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story.lead_photo.caption 2020 Fiat 500L (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

Today we're looking over the 2020 Fiat 500L and we'll be brief because Granny taught us that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

Introduced in this county in 2013, the 500L gained a small following early, selling 12,143 units in 2014 but sales since have plummeted 772 last year and 254 this year. That works out to 1/10th of a unit per month for each of what used to be called Fiat-Chrysler America's 2,400 dealers.

FCA is in the process of merging with Peugeot into a new company called Stellantis, which has a Latin root meaning to brighten with stars. FCA dealers must be praying that means the new boss will brighten their inventories with something better than Fiats, though we remain unabashed fans of the 124 Spider.

Priced from $22,500 to $24,645, the 500L is an inexpensive compact station wagon that proves the adage that you get what you pay for. The ride is jittery, acceleration is slow, fuel economy is poor, the seats are flat, cabin materials are cheap, and fit and finish are gobsmackingly poor for a car in its eighth year of production.

Sorry, Granny, but they expect me to tell the truth.

"It feels cheap," said the always forthright Beautiful Blonde as I drove her to the doctor's office. Then I pointed out the uneven gaps and unlevel surfaces. Apparently, quality control is not a high priority in the Serbian factory from whence it emanated.

But it has huuge windows and you can see out really well, and it has tons of storage space.

Was that better, Granny?

On the other hand, our tester came with a front-to-rear moon roof that let in so much sun, the car could not keep itself cool under a hot summer sun. Gotta go to Austin? See if a friendly 18-wheeler will let you drive under it.

Sorry, Granny.


Bottom of class

Consumer Reports rates vehicles on a 100-point scale, where 80 is a pretty darned good car and a 65 gets you a buy recommendation. The 500L earned a 29. 29? I've been using CR as a background source for decades and don't think I've ever seen a 50. 29? Wow.

Of course, I reached my verdict on this one long before seeing what others had to say. I've never been a fan of the 1.4-L MultiAir Turbo. With 160 hp, it accelerates well enough but only after one endures what seems like an eternity of turbo lag. It makes getting through a busy intersection an adrenaline rush.

At least Fiat engineers have finessed out the constant powertrain vibration of earlier models, but my fears that the engine may be less than trustworthy have been largely confirmed. Various reliability studies have put the driveline's reliability at average to somewhat below average.

That's not so bad, right? Not when you're competing with the likes of the Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic with engines that will last decades longer.

And that's the real problem with this underdeveloped car. The world has not only passed it by, it's lapped it a few times. For the same money, -- or less! you can have a Hyundai Elantra GT, Kia Soul, Subaru Impreza, VW Golf, Nissan Sentra, Mazda3, Kia Forte.


Safety last

To add to its woes, the Fiat 500L does not even offer life-saving driver assist technology like forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking. Toyota was the first to make this gear standard, and most manufacturers are following suit.

In IHHS crash testing, the 500L received good ratings in most tests but a rating of poor in small overlap frontal collision protection.

But let's finish this on a high note. We're willing to bet next week's paycheck that the Fiat 500L will soon be gone.

That was positive, right Granny?

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