in the market for a 500L should also test drive the MINI Countryman, its main rival. Those more concerned with aesthetics than interior space might also consider the Nissan Juke.