Fiat has been building a market for itself since the 500 debuted for 2012 here in the U.S. Now the brand has three main models, two of which ride on the same platform but cater to different crowds. The 2016 Fiat 500X offers a somewhat rugged package with a tad more ground clearance and AWD. Its stable mate, the 2015 Fiat 500L offers a more urban experience, complete with cutesy looks and a functional interior.

I recently got to spend some quality time with the 500L in my day-to-day life. Obviously its larger size, four real doors, and seating for five provided a much more family-friendly ride than the previous two Fiats I’ve tested – the Fiat 500 and 2012 Fiat 500 Cabrio, both in the sporty Abarth trim.

The term “large” almost seems like an understatement when sitting inside for the first time. Its tall roof, wide stance, and long body make the car feel much bigger than it actually is. Its interior space feels almost MPV-like. Funny it should feel that way because the 500L also shares its platform with the 2015 Ram ProMaster City.

Unlike the ProMaster City, the 500L comes powered by the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder – a very prevalent engine in the Fiat lineup. Three transmission options are offered, the first being a six-speed manual and the two remaining being six-speed automatics, one of which is a dual-clutch unit.

Five trim levels are offered and span the gap between rental ready and leather-lined. My tester walked the middle ground as a Trekking model, which offers a bit more rugged exterior without crossing into the 500X’s market. Still, the 500L offers plenty of practicality without sacrificing quirkiness.

Continue reading for the full driven review

  • 2015 Fiat 500L - Driven
  • Year:
    2015
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Transmission:
    six-speed automatic
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    160 @ 5500
  • MPG(Cty):
    22
  • MPG(Hwy):
    30
  • Torque @ RPM:
    184 @ 2500
  • Energy:
    Turbocharged
  • Displacement:
    1.4 L
  • 0-60 time:
    9.0 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    124 mph
  • Layout:
    front engine, FWD
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Video Walk-Around


Exterior

2015 Fiat 500L - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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2015 Fiat 500L - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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2015 Fiat 500L - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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Interestingly different. The Fiat 500L is certainly that and a bag of chips. The car is quirky beyond belief, with nothing else on the market looking similar to it – save for the 500X. To me, the front looks like an Italian bug with a five-o’clock shadow. Its big eyes and pencil-line mustache give the car curbside personality.

Down low, the bumper and grille get a dark grey treatment that runs the length of the car as fender flairs. More flairs, and vents adorn the bumper, lending a somewhat sporty look. Best of all, the turbo’s intercooler is visible in the lowermost grille.

The passenger compartment enjoys a very tall greenhouse. The massive front windshield is flanked by A-pillar windows that make turning a snap. The large glass continues onto the side and roof, with big views all around. The roof also sports a two-tone paint scheme, with everything above the belt line covered in black.

The 500L’s side profile is equally tall, again, echoing that MPV look. Chrome bits help brighten the appearance, as do the 10-spoke alloy wheels. Around back, the 500L continues its bug-eyed look with large taillights. Smaller lights down low are surrounded by a black plastic accent piece.

All told, the 500L looks like nothing else and offers something “different” to buyers looking for that.

Interior

2015 Fiat 500L - Driven High Resolution Interior
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2015 Fiat 500L - Driven High Resolution Interior
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2015 Fiat 500L - Driven High Resolution Interior
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Inside, the 500L impresses with headroom. The spacious cabin feels bigger than it actually is thanks to all the windows, though even without the extra glass, the 500L’s innards would be impressively large. Seating four adults is a cinch. Seating three tweens or kids in the second row is also easy. My daughter’s booster seat also fit quite nicely.

Cargo room in the back is plentiful, though nobody will mistake the 500L for a 2015 Chevy Suburban. Fold the rear seats down and the room expands. Sadly, the folded seats don’t provide a flat load surface for the cargo bay. The area does come with a cargo shade to keep prying eyes and sunlight out of the back.

The dashboard is an interesting piece, to say the least. The three-spoke steering wheel is leather wrapped, while the rest of the dash is either low-gloss plastic or wrapped in soft-touch accent material. The seats are two-tone leather and are heated in the the front.

Behind the wheel, ergonomics are fairly good. Controls are all within arm’s reach and are simple to operate — especially the HVAC controls and the Uconnect 5.0-inch touch screen. Black-on-white gauges offer vehicle information at a quick glance.

I did take issue with one design characteristic, however. The front seats feel oddly placed. They feel far too inboard. The small center console and long reach to the door armrests are the main clues. It almost seems like wasted space after living with the car for a week. I often wished for more cup holders or a bigger center console.

What saddens me more is the appearance that the driver’s position has room to move left, allowing the widening of the front seats.

