2014 Fiat 500L: Gas Mileage Test Of New Tall Wagon

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2014 Fiat 500L at twilight, upstate New York

2014 Fiat 500L at twilight, upstate New York

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There aren't many cars like the 2014 Fiat 500L on the market today.

It's a tall wagon, not a crossover, because all-wheel drive isn't available.

And it shares only a name and an engine with the much smaller Fiat 500 minicar that reintroduced the Fiat name to the U.S. market after a long hiatus. It's 28 inches longer, for one thing.

But the 500L turned out to be a capacious little wagon that may suit a small family wanting something a little different--and more fuel-efficient--than their neighbors' predictable compact crossovers.

MORE: 2014 Fiat 500L review

Our black-and-white 500L arrived with an EPA fuel-economy rating of 27 mpg combined (24 mpg city, 33 mpg highway) on its window sticker.

2014 Fiat 500L

2014 Fiat 500L

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If you go for the less-expensive six-speed manual gearbox, those ratings rise slightly: 28 mpg combined (25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway).

Over a 471-mile mixed road test that blended highway speeds, hilly farm country, and not too much stop-and-go city traffic, the 2014 Fiat wagon averaged 30.8 mpg.

Which we thought was pretty good for a car with a whole lot of interior space sitting on a fairly small subcompact footprint.

Tall, upright

This is a wagon that will seat four full-size adults with plenty of room, largely because everyone sits upright and it's a tall car.

The front seats, while somewhat narrow, have a wide range of adjustment, and even a driver below 5 feet tall could see out of the car with the seat at its highest.

The rear seat in particular is genuinely roomy for two adults, which is hard to say about most other subcompacts. The seat reclines, slides, and folds forward to boot.

What is it?

The visual appearance of our car--the white roof topping a black body, the silver wheels, the tall stance, the odd-looking front end--seemed to puzzle onlookers.

2014 Fiat 500L at twilight, upstate New York

2014 Fiat 500L at twilight, upstate New York

Enlarge Photo

Pretty much no one knew what it was, though the white roof did lead one person to ask if it were a MINI Cooper of some sort.

The Fiat 500L comes with a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. In our car, it was mated to a six-speed twin-clutch automated manual transmission.

Better shifting

The shifting on this car was notably smoother than that of a similar transmission in a 2013 Dodge Dart Limited we drove this past April.

Complaints about the behavior of the automated manual transmission (which Chrysler-Fiat calls "Euro Twin Clutch") have dogged the company's growing range of small cars, but the company has clearly put substantial effort into refining the experience.

The transmission still wasn't as smooth under idle creep as a conventional automatic--when it has to slip its clutch to deliver idle creep--but its shifting was notably better than the Dart's. The greater interior volume of the 500L may have helped as well, making the powertrain seem more isolated.

The Dart compact sedan we tested used the same powertrain as our 500L, rated at 31 mpg combined, and delivered 33.1 mpg on a different test route.

Turbo lug

We didn't drive either car aggressively, however, which can hurt gas mileage in a hurry for turbocharged smaller engines.

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