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Fiat 500L struggles despite being a solid value 5-passenger hatchback

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2014 Fiat 500L Easy

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The Fiat 500L 5-passenger, 4-door with hatchback sub compact arrived in the U.S. in June of 2013 amidst considerable brand optimism that it would be an excellent addition to the Fiat 500 line - offering more room for passengers and cargo in a larger vehicle that expanded on the iconic eccentricities of the compact Fiat 500 that had returned to North America in 2011.

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Sales of the 500L that have run very slow since arrival (just over 1200 a month in 2013 and just under 1100 a month so far in 2014), show that the consumer is not yet as optimistic, as had been hoped, about the Fiat 500L. However, from our experience, we think it is essentially a very decent vehicle with peppy performance and handling, good interior room for five adults and almost three times the cargo capacity of the Fiat 500 plus offering a good array of features for the money – while it retains some of the iconic Fiat eccentricities.

We had the opportunity to drive the Fiat 500L last June as it arrived in the U.S. – spending part of a day driving a Fiat 500L Lounge model (with automatic transmission) under various conditions at the Chrysler Proving Grounds in Michigan. We reported our favorable impressions in our First Drive examiner.com report under July 2013 date.

With an MSRP beginning at under $20,000, the 500L should be a logical choice for those wanting the Fiat 500 iconic look, but who need more room for passengers and cargo with easier access and very good drivability. But, so far, it appears that Fiat loyalists are not flocking to the 500L in great numbers with even fewer crossover sales from other brand options.

After completing the recent full week behind the wheel of a 2014 Fiat 500L Easy model in May 2014, we still feel the 500L is a good value for price conscious shoppers wanting a good subcompact performer with unique heritage and iconic design elements. During that week, we duplicated - in the real world of Central Texas - all of the driving conditions we experienced on that First Drive, confirming all of our earlier drive impressions of the 500L.

Our test vehicle in May was equipped with the manual transmission and, with delivery, priced at $20,995. This car came with one of the no-cost variable feature Premier Packages that are available in the first year and included the Uconnect 6.5 Touch Screen Audio/Info with Navigation system, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, RearView Backup Camera and ParkSense Rear Park Assist.

The Fiat 500L is offered in four trim levels – Pop (MSRP $19,195), Easy (MSRP $20,395), Trekking ($21,195) and the Lounge ($24,395). The Fiat 500L is front-wheel drive (FWD) and all trim levels are fitted with the Turbocharged 1.4L MultiAir engine producing 160 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque that is integrated with either the standard six-speed manual transmission or the optional automatic six-speed Dual Dry Clutch Transmission (DDCT) with its non-traditional shifting lever (which does take a bit of getting used to). Fuel economy for the manual shift Fiat 500L is 25/33 mpg City/Highway with an expected average of 28 mpg.

There are lots of things we like about the Fiat 500L including the high roof line with plenty of headroom and the command (front height adjustable) positioning of both front a rear seat levels that enables good road visual awareness for both driver and passengers. That visual awareness is further enhanced by the significant large glass area all around the cabin. Seats in front and rear are wide and adequately comfortable, but they are not up to the level of some competitors in terms of body support at the seat level and along the sides of the back. Entry and exit is very easy with the high roof line and the very wide opening doors front and rear. The cargo area is notable at 22.4 cubic feet behind the second row seat and 68 cubic feet with the second row folded up.

All Fiat 500L models weigh in around 3200 pounds and offer four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, touring tuned suspension with front MacPherson Strut suspension elements and rear twist-beam axle with coil springs and twin tube shock absorbers. All have Electric Power Steering (EPD) with variable speed sensitivity, 60/40 split tumble and fold-down second row seating, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), all-speed Traction Control System (TCS), Electronic Brake-Force Distribution (EBD) and Hill Start Assist (HAS) with brake assist.

Some of the standard features include bi-halogen projector headlamps, Daytime Running Lamps (DRL), heated foldaway power side mirrors, lift gate mounted spoiler, solar or deep tint sunscreen glass, power windows, intermittent wipers front and rear, rear window defroster, cabin air filtration, bottle holders in rear doors, 12-volt power outlet, floor mats, sun visors with mirrors, front and rear passenger assist handles, customizable Electronic Vehicle Information Center (EVIC), tachometer, multi-position cargo deck, cargo area lighting and a rear passenger observation mirror for watching the antics of children in the back seat.

The Pop is the entry level 500L and is decently equipped with 16-inch wheels, power locks, air conditioning, cruise control, six-way adjusting front seats, tilt and telescopic steering with audio controls, a Uconnect 5.0 six-speaker CD stereo supported through a 5-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity along with USB/iPod integration and auxiliary input. The Pop as the basic model, offer only the six-speed manual transmission.

The Easy (which would be our choice following our latest drive) adds 16-inch thirteen-spoke alloy wheels, body-colored mirrors, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, good sized front seat center console and armrest, upgraded seat fabric and the premium 520-watt audio system with the six-speakers. The automatic transmission is optional beginning with the Easy.

There are a number of option packages available starting with the Easy trim level that add items in various combinations that includes power driver seat, heated seats, rear armrest, the Uconnect 6.5 audio or a high-end Beats Audio system, a compact spare tire, dual zone air-conditioning, painted roof and a large panoramic dual-pane sunroof.

The Trekking is the outdoor focused model with 17-inch wheels, foglights, unique front and rear body panels, two-tone interior colors and premium level upholstery.

The top end Lounge is the luxury level (running on 16-inch wheels), with leather seating, unique interior accents and chrome exterior features and other premium amenities.

As we mentioned earlier, we feel the 2014 Fiat 500L Easy model with the manual transmission is the best value in the line for most buyers – offering a good combination of features and function while staying under $21,000 delivered.

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