2014 Fiat 500L
For years Fiat dealers have had only one car to sell, the diminutive 500. Sergio Marchionne and crew will argue there are variations like Convertible, EV, Gucci and Abarth but let’s be adults, huh? Finally there’s a new bigger model in the US called, uh, the 500… L. Which stands for large. Not much creativity in the name department. I’ll offer up 600 for starters…
At the press launch in Baltimore, Maryland the folks at Fiat say they’re targeting buyers who are interested in Scion xB and MINI Countryman plus hamsters who don’t want to buy a Kia Soul. The original 500 is best for couples since the back seat is not really habitable by adults (or humans over four feet tall to be frank).
An Italian With Room For Americans The L easily seats four adults, five if it’s kids in back. 500L is full of clever touches like a height adjustable load floor in the cargo area that’s good for hiding computer bags out of site. A conversation mirror helps drivers to keep an eye on squabbling siblings in the back seat.
There are four different trim levels, the base Pop, midlevel Easy and premium Lounge. Finally, the rugged Trekking (shown in the yellow still photo) gets a sport-ute look courtesy of a unique front end. An available MINI-like contrasting color roof ups the style and cost. Speaking of which, 500L starts at $19,900 with shipping from Serbia where it’s screwed together. The silver Easy in the video starts at 22 grand. A well-equipped Lounge goes for around 26.
Motivation 500L is powered by Fiat’s turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir engine. There’s 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque @ 2,500-4,000 RPM on tap when drinking premium fuel. Choose between manual and dual-clutch automatic transmissions, both are six-speeds. 500L is front-wheel drive only, even the truckier looking Trekking..
Floor the throttle and it takes a moment for the engine’s torque to come on line. Like many modern automatic transmissions, 500Ls gearbox up shifts aggressively to get the best possible fuel economy. 500L is no different. Combine the motor and gearbox dynamics and it often takes a beat or two for your foot to get a response. So even though the power is fine, the two don’t dance well together.
The automatic I’m driving is EPA rated at 24 city, 33 highway, a tick lower than rowing your own with the manual gearbox.
With a tall greenhouse, visibility from the driver’s seat is excellent. It’s quiet at highway speeds too. 500L is nimble in the corners with a suspension dialed in at comfort. It soaks up Baltimore’s potholes nicely.
The Inside Story Look hard at the steering wheel, it’s squared on the inside but still round on the outside. The Italian style extends to a wrapped instrument panel that is more stylish in contrasting color interiors. In the black cabin I’m driving it’s fairly spartan. Texans can leave their hats on, headroom is epic (but I don’t see many cowboys driving Fiats). The Uconnect touch screen interface, which is one of my favorites, is clear and easy to use.
For the first year, Fiat is throwing in a free navigation system for most models. There are plenty of ways to play tunes though the decent sounding Beats branded audio system. Get the panoramic glass roof for a full fish bowl effect.
It’s All About Friends and Family The back seat slides fore and aft to max out leg or cargo room, whatever your needs are at the time. Two adults will be very comfortable in this space. There are the normal cubbies for stuff and drinks but no charge port for the kids to charge their iPods and such. Like all hatchbacks the rear seats split and fold but I’m unsure why the seats tumble forward like the second row of a minivan. Raise the adjustable load floor up and it creates a completely flat floor with the back seats down.
500Ls bulbous design is not as clean and elegant as 500-not-L. My eye finds the Trekker model to be the most successful. There are details such as ”500” embossed in the headlamp enclosure and some attractive LED tail lamps. Contrasting roof colors help to define the floating nature of the panel. If you want your Fiat as cute as a plush toy though, you’ll be going with the smaller 500.
The L in 500L could stand for loft since the car has a very airy feel about it. Whether or not the bigger car will cause a stampede to US Fiat stores remains to be seen. Dealers could certainly use some extra traffic. It’s hard to launch a brand with one small car. The 2014 Fiat 500L finally gives them a vehicle with mainstream size to sell to family folk. The Italian style is like nothing else on American roads, even though the name is awfully familiar.
Tom attended a manufacturer’s sponsored event for this review. All stills provided by Fiat. Different models shown.