Punchy performance, an easy-to-use manual transmission, good outward visibility, and plenty of space in a small package.
When it launched in 2013, the Fiat 500L gave shoppers a unique option for enjoying key Fiat attributes in a larger and more flexible package than the smaller Fiat 500 that arrived before it. With an elevated ride height and expanded interior compared to its smaller sibling, the 500L was a perfect city runabout for many drivers – thanks to its manoeuvrability, space, fuel efficiency, and overall easy-to-drive, easy-to-park execution.
The 500L is popular with weekend adventurers, pet owners, camping and outdoor enthusiasts, and more. Notably, the step-in height to this machine is low, the rear seats are spacious, and rear seating provisions are easily manipulated via flipping and folding to clear space for even larger items in the second row.
Features included a Beats by Dr. Dre stereo system, a panoramic sunroof, heated seats, navigation, Bluetooth, automatic climate control, a full driver computer, and more. Look for a variety of trim grades and optional equipment packages which helped set the 500L up for a variety of needs and budgets.
Look for a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, running Fiat’s MultiAir technology for 160 efficient horsepower. The performance is surprisingly punchy, and most will find the powerplant hits harder than its tiny displacement suggests. Numerous technologies are employed to generate good fuel mileage and pleasing on-demand power with minimized compromise. Manual or automatic transmissions were available on most model grades.
What Owners Like
Common owner praise points include good headlight performance, a pleasing listening experience from the up-level stereo system, punchy performance, an easy-to-use manual transmission, good outward visibility, and plenty of space in a small package.
What Owners Dislike
Some owners wish for improved ride quality on some surfaces, and complaints include a disappointing navigation system and higher-than-expected noise levels at speed.
Read this not once, not twice, but thrice: The Fiat 500L’s MultiAir engine uses an oil-pressure-driven system in the operation of its internal valve timing. We’ll skip the mechanics lesson and explain it thusly: a full supply of clean, fresh oil at the exact specification outlined in the owner’s manual is vital for the proper, efficient, and long-lasting operation of this engine. Though all engines require clean, fresh oil, it’s especially important to monitor, maintain and service the engine oil in a MultiAir engine to the exact letter, as outlined in the owner’s manual. Seek service records that prove the vehicle’s seller did exactly this, and plan to carry on with weekly oil level checks, and religiously regular oil changes while you own the vehicle. If you’re not willing to follow a strict maintenance routine around oil changes, this is not the vehicle for you.
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Test Drive Tips
Scrutinize the Transmission
By many owner accounts, shoppers of a used Fiat 500L are strongly advised to avoid a model with the dual-clutch automatic transmission option. Numerous owners have reported serious problems, including the need to replace the transmission, sometimes more than once under warranty. Here’s some more reading, and some more, and some information on transmission-related complaints filed with the NHTSA.
I frequently encounter reports of transmission trouble in used car research, but given the low sales volume of this model, and the high frequency of owner reports of transmission issues, this looks to be a serious concern. Transmission trouble signs may include difficulty moving the shift lever, failure of the transmission to respond to manual-mode shift requests, clumsy shifting, hard shifting or slamming, or any number of warning lights or messages displayed that relate to the transmission.
Protect yourself by opting for a model with the manual transmission if possible. If not, consider a pre-purchase electronic diagnostic scan, and physical assessment of the transmission, to be absolutely mandatory. Further, purchasing any extended warranty coverage that covers transmission problems is highly advised.
If the Fiat 500L you’re considering is still covered by its factory powertrain warranty, be sure to report any transmission-related issues to your dealer for documentation and inspection, immediately. This may speed future warranty repairs, if needed.
More Transmission Things
On models with the manual transmission, it seems as though the design of the synchronizers requires drivers to wait a moment with the vehicle in reverse, before releasing the clutch, to avoid a grinding or groaning sensation while backing up. This sensation may be more likely or prevalent when reversing up a hill, or in the cold.
Apparently, Fiat shipped the 500L with special instructions printed on a tag attached to the shifter, though this will be removed by owners. The gist? Engage reverse, count to three, and then release the clutch, to avoid noisy reversing, or possible damage to the transmission. If you observe this procedure on your test drive and still detect unwanted sounds or sensations, a repair may be needed. Here’s some more information.
According to numerous owners, the 500L’s battery may be a cause of frustration. Many owners have reported batteries that need replacing after a shorter-than-expected period of time. In some cases, allowing the vehicle to sit for as little as five days can drain the battery fully, preventing the vehicle from starting. Protect yourself from battery-related issues by ensuring that all software updates have been applied to the vehicle (your dealer service department can help), by trickle-charging the battery at all times when the vehicle will be parked for more than a few days, and by replacing the battery at any sign of trouble.
A possible issue with the 500L’s climate control system has frustrated multiple owners. Here’s some more information. Based on this discussion, test drivers are advised to give the climate control system a workout, running through all temperature settings and all available distribution points / vents, and checking for proper operation. If, for instance, cool air comes out of one or more vents when hot air is requested (or vice versa), the climate control system will need attention from a dealer.
The likely culprit is a bad blend door, a bad actuator used to control said blend door, or an electronic issue affecting the operation of the actuator itself. A dealer is the best place to have this problem diagnosed and repaired, if required. Note that as several owners have reported this problem returning, even after a repair, indicating that this issue may have numerous causes.
Check the Sunroof
If you’re set on a 500L with the available panoramic sunroof, be sure to run it through its paces several times over the course of your test drive, opening and closing it partially and fully, and checking for signs of trouble. Any straining, binding, or failure to move fully to the selected position warrants further investigation. Triple-check the condition and operation of the fabric sun-screen as well – as numerous owners have reported problems with this component separating from the sunroof assembly, jamming, ripping, or even falling out. Here’s some more reading.
Other Useful Information
Work the Electronics
Give all on-board electronics a full workout, focussing on the central interface, navigation system, multimedia functions, Bluetooth, climate control, steering-wheel-mounted controls, all climate control functions, and basically, anything else inside that runs on electricity. Sometimes, a hard reset or software update is the fix to niggling electronics problems. In other cases, a weak or dying battery may be to blame. If you note any issues, be sure to have a technician investigate before you buy.
Aside from engine oil, mentioned above, the 500L has very specific requirements for replacement fluids used in its transmission and cooling system, too. A dealer is the best place to have any fluid changes carried out, as this ensures that fluids are drained and filled following proper procedures, and that fluids are replaced with the appropriate formulations upon refilling. Use extreme caution if having fluid changes or oil changes performed outside of a dealer setting: failure to replace old fluids with the appropriate new fluids, or to follow specific drain-and-fill procedures, may cause issues or damage that won’t be covered by warranty.
Here’s a list of recalls. With the VIN, you can check if any of them apply to the one you’re considering, by using the Fiat website.
If you’re set on a Fiat 500L, perhaps because of the cheeky styling or European design, then we’d strongly recommend opting for a manual-equipped unit, or a unit with the conventional six-speed automatic that was available on certain models from 2015 and on. Buying a 500L with the dual-clutch six-speed transmission is not advised. Further, potentially pricey issues with sunroofs and climate control systems reduce the appeal even further. If you’re not dead-set on a 500L, you’ve likely got better options in a used, high-flexibility runabout – including the Mazda5 or Kia Rondo.
Crash Test Results
IIHS: Top Safety Pick (2013)