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Fiat aims to grow its U.S. reach with 500L and 500X models Featured

Aug 20, 2017 Hit: 130 Written by 
The 500X, pictured, is part of Fiat's efforts to offer larger vehicles to U.S. consumers
The 500X, pictured, is part of Fiat's efforts to offer larger vehicles to U.S. consumers Photo by Matt Myftiu/AutoTechReviews.com

Since coming back into the U.S. market in 2011, the FIAT brand has maintained a small niche presence here, maintaining roughly one-quarter of one percent of total market sales. That’s mainly due to the fact that the small, sporty cars that they sell more rapidly in Europe and elsewhere are less likely to be chosen in the land where bigger is usually better and SUVS are all the rage.

But that doesn’t mean that the brand is giving up; in fact, they’re hoping to nudge in on the U.S. tastes with a couple of larger models. I recently tested the 2017 Fiat 500X, a compact SUV, and the 2017 Fiat 500L, an extended wagon-like 500 comparable to a Kia Soul and some Mini models, and I’m back with a full report.

Additional Info

  • Vehicle:: 2017 Fiat 500L and 2017 Fiat 500X
  • Price as tested:: $26,875 (500L); $32,255 (500X); both vehicles start around $20,000
  • Best feature:: Unique styling, larger than standard Fiat offerings
  • Rating:: 3 out of five stars (500L); 3.5 out of 5 stars (500X)
  • Who will want this vehicle?:: Those who enjoy the Fiat look and design and want a bigger package; 500X is the better option of the two

 

LOOKS

One thing you can always count on with Fiat is some unique colors and designs.

Visually both the 500L and 500X I tested stood out compared to the usual run-of-the-mill vehicle on the road.

The 500L I tested had a bumblebee-esque black and yellow look to it and was unique in any parking lot or on any road. The bright red 500X I tested was a bit more tame designwise, but still attractive and distinct with its bug-eyed headlights and European flair, plus some nice leather seating inside.

 

Both the 500L and 500X share some parts of the Fiat look -- such as the headlights and the grille design. The roofline is longer on the 500L, as is the windshield, and your design is more curvy and SUV-like on the 500X. Ground clearance is also higher on the 500X.

Heading inside both vehicles, gauges and controls are very similar across the board. In terms of space for passengers in the rear, the 500L actually was a more comfortable fit and offered better leg room, while the X was more cramped than I would have expected.


ENGINE, HORSEPOWER

Both the 500L and 500X come standard with 160 horsepower from a 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder engine.

The 500L is only offered in front-wheel drive, but you can upgrade to all-wheel drive in the 500X.

Also in the X, you can upgrade to a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that offers 180 horsepower. The 500X is the only Fiat offering that includes the option for AWD.


The 500X is offered in both manual and automatic transmissions. The 500L is automatic only, but you do get a manual shifting mode.

Overall the power was not great on these vehicles, particularly the 500L. The engine sounds like it’s wheezing when you push it too fast, and was slow to get up to speed. It was a little better on the X, but still struggled at times.

I was concerned by the overall comfort level for passengers, especially in the 500L. While both vehicles were a bit bouncy and loud when the roads got a bit rough, the 500X handled things a bit better, but the 500L disappointed.

Fiat is in a bit of tricky position here, too, in terms of maneuverability. They are adding size to try to grow their market, but also means they lose some of the spryness of their smaller 500 offerings on both the L and the X models.

I found the 500X to be a more enjoyable and better handling option overall.

TECHNOLOGY, SAFETY
Both the 500L and 500X offer front, side and knee airbags, plus anti-lock brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system. Both also offer the excellent and easy-to-use Uconnect 6.5 infotainment system, an ace in the hole for all FCA family vehicles. This is a system everyone’s grandma could master within a day or two driving the car.

Bluetooth is included with both vehicles, and you have options for heated seats and a Navigation system.
The big differentiator is that there are more safety features offered on the 500X -- including forward collision warning, blind spot monitor and rear traffic alert (though I must say the sounds could use some work -- they could be a bit obnoxious at times).
Government safety ratings are impressive on a properly equipped 500X.

As an aside, the optional BeatsAudio premium sound system is another technology highlight for music lovers, and is offered in both vehicles.


MPG
The 500L I tested officially ranks at 22 city/30 highway/25 mpg combined. The 500X (with AWD) came in at 21 city/29 highway/24 combined. My personal test numbers were slightly less than the listed numbers.

PRICE
The 2017 Fiat 500L starts out at $20,995, and the 2017 Fiat 500X starts at $19,995. Though with the extra options offered on the 500X the price can go much higher. Final price tag on my test vehicles was $26,875 for the 500L and $32,255 for the 500X. It’s worth noting that the 500X is one of the most affordable small SUVs that you can purchase.

BOTTOM LINE

While I was disappointed by the overall power and performance of both the 500L and 500X, these vehicles remain strong options for those who are fans of the unique and fun Fiat style, but feel cramped in the smaller "cinquecento" options.

If you are looking for a more SUV-like feel and extra safety options and the option of AWD, the X is your best option, while the L is aimed at those who seek more of a wagon-style setup.

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AutoTechReviews.com can be found on Twitter @AutoTechReview, or stay updated at the AutoTechReviews Facebook page.

Matt Myftiu can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu.

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Matt Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

Website: www.autotechreviews.com

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