By on June 18, 2014

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“Cheap and cheerful.” It’s a phrase the Brit mags like to use all the time to describe poverty-priced cars that attempt to use design and color to mask their humble aspirations. Think Scion xB compared to Toyota Tercel — but nobody does the C&C music factory like the Europeans. The original Twingo set the template, but it’s had many a riff played on it since then.

Now we have a cheap-and-cheerful from a Euro manufacturer, built in Serbia, with as much design and flair as you can stand. Whether it’s the worst car for sale in America or one of the best depends entirely on how cheerful you need your cheap to be.

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We’re reviewing a Kia Soul in these pages today, so it was both lucky and good than I rented one for last weekend’s WRL race at Texas World Speedway. I have )plenty of experience driving a Kia Soul in Houston. No, wait, I meant to post this review, the other one is fiction. In any event, the Soul also pretends to be cheap-and-cheerful. I say “pretends” because it isn’t really that cheap anymore and it’s approaching respectability in its design and execution. The deal Kia is currently making with the American public is this: you pay about what you’d pay for a Honda, give or take a bit, and we’ll throw in some warranty and some Audi-derived flair to help you get over the brand stigma. (Yes, I know who designs Kias now — Peter Schreyer.)

The 500L, on the other hand — well, when I first sat in the thing at the Hertz office I couldn’t believe what an utter piece of shit it was. Like a Toyota Corolla and about everything else nowadays, it has a three-rotating-ring climate control system. Unlike with the Toyota, however, in this car the rings wobble. They’re so loose I worried that they would fall off. Adjusting the driver’s seat gave me another case of the wobbles — the hollow-molded handles to adjust the seatback and height gave no sensation of being firmly attached to anything at all. The handbrake was bizarrely shaped and the flash lines from the plastic molding were sharply evident. There are no manual door lock actuators on the doors themselves. That would cost money. The shifter found “D” with a very Italian vagueness.

And then the engine quit.

For at least five seconds, I just sat there with my mouth open. As someone who races a variety of Lemons-spec cars across the country and who once owned a MA href=”http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/the-red-marquis-the-redheaded-girl-and-the-red-mist/”>1980 Mercury Marquis, I am no stranger to the phenomenon known as “failure to proceed”, but in a 2014-model automobile with 4000 miles on the clock?

I re-selected Park, twisted the switchblade key in the ignition, and the car caught before dying yet again!

A third time was the charm, but throughout the weekend, the Fiat would often indicate it’s reluctance to run in the ninety-five-degree Texas weather by cutting out once or twice when started cold, always starting by the third try. Okay. We’re rolling. Time to take a look around.

Although the 500L shares nothing with the infamous Multipla wide-body CUV, the long dashboard, multiple fishbowl windows in front of the driver, and the general turret-toppedness of the thing make it hard to believe such is the case. Really, it’s a relative of the upcoming Renegade. Think Caliber to the Patriot and you’ll have the idea, sort of. There’s a lot of glass, some of it wavy, and it’s all pretty far away from you in all directions. You want Euro? You got it. This is how our nominal superiors on the Continent imagine high-seat cars, as compared to something like a modern Tahoe where you get the cockpit of an Impala mounted to the frame of an Iowa-class in an arrangement that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a Star Destroyer.

I slapped the thing into Drive again and noticed that, as is also a Euro market practice, the red-LCD display between the dials showed which gear I’d selected. This is a nice feature, one I remember with pleasure from my Phaetons. You get “D4″ or “D6″ or “D1″ instead of “D”. If you don’t like being surprised by shifting, it’s good to have. It’s also useful because when you’re low-speed cruising through town you can accurately estimate whether you’ll need to press for kickdown in order to make a move in traffic. Already in third? Probably okay. If the transmission has drifted up to fifth, you’d better ask for a shift.

Particularly if, as is the case here, you’re asking 1.4L of light-pressured turbocharged four-cylinder to motivate 3,203 pounds with just 160 horsepower. The Fiat 500L will never be confused with an acceptably rapid automobile and such is its lassitude that even I, who just got a six-point speeding ticket in another turbocharged Euro-mobile last week, frequently found myself dawdling along at 65mph on the 75mph Texas freeways. It’s clearly never in a hurry. The good news is that the engine’s relatively flat torque curve approximates a big-cube four-banger like the Chrysler 2.4 pretty well and it’s never dangerous in a merging situation. Hilariously, the twin-clutch transmission allows the thing to “brap” a bit when it’s in a hurry, just like a GTI. Again, you want Euro, you got it.

How’s it handle? It definitely does. My plans to take it around Texas World Speedway were canceled because my flight arrived late-ish and therefore I couldn’t get both this and the car I was actually going to race around the course in the allotted time, but hey, on the street it’s dynamically competent. To some degree, the 500L’s abilities in the steer-stop department are masked by the form factor and the seating. If you had a car that put up these same numbers but sat you on the ground in the manner of, say, a previous-generation Civic, you’d be quite pleased. It’s just that being up in the fishbowl makes the whole enterprise seem a bit stupid. I’m pretty sure this thing would dust most CUVs around a track, if you really wanted to make it happen.
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As befits a “Fiatsler” product, the 500L has a uConnect center screen. Right now, if you buy one from dealer stock, you’ll get a better uConnect than this one, free of charge, and it will include navigation. This one’s okay, however, offering the same virtues you get in a 300C. (Incidentally, I am the only major TTAC contributor who doesn’t think uConnect is better than MyFordTouch, so take this with a grain of salt.) It was a little picky about reconnecting to my Galaxy upon startup, but overall the Bluetooth integration was solid. The sound quality was less so. Not a lot of juice in the amp.

Cargo and passenger space, as you’d expect, is excellent and from my experience it matches what’s available elsewhere in the segment. The rear seats are as comfortable as the fronts, which is to say pretty good and supportive over long drives. I covered nearly 800 miles in three days during my drive, having to fold my fractured frame into a couple of Kirkey race seats in the intervals between trips, and I was never in any pain or discomfort. It’s a good way to travel. The A/C, despite feeling desperately flimsy in operation, was up to the demands of cooling this very glazing-intensive car in Texas heat.

