2014 Fiat 500L
Date Posted: June 20, 2013
By Zack Spencer
For buyers who like the idea of the Fiat 500 but find it too small, there is now a 4-door option.
Cute and small, good on gas, not too expensive to buy, plus a level of Italian style--not a bad characterization of the Fiat 500, the charming Italian number that arrived on our shores just three short model years ago. The 500 has been a hit with young urban buyers who need a city runabout but nothing too big. But what people who have been attracted to all that Italian panache but need something a bit more practical? Enter the larger Fiat 500L. Not L for longer or L for larger, Fiat claims L should be looked at as ''loft''. The car was designed from the inside out, with the occupants and all their stuff as the driving force behind the look and feel of this new model. More space to lounge around in, but still keeping a sense of style and European influence that looks like nothing else on our North American roads.
Instead of taking a Fiat 500 and making it proportionally bigger, Fiat decided to make a whole new vehicle. Yes it has styling cues from the smaller three-door hatchback, especially the front-end design, but the underpinnings and shape are all new. Unlike the Mini products, which all try very hard to look like the small Mini hatch, the new, wider platform liberated the designers to make something all its own. The 500L is longer, wider and taller. It is the width that has been accentuated, especially in the shape of the windows. The glass doesn't slope into towards the centre of the car; rather the windows extend almost upright from the door panels. This tall and slab-sided approach provides a lot of outward visibility and interior space. The pillars that hold up the rood have also been kept to a minimum to help accentuate a floating look of the roof design and optimizing the available glass surface. Sold in four trim levels, the one that looks the most dramatic (and only sold in North America) is the Trekking model, that adds exterior cladding and plastic inserts to provide a more rugged SUV look.
The attention to interior size and usefulness is apparent in the edgy design. The seats sit high off the floor for a view many crossover buyers are used too. The back seat is large and has an almost flat floor for ease of entry and exit. The cargo space is useful and all seats, even the front passenger seat, fold flat for optimal cargo capacity. Thankfully the radio unit is different from the 500, because it now features a larger screen and rotary dials missing on the smaller car. The front windshield has been moved as far forward as possible and huge quarter windows have been placed between the front window and the typical windshield pillar. The additional pillar takes a few minutes to get used to but the visibility is fantastic. One option worth considering is the massive panoramic sunroof that lets in loads of light and in combination with the big side windows makes this car feel very big. Just like the smaller 500, this L version can be fitted with a multitude of colour options; in fact 10 interior choices and over 30 different exterior/interior combinations.
Fiat has made a brilliant move in the engine choice of the 500L. No underpowered unit to complain about here. The most powerful engine in the smaller 500-range has been fitted in all L models with good results. The 1.4L, 160hp turbocharged engine found in the Abarth is just the ticket to get this bigger model away from a light and cruise easily on the highway. Cruising is what this car does best thanks to more forgiving springs and shocks compared to the European model, plus above average sound insulation for this class of vehicle. The 500L can be fitted with a 6-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed duel clutch tranny for manual-like shifts, automatically controlled. This duel clutch unit is more efficient than a regular automatic but this Fiat unit is not as refined as others in this class, like VW's slick DSG unit. Thankfully a conventional 6-speed transmission will also be available in early 2014.
Chrysler has done something similar in the past. The Jeep Wrangler has always been an emotional purchase but one limited to a certain kind of buyer. When Jeep introduced a larger 4-door version of the Wrangler, called Unlimited, it opened up the brand to families; to the point that it now outsells the traditional 2-door model. The same thing with this new Fiat 500L. Buyers who like what Fiat stands for but could not imagine driving such a tidy car can now buy a vehicle with enough room for a family. The interior is 42% bigger than the 500 and it has a more powerful base engine to get the job done. Prices start at $19,995 and top out at $25,995. I also think that buyers who might have considered a small SUV with front wheel drive can pivot over to a very useful 500L and keep some money in their pocket. The 500L surprised me in two ways. First, in person the styling looks fresh, not as dorky as I initially thought. Second, it drives very well and is rather refined. L might just stand for Like.
The Good, The Bad
Wonderful interior packaging and Italian design.
The duel clutch automatic can search for gears at certain speeds.
Power: 1.4L turbo with 160hp.
Fill-up: 8.0L/6.0L/100km (city/highway)
Sticker price: $19,995-$25,995