The "L" in 2014 Fiat 500L Trekking stands for "large." The small wagon, as it is classified by the EPA, is wider, longer, and taller than the coupes and cabriolets that share the 500 moniker. Bulbous, ostentatiously colored Giallo yellow, and awkwardly stretching the 500's cutesy style over a much larger frame, it was a bit embarrassing to be seen behind the wheel of this Fat Fiat.
Being larger means that the 500L also boasts better interior volume than any other North American Fiat model, so there's more room for people and stuff. While it's not saying much to compare the 500L to the pint-size 500 and 500C, the L also bests the capacity of many small crossovers with larger curbside footprints. Tumble & slide rear seats that flip out of the way with the tug of a lever make accessing that space easy when you need to load bulky items into its rear hatch.
The 500L is so spacious that I couldn't comfortably rest my left elbow on the door armrest from the driver's seat without leaning awkwardly. The L is gratuitous with its head room and there's plentiful legroom on the second row.
Sizing up the 500L
2014 Fiat 500L
2014 Mazda CX-5
2013 Scion xB
2014 Fiat 500 coupe
Overall height (inches)
Overall length (inches)
Interior volume (cu. feet)
The 500L's cabin is also quite airy. Generous greenhouse glass lets a lot of light into the cabin, even if you don't have the optional panoramic moonroof added. (That $1,100 option is one of the L's best features and a much better use of the rooftop real estate than the Mini-eque white Accent Roof panel, so you really should have it equipped.)
Our Trekking model features "sporty" gray body panels meant to evoke an off-road-ready look despite that all currently available 500L models are equipped with "Normal Duty" suspensions, and none are available with all-wheel drive.
Inside the 500L isn't terrible looking, particularly with our optional Marrone brown trim upgrade, but cabin feels about as cheap as the smaller 500 did. But with more surface area to work with, the cheapness is much more evident on the 500L. Even with the Trekking model's leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob, and door trim, the cabin feels low budget.
On the bright side, despite being significantly larger than the 500, the 500L still has a relatively small footprint, making it fairly easy to park. 360-degree visibility is quite good thanks to the generous glass, but I was grateful for the extra piece of mind afforded by the optional rear camera and parking distance sensors of our example's Premier package.
The camera and sensors are where the 500L's driver-aid tech ends. There's no blind-spot monitoring and no rear cross traffic alert when reversing. Its competitors, on the other hand, offer much better tech in this respect.
Big car, small engine
The 2014 500L rolls along at a curb weight that's about 777 pounds more than the 2014 Fiat 500 Turbo. Despite being significantly heavier, the L is powered by the same 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged engine that you'll find under the hood of the 500 Turbo and the Abarth 500, but with a slightly different tune. This does not bode well for performance.
That engine is mated to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Our example was equipped with the latter, a $1,350 option.
The powertrain's output is stated at 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Performance is merely OK. There's enough torque to get the 500L moving, and over flat terrain its acceleration isn't bad at all. However, the 500L doesn't like steep hills, even with just one passenger and no cargo. I'd hate to have to drive this thing up one of San Francisco's notoriously steep grades when it's loaded with four adults and their cargo.
I did like the mechanical induction noise at of the 1.4-liter at idle and the slight whistle of the turbocharger under moderate acceleration, but the four-banger just doesn't sound great when it's working hard -- and in a vehicle this big, it's always working hard.
The "Euro Twin Clutch" transmission is a fairly smooth gearbox under most circumstances, but not the best DCT that I've tested. A Hill Start brake assist feature keeps the 500L from rolling backward on steep inclines, but on shallow slopes or over uneven roads, the vehicle can roll backward slightly when the driver's foot moves from the brake to the gas. There's only an instant of free rolling while gearbox's clutch engages, but that moment can be disconcerting. In stop-and-go traffic, the turbocharged 1.4 and the DCT can feel a bit jerky, but that smooths out once you get rolling.
The DCT features a manual-shift mode (although no paddle shifters), but rapid acceleration is largely out of the question. Driving the 500L then becomes an exercise in forward planning to conserve momentum and building revs and velocity well in advance of a planned pass.
You'd think that a small engine would be good for fuel economy, and the EPA's estimates of 27 mpg combined, 24 mpg city, and 33 mpg highway seem promising. I averaged only 19.5 mpg during my almost 400 miles of testing. I expect that my fuel economy is usually on the low side due to the demands of testing and photographing, but to miss the EPA's low estimate by 5 mpg is a bit disappointing.
Underpinning the 500L is a MacPherson strut setup on the front axle with a torsion-bar rear end. Koni springs and dampers help keep the four corners under control, but despite the Koni name branding, the 500L's handling doesn't feel particularly inspired or sporty. The ride is smooth enough over all but the worst bumps and potholes, but it doesn't corner particularly well.