Overall, the 500L appears to be a very nice design put together in completely slipshod fashion. I was prepared to give it a bit of a diss-track review. The lousy quality and will-it-run business made it easily the worst car I’ve rented this year or last, in plain functional terms. As I was preparing my notes, however, I took the time to build my test vehicle in FIAT’s configuator.

This, as the say, changed everything.

Equipped as my “Easy” DCT model was, net price before discounts was $21,095. Which means out the door for under twenty grand. Were I willing to take a six-speed manual transmission over the DCT — would I be? You think so? — the net-net would be mid-nineteen grand. Compare that to a Honda CR-V EX with similar equipment at $25,320 or a Ford Escape at what is probably, given that company’s current pricing strategy, $118,255. For that money, I’d get navigation and a suite of other upgrades if I took it from dealer stock, which makes the real price gap between this and the competition an easy seven grand.

Cheap indeed.

At that price, I’ve changed my mind. If you can trade build quality away for a double helping of design whimsy, and you’d like to save something like thirty percent of the purchase price, the 500L is recommended with reservations. And those reservations are: you didn’t pay Honda money, it doesn’t look like the God-awful CR-V, don’t expect it to run forever with no problems. You say you want a Euro car? You got it. Just remember that it’s not Japanese.

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147 Comments on “Rental Review: 2014 Fiat 500L “Easy” FWD...”


  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Methinks thou doest protest too much. It seriously limits any relevancy your ‘review’ might contain.

    And as we all know, rentals are among the most abused cars ever. Even if every word of what you say is true, it doesn’t adequately represent the model as a whole.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Hard to have suffered the slings and arrows of hard abuse at just 4K miles on the odo.

      If it’s dogged out from abuse at just 4K miles of rental duty – then it’s an even bigger steaming pile of you know what.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Don’t forget that the engine has a turbocharger, even if it is a low-boost version. I can guarantee that hard driving with no cool-down will damage a turbo very quickly. That alone could be the problem with his engine not wanting to start… and as another commented, possibly having swallowed some water through watered-down fuel or who knows what else.

        • 0 avatar
          wmba

          In the Dart, boost is as high as 22 psi to get the 184 lb-ft torque rating, while only 17 psi in the Abarth because it only offers 160lb-ft. Both are rated at 160 hp at higher rpm.

          The Abarth and Dart 1.4t Multiairs are made in Dundee, Michigan by Chrysler.

          The 500L engine is made in Italy, although nominally being the same engine you can get in the Dart: source Allpar.

          There was an Italian software engineer from Fiat who could only speak Italian who tried to enter the car impound area at the Dartmouth NS port of entry, where a whack of these 500L things were stored. He was brought to the major Chrysler dealer by CBS, an interpreter found to assist communication, and Chrysler Canada up in Ontario informed of his presence wandering around in secured areas in Nova Scotia. They hadn’t been informed about him by Fiat.

          His job was to reprogram every one of the 500L’s ECMs before they were shipped to the rest of Canada. My pal, the warranty manager at the dealership, told me about this forlorn young man and his distress. Sending unilingual Italians to English Canada shows the preparedness and brainpower at work back at Fiat HO.

          He accomplished his task, though, in the end – last June a year ago, and my pal insisted I inspect two of the 500L’s, which I did ONLY as a favor to him. They are beyond ugly.

          It seems that the man assigned to reprogram the US 500L’s did not accomplish his mission, and may be rotting in some border agency cell! Perhaps this explains Mr Baruth’s stalling problems.

          Why Fiat did not use the ECM settings Chrysler had already worked out for the Dart remains open to speculation. I would suggest gross incompetence is the primary reason.

          This probably means that when North American Fiat 500 production returns to the main Fiat 500 plant in Poland from Mexico, the Abarth will get this gem of an engine rather than the proven US one.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      4,000 miles should not an old car make. If anything, he was far too kind in this review. This is one of the worst looking cars on the market in a time of no living designers worthy of the name. As for value, new Ford Escapes(and Fusions) are $18,999 in my neighborhood, according to Mossy Ford’s pleading ads. I’m sure their quality is no worse than these developing world Fiats. I don’t know how any of the other low quality producers can compete with Ford prices in Pacific Beach. Can Chevy sell Sparks for the $13,777 that a Fiesta SE automatic costs? Kia Rios and Souls? Versa CVTs? Darts? Mirages? Jettas? It doesn’t seem to matter. I probably see half a dozen Kias, Jettas, and Versas for every privately owned Ford car.

      http://www.mossyford.com/new-specials.html

    • 0 avatar
      N8iveVA

      I sat in a brand new one and immediately hated it for the odd seating to windshield distance and the distorted glass in the corners, but then as i touched the interior trim panel by the side mirror because it looked missaligned, it fell off in my hand. The salesman pushed it back on as if it never happened.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    Whimsy is best reserved for Godzilla-sized portions.

  • avatar
    brenschluss

    Maybe I’m an outlier as a fellow who enjoys some self-flagellation in the pursuit of betterment, but I prefer my cheap to be austere rather than cheerful. Cheer alone can’t get you to work, and that’s the important part, I think.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    No new car, even a rental, should be having starting difficulties. Sorry, but that’s unacceptable.

  • avatar
    319583076

    I found myself in a Fiat showroom a couple of months ago and sat in several 500Ls and 500s. I was surprised at the spaciousness of the 500L and I thought it was relatively attractive. They were blowing out 500 Abarths, but I couldn’t see trading my MX-5 for the Abarth and I’m not in the market for a 500L-type vehicle.

