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On the road, the 2014 Fiat 500L offers ample power for everyday driving. The 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine provides enough oomph for lane changes and uphill climbs. Acceleration is smooth and its 184 pound-feet of torque kept power on tap at relatively low rpms. The engine is quiet at city speeds, but gets noisy at higher rpms.
Our test car was equipped with the optional Euro twin-clutch transmission, which is the same optional gearbox on the Dodge Dart. We felt that shifts could have been quicker, but it's a good alternative for those who don't want to row through the gears, especially since the point of engagement on the clutch pedal is unusually high on models equipped with the 6-speed manual. A traditional 6-speed automatic will also be available.
Suspension is firm but not teeth-chattering. It uses a MacPherson strut setup in front, and a less-common twist beam suspension in rear (this segment typically uses a multi-link rear suspension). Koni frequency selective damping is borrowed from the Fiat 500 Abarth. The result is a ride that's firm, but not mind-numbingly harsh. On heavily rutted roads, the 500L stayed comfortable and relatively quiet.
The chassis of the Fiat 500L stays composed around corners, and while there is some body roll when pushed hard, the car stays pretty well planted. The power electric steering is comfortable, but isn't nearly as sporty as its Mini competitor. Four-wheel disc brakes work fine.
Noise inside the cabin is minimal, helped in part by acoustical material on the windshield and in the wheel wells. We did get some road noise, but wind noise was virtually nonexistent.
On a competitive drive in a Mini Countryman, the ride was extremely harsh. The road had to be as smooth as glass in order to feel comfortable. The steering was more direct and precise, however. Acceleration from the Countryman was sluggish, though this was with the base, non-turbo 1.6-liter engine that makes only 121 horsepower, compared with the Fiat's 160 hp. A better comparison would have been against the turbocharged Countryman S, although its sticker price starts at more than $5,000 above our 500L Easy test model.
A drive in the Kia Soul was softer and more comfortable over the bumps and ruts, but steering was numb compared to the Fiat. The Kia had better acceleration on tap compared to the Mini, but it also suffered from more body roll and felt wallowy around corners. In summary, we found the Fiat to be a good middle ground between the 2013 Kia Soul and the Mini Countryman in terms of sportiness and comfort.