In today’s car market, the prevailing thought with engineers and car companies is the same: if you build it, they will come. The idea of niche markets has been pulled, pushed, stretched, and damn near mutated into a circus of oddball car models that have come an gone and over the years, some more successful than others, but all have been entertaining to say the least.
One of the newest additions to that crop of “what-the” cars, comes from a relatively new company to the States — Fiat. The 2018 500L is not quite a car, but not quite a truck, it’s more like a minivan, but … very, very mini. At first glance the 500L looks like a run-of-the-mill 500 that had too much for dinner. It looks a little more portly and rotund, and then you realize that your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you, and simultaneously realize that an automobile cannot retain water if it isn’t sitting under a lake.
The 500L is something like a city-van. It is petite in stature, but once inside, provides quite a bit more head and legroom than its diminutive size alludes to from the outside. Aside from the added hat-space, inside the 500L, it looks exceedingly familiar, and could be almost any other Fiat model. The three gauge setup right in front of you is flanked by a new-for-2018 seven-inch touchscreen that handles all of the infotainment duties. The 500L does go a little bit heavy on the plastics inside, but there are still the requisite USB ports, cupholders, and even heated leather seats as options. There is also an optional double-pane moonroof that opens things up even more, and adds a slight more luxurious feel to what would otherwise feel like a very practical-use car/truck/whatever.
The 500L is powered by a very familiar 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4 that makes a so-so 160-horsepower at 5,500 RPM and moderately impressive 184 lb-ft of torque from 2,500-4,000 RPM. Backing up that power plant is the one-and-only choice for transmission — a six-speed automatic that routes power to the front wheels. That flat torque curve is very useful, because even though it’s little, the 500L still tips the scales at a not-so-little 3,254 pounds, and hauling requires as much twist as possible. Around town is where the inline-4 makes its bones, but get it out on the highway, and the little engine feels somewhat anemic and almost always sounds like it’s struggling.
The 500L can hustle though getting from 0-60 mph in a respectable, if not impressive 8.0 seconds and through the quarter mile in 16.6 seconds. In terms of handling, it can post a 0.84g around the skidpad, not that you should be testing the cornering limits of a micro van. Where the 500L really performs though is at the pump. For a family or stuff-hauler, the 500L posts a very solid 22/30/25 city/highway/combined MPG.
The Fiat 500L isn’t going to be a showstopper, but one needs to keep in mind exactly what it is to appreciate it. With a base price of only $24,890, the 500L is an economical and practical solution to modern city living and moving. And while we are not sure if the ‘build-it-and-they-will-come’ philosophy is all it’s cracked up to be, what we do know is that the 500L is not the first to the party in this segment. There is already the Toyota C-HR, Mazda CX-3 and Jeep Renegade running around trying to soak up all the potential buyers in this very … unique … segment. So while the staying power of the 500L is yet to be determined, we are sure of one thing, it will be entertaining while it’s here.