    I don’t have the driving impressions, but I think a buyer could do worse than the 500L. Although I see more and more of them on my commute and each time I think they lose a little more attractiveness. What is most striking is the diminutive wheel/tire combo. After years of everyone stuffing bigger wheels and lower profile tires into seemingly every vehicle on the road, it’s definitely apparent that the 500L is bucking that trend.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “If you can trade build quality away…”

    Nope. That’s not a reasonable expecation in 2014. We aren’t in 1980 anymore where everything is pretty crap and there’s no real way to exit Malaise, so you buy an X1/9 for funsies. This car seems like absolute rubbish. The Soul is certainly vastly superior.

    And the logos are too big at the back.

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      well, even in 1980 you could buy a… a… umm… japanese minitruck!

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t be so quick to discount it. I’ve driven the Soul. Good but not earth shattering. And build quality is debatable. Are we engineers getting into the bones of the car? No if your talking fit and finish then you could have a point though I don’t really think the Soul shines in this either.

      There are many things in Euro cars you start to notice after driving a while. Not readily apparent on a weekend long rental. What’s more, you’re used to the Japanese/Korean template and familiarity breeds, well, familiarity. Your first reaction is to knock what you don’t know or think you know, but is a bit different in taste. Like an Italian I know who has been in Brazil for ages and confesses only to close friends he prefers Brazilian pizza to Italian. When he first came he thought our pizza was inedible. No he prefers it.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Takin’ it easy…

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    The remaining flash (that was not, for whatever reason, trimmed off the handbrake handle in the molding process) takes the cake for me.

    Ha. Ha. Ha. Trying to laugh.

    Not really that funny, actually. Just stupid shoddy/cheap.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Not starting reliably is a cardinal automotive sin and no 30% discount can ever justify it. According to TrueCar the average price paid for a Soul+ is 19K. At that price point you get to enjoy reliable and stylish transportation with a long warranty. Needless to say there are plenty of good options on the used car market which will start reliably every morning and not threaten to fall apart every time the seats are adjusted.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Give me a break. Obviously, there is something wrong with the one that Jack rented. My 2013 Abarth has the same engine, and it never fails to start and run perfectly. This is why new cars some with warranties. It probably has a vacuum leak somewhere. And it IS a rental afterall. I had a rental Camry that stalled at half the stop signs once. Took it back, swapped it for another one.

      This is a cute, CHEAP, spacious little car that gets great gas mileage and is reasonably fun to drive. It’s not for everyone, and thank God for that, there are enough damned Camrys on the road as it is.

      • 0 avatar
        carguy

        You may be right but I’d still opt for the Soul just to avoid the Fiat-Panda-made-to-look-like-a-500 styling.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        ^^^This. One never knows how a rental has been maintained or treated, or if any of the previous renters or handlers have ever reported the issue. If it were my (rental) money, I would have exchanged it for another vehicle.

        It’s always fun to bash something new and out of the mainstream, but there’s no good reason for the insinuation that the car is automatically bad because of its manufacturer. Around here that’s usually reserved for GM models…

      • 0 avatar

        No sense speaking reason. Whoever wants to knock will. Whatever, nothing to see here, move along grownups.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        I with you on this. Obviously this particular car has issues.

        One of my co-workers just finished a lease on a 500, and he re-leased an Abarth. He loves it. The old 500 gave him 60k trouble-free miles.

        I like these, especially the spaciousness. This is not the color I’d want.

        Jack, was your visual compass off? Never point the camera at a light source unless you’re doing a sunrise/sunset theme…..

      • 0 avatar
        SC5door

        Setting the engine aside, which is NOT the same as it’s built in Italy with a different tune, the shoddy build quality is unacceptable. Car and Driver noted issues during their drive when they compared the 500L to the Soul.

  • avatar
    michal1980

    must be a hertz rental, because thats where I ended up with this thing.

    We drove from Denver to Breckenridge via Colorado Springs, with a detour to pikes peak. and a side trip to dune national park.

    The saving grace of this car was surprising gas mileage. Because this thing hates to move. Even my wife who doesn’t get cars wanted to drive up pikes peak in this thing was commenting on how bad the transmission was. slow into a blind turn, add some gas, and wait, and wait, oh now it accelerates time for the next turn to slow down into. Theres a manual mode, but it was terrible.

    The thing upsifts to 5th or 6th as soon as it can, and downshifts never. In my time driving up pikes peak it was an exercise in trying to drive smooth enough to keep the rpms up, without going to fast to have the thing upshift.

    But manual mode you say, yes it will stay in gear, but the noise is worse then going slow. But once up a mountain you have to go down, and then you have to keep in in 2nd or hope your brakes dont cook. I’d rather have breaks in case, so I lived with the noise, but bla it was terrible.

    I would have hated the rental if not for the ~38mpgs I got without trying.

    So if I’m just doing driving with no hopes of enjoyment, I’d rent it again. But if theres a chance of fun, I’d skip.

    while a completely different car, the ecoboost escape I rented last year for the same trip, was far more enjoyable. even if I didnt break 27mpg.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    After a re-skinning of the sheet metal, you’re probably looking at the next Dodge Caliber. Or a resurrected Dodge Omni.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Ummm . . . “built in Serbia” If memory serves, that is the current appellation for a portion of what formerly was known as “Yugoslavia.”

    Yugoslavia brought us a cheap knock-off of a Fiat hatchback sold in the U.S. as the “Yugo” generally believed to be one of the worst post-WW2 cars sold in the U.S.

    So, is this thing built in the old Yugo factory? ;-)

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Yugo 2.0.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        After the loss of our previous two vehicles, the only one the Department was willing to provide us was a 1984 Yugo subcompact. A gift to the LAPD from the government of Yugoslavia, and representing the cutting edge of Serbo-Croatian technology

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Ahem, it was an ’87.

          Dragnet, where Joe Friday, played by Dan Aykroyd, is narrating: “After losing the two previous vehicles we had been issued, the only car the department was willing to release to us at this point was an unmarked 1987 Yugo, a Yugoslavian import donated to the department as a test vehicle by the government of that country and reflecting the cutting edge of Serbo-Croatian technology.”