Powertrain

2015 Fiat 500L - Driven High Resolution Drivetrain
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Under the hood of my 500L tester came the standard 1.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder with its turbocharger. The engine is good for 160 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 184 pound-feet of torque at 2,500 rpm. That’s roughly the same as the 500 Abarth, but feels much less potent thanks to the 500L’s extra 633 pounds of weight. The 500L also misses out on the Abarth’s raucous exhaust note.

Connected to the transversely mounted engine in my tester was a six-speed automatic transmission. The unit offers decently quick upshifts and well-timed downshifts. Its manual mode is on the slow side, however, so don’t expect to extract extra performance by slapping your own gears.

The engine and transmission combo offer adequate power for daily driving. The sprint to 60 happens in a lazy nine seconds. Conversely, some faint turbo noise makes the experience less dull.

The EPA rates the 500L at 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined.

Driving Impressions

2015 Fiat 500L - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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My first impression centered on how awesome the outward visibility is with the 500L. In fact, the 500L would be first on my list of rental cars should I go on vacation to a scenic place like the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone. The panoramic roof and large windshield make the car special.

Behind the wheel and without considering the grand vistas, however, the 500L feels much less special. The driving experience is best described as mediocre. It gets the job done and offers plenty of room for people and their stuff, but it didn’t ignite my passion for driving.

The engine feels only adequate for moving the car and the transmission is alright. Fuel economy was decent – I averaged around 25 mpg – but nothing to write home about. Body roll, nose dive, and torque steer are all under control, allowing for confident driving. Just don’t expect to have the same level of fun as in the 500 Abarth.

Safety

2015 Fiat 500L - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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The 2015 Fiat 500L earns the rating of “Good” from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the categories of moderate front overlap, side impact, roof strength, and head restraints and seats. It does, however, earn a “Poor” rating for the IIHS’ newest test, the small front overlap test.

At the time of this writing, the 500L has not been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Price

2015 Fiat 500L - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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The Fiat 500L comes in five trim levels, and the base “Pop” trim starts at $19,345. With that, you get the same 1.4-liter turbo four, but the six-speed manual comes standard. My tester came in the mid-grade Trekking trim, which carries a starting price of $21,695. The tester was then fitted with a one-stop-shop option packaged called the Trekking Collection 5.

The $6,000 package includes the Uconnect 6.5A, SiriusXM, navigation, backup camera, rear park assist, power sunroof, power driver seat, heated front seats, auto A/C controls, auto-dimming mirrors, leather seats, the Beats audio system, 17-inch aluminum wheels, and rear armrest with cup holders.

Also added is the six-speed automatic transmission for $1,350 and the $900 destination charge. All told, the MSRP is listed at $29,795.

Trim Price
Pop $19,345
Easy $20,695
Trekking $21,695
Urbana $23,095
Lounge $24,695

Competition

Mini Cooper Countryman

2017 Mini Countryman Exterior Spyshots
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The 2016 Mini Cooper Countryman is just about as funky as the 500L. It lives off its own oddness – something people find endearing. Underneath the exterior and behind the differently designed interior lies a car confused about whether it’s a crossover or a four-door hatchback. Its tall(ish) ground clearance and available AWD make it a better candidate for crossover status than many crossovers currently on the market.

The Mini comes powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 208 horsepower. Like the Fiat, a six-speed manual is available, though the Mini is decidedly sportier.

Prices start at $22,750 and grow with added options.

Read our review on the 2016 Mini Cooper Countryman here.

2015 Nissan Juke

2015 Nissan Juke High Resolution Exterior
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Siding more with the crossovers is the Nissan Juke. This tallish ride also falls into the quirky category with the Mini and Fiat, thanks to its oddball design. Love it or hate it, there is nothing like the Juke on the road today.

Under the hood is a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. It comes standard with FWD, though AWD is offered. A CVT is the base transmission choice and a six-speed manual is offered in the Nismo and 2015 Nissan Juke Nismo RS.

Prices start at $20,250 for the base model. Opt for the sporty Nismo and the price jumps to $24,830. The more powerful Nismo RS (215 horsepower) starts at $28,020.

Read more about the 2015 Nissan Juke here.

Conclusion

2015 Fiat 500L - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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Though I have my complaints about the 500L, the car proved to be a fun and distinctive ride. Sure, its driving pleasure is lacking and its oddly placed front seats detract from the experience, but the large windows, generous people room, and decent starting price make the 500L an attractive buy. I’d personally skip the leather seats and such to keep the cost down.

The 500L maintains the funky weirdness that makes Fiat stand out among its rivals. For some, it stands a bit too far out of line. And that’s fine – most car purchases are motivated by passion anyway. Heck, passion is the only reason folks buy sports car and muscle cars. So be weird, little Fiat, and have fun doing it.

  • Leave it
    • * A few ergonomic issues
    • * Not all that peppy
    • * Gets pricey with options
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