Fiat 500L, Kia Soul Make Fun Family Car Short List

14Fiat_500L_CK_05.jpg 2014 Fiat 500L | photo by Carrie Kim

It seems like yesterday that my husband and I leased a 2012 Volkswagen Jetta to accommodate our new family, but recently the lease came up and I was ready for a new car. Now that our daughter is entering preschool, our priorities have changed a bit, which made the new-car search more exciting this time around.

Related: 2014 Fiat 500L: First Drive

We no longer have to haul endless amounts of baby gear; we’ve graduated to a forward-facing child-safety seat, and we have an independent kiddo who wants to climb into the car by herself. I’ve also been dying for something with more personality, something that hinted at less “practical” and more “fun.”

We determined that our new car must have:

  • Fun/unique styling
  • Hatchback body style
  • Four doors
  • Good fuel economy
  • Low step-in height
  • Cost less than $25,000 or have a $300 or less lease payment (without a down payment)

We got serious and developed a short list. The top four contenders for our next family car were:

I wanted my next car to have push-button start, keyless entry, color multimedia screen and a trip computer. I was willing to sacrifice some of those features, if necessary, but I wasn’t willing to settle for a base model. I was impressed by the 2015 Golf when I tested it, but when equipped with my features, it came in above our budget. We crossed it off our list.

Next up was the Mini Countryman. After test-driving the turbocharged Countryman S, I knew it could work for our family. However, the S was out of our price range as well. After driving a non-turbocharged model at our local dealership, it felt like the car was underpowered. I’m not usually one to prioritize performance, but the lag and drag after each red light was a deal-breaker. Bye-bye, Mini.

We were left with two contenders — the Kia Soul and the Fiat 500L in a close race. Not only were they in the sweet spot pricewise, both also had the interior room we wanted. Their fun styling was also a big bonus. I’ve tested the Kia Soul twice and have always sung its praises, especially the latest generation, but I’ve had my eye on the Fiat 500L since its reveal at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show. It was practically a dead heat between the two and I’d have been happy with either car, so it came down to a little nit-picking and personal preference.

For my family, the winner was the Fiat 500L. This polarizing vehicle charmed me with its great visibility and airy cabin, both thanks to its tall windows. Inside, the 500L has plenty of room — it has an additional 3.7 inches of rear hip room over the Soul, so there’s extra wiggle room for adults, even with our daughter’s car seat installed.

Our 2014 500L in Easy trim started off at $24,795, which we negotiated down to $23,690 before rebates. After deducting $5,395 in rebates, the final sale price was $18,295.

Overall, the Fiat 500L just felt right for our family. Because we were leasing, we felt confident in taking a chance on the 500L, despite Fiat’s questionable dependability ratings. After having the 500L for just a couple of months, we’ve already had to take it into our local Fiat dealer for a repair. The transmission actuator pack, which controls fluid flow inside the dual-clutch transmission, was leaking fluid. The part has been replaced and our 500L is back on the road.

We plan to take our new car on a three-week family road trip this summer, heading from Los Angeles to Vancouver, Canada. We’re looking forward to having a great view of the road and averaging 30-plus mpg on the highway.

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