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Yes, it is built in the former Zastava factory that built Yugos.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I trust the folks in Zastava to build my firearms, but not my cars.

      • 0 avatar
        Loren McKechnie

        True statement:
        It actually and factually is a Yugo factory produced car. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiat_Automobili_Srbija

        Cars produced by the Zastava factory in Kragujevac, Serbia:

        Fiat Campagnola – 1953–1962. 9,089 built without modification.
        Fiat 1400 – 1954–1961, without modification.
        Fiat 1100R – thousands produced.
        Zastava 750 (later 850), nicknamed “Fićo”, 1955–1984. 923,487 produced with some modification.
        Fiat 615 – medium truck produced by Zastava Kamioni from 1957–?. 36,000 built.
        Fiat 1300/1500 – 1962–1979. 201,160 without modification.
        Fiat 850 – thousands produced.
        Fiat-OM 40 – 1969–?
        Zastava 128 – Fiat 128 based with many body modifications. 1971–2008. 1,273,532 built. Many built in Egypt by Nasr.
        Zastava Skala – 1980–2008
        Zastava Koral (Yugo 45) – 1980–2008. 750,000 built. More than 150,000 cabrios exported to the USA. Global production: 794,428.
        Fiat Daily – 1991–? IVECO owns 46% of Zastava Kamioni.
        Zastava Florida (Yugo Sana) – 1988–November,2008, more than 160,000 units built. 29,950 second series built.
        Zastava Z10 (Fiat Punto II) –2006–2008; 100 units daily.
        Fiat Punto Classic– 2008–2011, 2013–present;[20] 41,000 built.
        Fiat 500L – Production started in 2012.

      • 0 avatar
        SoCalMikester

        wow… really? i hope their district manager is living there to watch stuff. if they have one?

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      No, the Yugo was built in Croatia.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    After this and the Soul review, I am thinking a Juke like Soul would be a better deal than the upcoming Fiat derived Jeep.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Having recently sat in a showroom 500L, and having recently driven a Kia Sportage for a weekend, the Sportage is by far the bigger, better car and better value if you can lay off the options.

  • avatar
    J.Emerson

    Too bad. Thought this might be an acceptable xB replacement.

    I’m guessing this particular example has been driven into a fairly large body of water at some point, though.

  • avatar

    I don’t care how xenophobic it sounds, but ‘Built in Serbia’ should be enough to turn away any potential customer sans Hertz apparently.

    I still don’t get the need for pie-plate-sized logos on the back either. Nor do I see why this has to carry the ’500′ nameplate in any shape or form since it has NOTHING to do with it on outward appearance or market placement.

    P.S. Its almost sad watching dealer groups with Fiat ‘studios’ run these pigs through the lanes. Even they know a bad product when they have it floored…

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      the logos and marketing are pure fiat.
      salesmen are clueless and will say its either american or italian.

      wonder what the VIN says? whats the number for bosnia/herzegovina? lol

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    I don’t find it that cheap, however. A Fit EX-L (leather) is the same price. Which would you rather have?

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Wait, so you’re recommending it for the $7K savings with starting problems and all?

    YIKES!!!

  • avatar
    NN

    This is just like a modern Suzuki X-90, as in, it’s a really terrible vehicle, that is very misplaced in this market and has no chance of actual success….and for that alone, I am interested in at least getting an opportunity to rent/drive one for a week. Also, DC Bruce, this is closer to the Yugo than you realize. Correct me, b&b, if you know otherwise, but I believe the Zastava/Yugo factory was retooled during the Balkans wars into a weapons factory for the Serbians. After all, the original Yugo was nothing but an old Fiat made in Yugoslavia. Post-war, the factory was purchased by Fiat and modernized for the production of this 500L, which is now one of the best selling cars in Italy.

    • 0 avatar
      jpolicke

      I thought the Zastava factory was bombed flat by the US during the Balkan war. If FIAT subsequently bought it, then it was essentially rebuilt to something resembling the current state of the art, thus giving the Serbs the same advantage that the Japanese enjoyed post-WWII. If they can’t build a decent car it’s not the fault of the facility.

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      thats what im hearing?

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    I feel that I should clarify on one point —

    This is *more car* than a Fit or a Soul. There’s a lot more room, particularly for rear-seat passengers and cargo. If you needed to use the car with the seats down a lot, for business or personal reasons, you wouldn’t confuse it with smaller cars.

    The proper comparisons are with CUVs, I think.

    • 0 avatar
      Strippo

      I see an effete Chevy HHR.

    • 0 avatar

      Another thing Jack. Didn’t the door handles in the car lock the doors. Many Fiats have two positions and no visible pin. No other button to lock either. All you is push the door handle a bit further in and the doors are locked. I say this because i knew a guy that when he bought his first Fiat had the same impression as you did. Until I told him how to use the door handles. Don’t know if its the case with this car.

      As to build quality, are we talking actual engineering, or fit and finish?

      Anyways, aside these points pretty good review and clarification follow up post. Fiat cars generally conquer over time as their drivers began to notice how good they are to drive (in spite a many times initial bad reaction due to the reasons you point out). Alsoflimsy they may be but they dont come off in your hands like in other cars.

      And yes, this one competes with CUVs and as such excels them (not to mention things like Fita and Souls that are a category below) in internal space, drivability and (to me) the simple fact its not a CUV.

      This car hits many of the right points for me: funky design (inside and out), more car for less money, good size but still manageable, and it comes from a company I have had 6 cars of that never let me stranded or had those irritating semi-permanent defects.

      Yes, they need care and change oil and all that. For me not a chore as I enjoy looking after my car. With that the engines for example go on forever. Right size, great internal space, design and I brand I trust. Would be a prime candidate for my garage bu they don’t sell it in Brazil.

      • 0 avatar
        MarkySparky

        My wife and I rented a Fiat Panda in France. We arrived at our destination after 22 hours of travel, parked, and stared confusedly at the doors for about 5 minutes. Only after summoning the full firepower of a combined 20 years of college and 2 advanced degrees were we able to figure out the “push in door handle to lock” nonsense. European design whimsy? Perhaps that’s one way to describe it…

        • 0 avatar

          Well, if i were in a car that didn’t have that, I could be too. Like the first time I drove a pick up and couldn’t figure out where the freaking handbrake was and then how to release the damn thing. Just because some companies don’t do it exactly like everyone else doesn’t make it bad. I for one have no idea why everyone else does it like Fiat in this case as the design is very clean and minimal. No extra buttons (why?) or unnecessary and ungainly pins (why you still have that in some cars?).

  • avatar
    crtfour

    I guess I should be grateful for the Dodge Journey rental that I’m currently driving.

  • avatar
    April

    I do not understand all the hate and derision directed at inexpensive motor cars.

    Horrors of horrors that the seatback adjustment handle on the 500L is hollow and plastic and not carved from a solid block of ivory.

    Mocking low-priced automobiles by saying they are somehow “poverty cars” comes off as elitist.

    P.S. Some of us would rather live within our means and not go into the indentured servitude of a 84-plus month auto loan.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      The hate is directed at this car, not the class. The point of many replies here is that you can buy several other inexpensive cars that are much better made.

      Jack’s shut down experiences with this particular example don’t help. That is never, ever acceptable.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      The problem is the “poverty cars” are entirely too expensive. Even in the example $21K minus incentive ($1,000? $1,500?) but plus destination ($800?) for a small Italian designed Serbian assembled pseudo hatch? Really? This thing should go out the door loaded to the gills at no more than 16.

      Now many are aware I am no Camcord lover, however Camry MSRP is $22425+dest and heck they put incentives on those things nowadays. Yup $1500 cash back between 6/6 and 7/7 in my zip code on Toyota’s website. Camry is three times the car this will ever be. If one must be a lemming, RAV4 is $23350+dest, or in Jack’s example CR-V for $25,320. Would three or four grand really break the bank on your 840 month loan? Others pointed out Honda Fit for a true small hatch, which base MSRPs at $15,500. For similar money the Fit EX-L is $19,800 with automatic.

      Cheap and cheerful indeed.

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      good point. as for a NEW car, there are better options out there. and for us po folks, there are better options as well.

      if i cant pay cash to drive it, im not going to drive it

    • 0 avatar

      April completely agree. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Well at least the exterior color is nice…

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    Did Fiat retune the engine on this vs it’s other applications? This is an engine that gets criticized (admittedly by others) in both the Dart and Abarth for its major lag problems, but all of a sudden, in a big(ger) people mover, you describe its torque curve as “relatively flat”? Is this just personal impressions being different? You say the engine reminds you of the Chrysler 2.4L, whereas Ronnie in his recent review of a Dart with this engine, hinted that the 2.4 was the engine to fix the 1.4t’s problems.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Torque curve has little to do with lag, doesn’t it?

    • 0 avatar
      TheyBeRollin

      I thought the Dart had a NA 2.0L. Although they have the same HP rating, the one in the 500L is a completely different engine with more torque. The technology actually has more in common with the 2.4 than the 2.0. The DCT probably helps some, too.

    • 0 avatar

      I reviewed the 2013 Dart Limited with the naturally aspirated 2.0 engine. I have no idea how the 1.4T works in the Dart. I’m driving an Abarth this week with that motor and, well, you’ll have to wait for my review but I’m not noticing any lag issues in normal driving. Can you notice when boost goes >12 psi? Sure, but it’s no slug at lower boost levels.

      • 0 avatar
        tjh8402

        My mistake Ronnie. Other reviewers have complained incessantly about lag from the 1.4t in the Dart in particular. I got that confused with your recent Dart review. I thought you had driven it as well. I’ve been very curious to drive one myself, but haven’t seen one in the rental fleet and every dealer I went by only had automatics in stock (If I’m gonna take a dealers time driving a car, it will be the one I’m interested to buy).

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    3,200 pounds, 160 HP, and it’s not “acceptably rapid”?

    Can you elaborate, Jack?

    Is it bad transmission programming? Not enough torque, despite the flat torque curve?

    Because unless “acceptably rapid” means “911″, it’s “same torque and weight as an Accord, with a little less horsepower”.

    Not impressive, for sure, but I drove a same-spec-as-that (160/160, 3100 or so lbs) ’04 Accord and found myself going 100 in a 60 zone without even *noticing*…

    I can’t imagine how the 500L Easy can’t be “acceptably rapid” *based on the numbers*.

    So, is it just autojourno exaggeration where every non-supercar is terribly slow, or are the numbers missing something?

  • avatar
    DrGastro997

    So the marriage between Chrysler and Fiat serves no merit, at least this far. Quality isn’t improving and I doubt the Serbians will understand what quality control and assurance is. Chrysler and Fiat’s future seems disastrous.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I’m not quite as bearish but I think the key to Chrysler’s success has been the inherited models were all aimed at North American audiences at a time when it’s Detroit competitors started pushing “global” models many American’s don’t want. The next two or three year’s worth of product should show you the direction Fiat is headed in and help gauge if they have a future on this continent.

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      maybe? probably?

      but they have ITALIAN DESIGN!

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      maybe? probably?

      but they have ITALIAN DESIGN! with american engeneering!

  • avatar
    infinitime

    We looked at an early-production 500L last year, cross shopping against a Soul, xB and Jeep Patriot. By far, the most sensible choice was the xB with the tried-and-true 2.4L engine. The Soul was more “stylish”, but less practical in terms of trunk space. The Patriot was the value leader, but also clearly the most dated of the four.

    The whole time I was looking at the Fiat, I couldn’t help but think that the Panda upon which the 500L was based (particularly in 4×4 guise), would have been the better choice to bring to North America. Less trendy, more robust and practical, even if it is smaller.

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      the xB isnt a bad choice. as long as you get post 2008 (the new car issuses)… theyre 1984 minivan huge, with all the view of similar, which is good.

      its a let-down to the xB toaster ideal, but not a bad vehicle

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I’m sorry, but every time I see one of these Fiats and look at the awful front end design, I compare it to my well-buit Lionel electric trains from my youth to a tin-plate Marx cheapo.

    The front end screams “tin plate”!

    No sale. Ever. Makes the Avenger seem like a Cadillac, but I doubt I’ll ever buy another Chrysler product.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    Even as someone who likes smaller hatchbacks, and has no problem with the build quality on this, I just couldn’t pull the trigger on one – it’s just so ugly, and just so…not the Panda. That said, it has a bit of the same exhaust growl as the Abarth (as does the Dart Rallye), and I really appreciate that. It’s just enough (with the manual) to make it almost interesting. But yeah, not the Panda.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    The original rear-engined Fiat 500 weighed about 1,100 pounds, the new 500L weighs around 3,200, this may very well be the biggest weight gain on a car model ever.

    Does Fiat really think that people are going to compare this thing to the original 500?

  • avatar
    AKADriver

    If you really want to maximize your interior volume and pretend to be European, $21k will still easily get you into a Mazda5. It’s getting long in the tooth at this point, but at least it’ll probably start.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Quick Jack, do something! Someone stole your recent GTI review! Is anyone watching the store?

  • avatar
    wmba

    There is something about the frontal styling of this car that actually prevents me from doing more than glance at it, it is so poorly styled. I can actually stare at an Aztek, observe a Juke, marvel at the visual distress that is a Cube.

    I just cannot glance at this thing without suffering strong barbs of revulsion. It is vile.

    • 0 avatar
      hybridkiller

      “There is something about the frontal styling of this car that actually prevents me from doing more than glance at it, it is so poorly styled. I can actually stare at an Aztek, observe a Juke, marvel at the visual distress that is a Cube.

      I just cannot glance at this thing without suffering strong barbs of revulsion. It is vile.”

      This is pure poetry. You must be a poet.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I hear a lot of negativity from people who probably have no real experience behind the wheel. I will admit that I don’t have any experience behind the wheel of the 500 either, but at least I am willing to give them a fair shot–if they read this and offer me a chance to properly drive one. No, I won’t try a rental because we ALL know how rentals are treated in general. I personally don’t even like the idea of renting, though I will if and when necessary. But I also wouldn’t base a car review (or truck or any other type of vehicle) on a rental unit unless I’m the very first person to sign a contract on it.

    The Fiat Panda, by the way, has a pretty fair reputation both on road and off.

  • avatar
    mu_redskin

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I read that the 5 inch uconnect is actually Microsoft based while the larger screen on Chrysler models is the better Qnx system. Same graphics as the larger Qnx screen, but different os. Might explain your similar experiences with my touch.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    I think there is still a hefty dose of Suzuki SX-4 under there as well.
    For that matter a 2WD Nissan Juke offers equally good dynamics, a better interior and total wack job styling for around the same price.

  • avatar
    Brian P

    Re the starting problems (which I’ve not heard about from any other source with this car or any other using the same engine) …

    S’pose for a moment that you are a renter, and you face a fuel gauge nearing “E” and you are obligated to return the rental with that gauge on “F”. What is the cheapest way to get the gauge from “E” to “F” and still hopefully have the car run in some fashion, well enough to get it to the return counter? E85. Regardless of whether it’s a flex-fuel or not.

    Most cars will (sort of) run on much higher percentage of alcohol than the maximum 10% officially allowed. If it is not a “flex-fuel” (and this isn’t), the higher it goes, the worse it starts and runs. Eventually it will fail to run at all, but there is certainly a pretty wide range where it runs well enough once started to keep the electronics happy, even if the engine itself actually isn’t.

    Disclaimer; do NOT try this at home. E85 can do real damage if the engine is not designed to use it. Maybe the test car came with a bunch of alcohol in the tank … or maybe the exhaust valves were burnt because of a previous episode.

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      is e85 THAT much cheaper? id return any rental with 87 octane, no biggie. thats as cheap as it gets in so cal, unless you gas up near el segundo (LAX)

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I filled up my (flexfuel) rented Taurus with e85 last week in Rochester NY. It was $.65/cheaper than regular. I suspect the previous renter did the same, as the gas mileage was atrocious for the time I had it. Totally not worth it in my book, but since you fill it up and give it back…

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      There are four E85 locations in all of Houston, none close to the airport, FWIW.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    i thought a chrysler with italian engineering made in mexico was dumb…

    now theres one made in serbia? crack pipe all the way.

    i do kinda like the 500 abarth, tho. scrappy lil POS.

  • avatar
    360joules

    My parents drove various versions of penalty cars for years but this sucktastic wagon has large volume but little power..,,sorry, but it seems better than the usual USA suspects.

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    I’m going to have to go with the fit and finish and the faulty engine as passable only because it was one vehicle, can it be problematic amongst them all? Sure, but if I was in the market I would think about it.

    I actually have thought about the new 500L as a replacement for my xB Gen II. The problem for me is we’re back to sitting 5 comfortably but losing volumes of trunk space which was the greatest advantage of my box over the years. If I want to carry groceries home I’m set, if a friend wants to haul many items (i.e. a party or such) I’m the go-to choice, but the 500L excels at trouncing the compact CUV class for space in most cases. The CR-V & Escape are going to haul a touch more but again you’re paying 5-7K more total.

    Meh, it’s a fun looking car over all, I’ve seen them around and they seem to have the getup and go to get out of their own way. I’ve only seen Uconnect in a minivan and it seemed like a nice upgrade but I’m still driving around with a radio that says the band and song name and I’m thrilled (though I have Galaxy Note II up for replacement with a Galaxy Note III).

  • avatar
    Vega

    You’re a great track driver and a good writer, but your camera skills are atrocious. Absolutely horrible pictures, washed out colors, bad framing, the works.

  • avatar
    ICARFAN

    Hey folks, just thought I would chime in since I actually own a 500L Trekking with a 6-speed manual transmission with a few thoughts on the car.

    I was looking for a new daily driver and wanted something that could seat more than two, had a nice flat roof for a rack and had plenty of room inside.

    Test drove the XB, Soul and Cube also.

    Remembering here that a manual is a must for me, the XB was okay and priced right, but unfortunately a Toyota stealership had the only two manuals in the state and the pissed me off so bad I crossed the XB off the list. For some reason the Soul was my least favorite and is not available with a manual on the 2.4 motor. The Cube I did not like or dislike, but again just a couple of manuals in the state and I could not get it in the color I wanted or the options I wanted either.

    This left the 500L which I almost did not even drive because of reviews like the one above.

    Jack rented a automatic, yes they have had problems, but an automatic was never going to happen for me and the 6-speed is okay, but the long throws take some getting used to, but it is not meant to be a fast car.

    I have not noticed the interior quality as cheap or anything threatening to fall off and I find it a nice place to be, the optional Beats audio and a years free Sirius is nice on road trips. The seats are strange, not that comfortable, but after a 3 hour drive I suffer much less fatigue than the much more comfortable seats in my Mustang.

    The 1.4 turbo has a some lag, but a Go-Pedal from Fiat Madness pretty much fixes that and my car is very happy at 70-80 MPH. So far it has started every time.

    Styling, I don’t mind it in the Trekking version and in bright yellow, I do know it is not a beauty, but none of the vehicles I looked really was either.

    Handling is suprising and it handles mountain roads a lot better than it looks like it should.

    So I ended up with a 500L, at 3,500.00 off the MSRP in the color I wanted, with the options I wanted and a manual. I would never recommend a car to anyone, but for me it is a good fit.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    If it did look like the CR-V, it would be a big improvement. The CR-V is nothing great to look at, but is light years ahead of the Fiat.

  • avatar
    ksmo

    I like the concept of the 500L. The USA needs more small, utilitarian, good MPG vehicles like this.

    I’ve owned and have a fondness for oddball or unloved cars. For instance, I had a Peugeot 504 diesel wagon, a VW412, and a VW Quantum syncro wagon in another life.

    All this being said, I still can’t imagine plunking down hard earned cash for a 500L, unless you just have money to burn. Now, if you have an oil well in your back yard, and you’re buying one for fun with some of your cash hoard, fine.

    For the average person, though, I can’t think of a riskier investment of your transportation funds, in the current new car market, around this price range. As cool as the 500L may be, from a left brain car buying perspective it makes zero sense.

    A 500L is likely to be far less reliable over time than a Soul or Scion xB for instance. The resale value will probably be abysmal 5 years from now. Now, I understand that practical considerations are not the only reason for a purchase decision…but given that the average middle class American is probably feeling a little pinch from the current economy, they probably can’t afford to just throw money away. Durability and resale value are considerations.

    If you’re in an area with only one Fiat dealer, I think it would be fair to say that your dealer may or may not even be around in 4 or 5 years. Have fun getting a 500L serviced in that case.

    On the smaller side, a Honda Fit or Versa Note would be far better buys. A tad bigger, a Mazda5 or CR-V would also be wiser. Neither as cool, but cool at what price?

    Time will tell if I’m crazy or not. Those of you who own one, in 5 years let me know how the trade in bid went at the dealership, or how many Craigslist calls you got on your 500L listing. I may be wrong, but I don’t think so at this point. My prediction is that a 500L with some age, miles, and wear on it might make a Volkswagen look like a Honda reliability-wise.

    I admit, I have only sat in one, poked and prodded it, at the local auto show. This was a good write up, and now has me motivated to try to rent one for a day to see how off base I am. Will try to find one around here for rent.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Personally I think you’re coming to a conclusion on far too little data. Relying on a 40-year-old reputation and a single rental-car review simply isn’t enough to make accurate projections about a vehicle’s future.

  • avatar
    ksmo

    Perhaps. Time will tell. Early indications, from everything I’m able to gather online, aren’t positive on the durability front. But you never know.

    While I’m here, allow me to opine on the rental car angle. I used to work for a major rental car company. I also sold, for a time, our used rental units.

    While I’m sure that some people abuse rental cars, I think there is a perception that all rental cars are just hammered into the ground. This, in my fairly extensive experience, is a myth.

    The average rental we did was to someone who just had an accident in their personal car, and needed a replacement to get to work. They weren’t renting for a joyride in some 350-hp sportscar. They were an average person who needed to drive 15 miles to work and back for 3 or 4 days until their car was out of the shop. This was probably 75% of our business. Low mileage, local rentals to normal people who needed wheels for a couple of days.

    The rest of the business was odds and ends. The occasional businessman who flew into town and needed a car for a few days to get from a hotel to a meeting site. Someone who didn’t own a truck, but needed to pick up something large from Home Depot, or deliver a new washer and dryer to their grandmother. A family who needed a van for a weekend on vacation.

    Sure, we probably had the .1%-er psychopath who rented a car just to take it out on back roads and thrash it. Pretty rare, though, in my opinion. Surprisingly, the average renter was a normal, well adjusted, conscientious person who was afraid of damaging the car and having to pay for it.

    On the used sales side, we picked the nice cars that we thought would be good sellers and put them on a lot. They had maintenance records. They were checked out and serviced prior to sale. They were nice cars, and I’d venture to say they were on par with anything you’d find at your local dealerships or on Craigslist.

    As far as reliability goes, our fleet was a pretty good window on what cars broke and which ones did not. See, having a car in the shop for an extended time was a killer, since it took a car off rent, and hence no cash coming in for that car. We had thousands of cars in each of the two cities I worked in, and you got a real good idea which cars tended to break a lot, and which ones didn’t.

    For instance, the Camrys and Maximas we had seemed to never have issues. Buicks tended to be pretty solid, few repair visits. On the other hand, certain cars were complete piles of dung from the get go. The Kias wouldn’t start right off the new car delivery truck from the factory. The Ford Aspires were always breaking and parts always took forever for the dealerships to obtain. In contrast, Geo Metros never broke. Dodge Neons didn’t hold up well at all and they had all kinds of problems. The Geo Prizms that rented to the same folks were tanks–super reliable. We eventually sold all the Saab 9-5s because they were off rent in the shop so often. The Maximas, which tended to rent to the same clients as the Saabs, almost never visited the dealership for a problem. Land Rover Discoveries, same as the Saabs. We couldn’t keep them on the road, constantly in the shop.

    Basically, some cars tended to be shoddily assembled and poorly designed from square one, and some seemed to just work correctly all the time, right off the bat.

    Anyway, I’ve already written a book here, but just wanted to address the issue of beaten down rental cars. While this happens, it’s the minority of the time, by far, in my experience. The vast majority of renters drive their rental car pretty much like their personal car, and return it in surprisingly clean condition.

    I wouldn’t say a car being a rental unit would necessarily have any bearing on whether a review was valid or not. I just rented a Town and Country van at Daytona Beach for a week. Schlepped 7 of us to Orlando and back, drove all around Daytona area. Van was in perfect shape, no rattles, squeaks, or odd noises. Drove straight as an arrow down the road. It had 15k miles on it, ostensibly of “hard” rental use. You would have never known it didn’t come off the new car lot a week before. I drove it with reasonable care, like I would my own car, since I have no deep seated psychological issue where I feel the need to abuse something just because it belongs to someone else.

    Hopefully the 500L proves to be the equal of something like a Honda over time. If so, I’ll own one. They are about the perfect size for what I need, and I like to drive something a little bit unique. And they come in stick shift, a bonus.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    “Perhaps. Time will tell. Early indications, from everything I’m able to gather online, aren’t positive on the durability front. But you never know.”
    True. While I don’t usually expect the first year or two of any model to be the best, I’ve found a few to be quite remarkable. On the other hand, I know one specific well-known American brand that I won’t touch with a 10-foot pole if I can avoid it.

    “While I’m sure that some people abuse rental cars, I think there is a perception that all rental cars are just hammered into the ground. This, in my fairly extensive experience, is a myth.”
    I would question your “fairly extensive experience”. Details later.

    “The average rental we did was to someone who just had an accident in their personal car, and needed a replacement to get to work. This was probably 75% of our business. Low mileage, local rentals to normal people who needed wheels for a couple of days.”
    Sounds like a pretty small town to me. I worked as a ‘shuttle’ driver for a major rental agency out of Denver and saw that the smaller cars tended to get quite abused. Then again, many of my co-workers were consistently amazed at how a tiny 4-cylinder car would out climb their big V8 boats on I-70 into the Rockies.

    “The occasional businessman who flew into town and needed a car for a few days to get from a hotel to a meeting site. Someone who didn’t own a truck, but needed to pick up something large from Home Depot, or deliver a new washer and dryer to their grandmother. A family who needed a van for a weekend on vacation.”
    This pretty much indicates a small town, much like the one I live in. The one agency we have carries about a dozen cars and half a dozen trucks of varied sorts at any one time. I really wouldn’t expect any of them to get beaten up by ‘joyriders’ here.

    “On the used sales side, we picked the nice cars that we thought would be good sellers and put them on a lot.”
    In Denver and another city where I had close experience with the airport, any of the cars we had that went for sale were pretty worn out–most less than 2 years old and SOME with very low mileage. The companies tended to sell cars off quickly if they had persistent or frequent maintenance issues.

    “As far as reliability goes, our fleet was a pretty good window on what cars broke and which ones did not. See, having a car in the shop for an extended time was a killer, since it took a car off rent, and hence no cash coming in for that car.”
    Frequent shop calls were more concerning than extended ones. With an extended repair, you usually could expect a relatively reliable fix. The agencies I was familiar with tended to keep those cars for up to four years since body styles weren’t changing all that radically.

    “Basically, some cars tended to be shoddily assembled and poorly designed from square one, and some seemed to just work correctly all the time, right off the bat.”
    Well, that is how cars tend to build their reputations. On the other hand, individual owners tended to consider Geo as junk while Neons lasted forever. So your experience and general reputation don’t always coincide.

    “Anyway, I’ve already written a book here, but just wanted to address the issue of beaten down rental cars.”
    You’re not the first to write a book here, but I would qualify your remarks as limited to the specific locale in which you worked with them. I seem to have a little broader, if less chronological, experience with them.

    Your Town and Country experience would merely emphasize that the type of car is as important as the venue for how a rental is treated. Point made.

    • 0 avatar
      ksmo

      I’m not really invested in this topic enough to go through posts point by point…

      My rental car business experience was over a multi-year time period at various locations in metro Detroit and metro Kansas City. Fairly large urban areas with high rental volume, large fleets, and numerous office locations. Probably quite equivalent to Denver in many ways. Detroit streets, in particular, were really tough on cars. I was involved in many facets of the branch operations, management, etc. Since the cars were revenue generators for us, we were quite interested in what broke, what did not, how often things were in the shop, and for how long. Of course, you had initial purchase price versus residual at the end of the car’s life, etc. Could go on all day.

      As far as Geos go, don’t know where you’re getting your information, my experience differs. I’ve never met the person who’d take a Neon for 100k miles over a Prizm (Corolla). But to each their own. I’m fairly certain that any statistical analysis of Prizm vs. Neon ownership would pencil out in favor of the Geo. But who cares…the cars are too old to worry about at this point. lol.

      Take care.


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