Everything about the 2014 Fiat 500L must be bigger.
That’s not a particularly meaningful observation by me, mind
you. I have a 3-year-old nephew who can look at both of Fiat’s offerings now,
the 500 and 500L, and tell me which is bigger. But everything about the 500L
must be bigger. This is the Fiat that the relatively new American brand should
pin its hopes on. As the 500 slowly gains a foothold here in the states, its reputation
in Europe is nonpareil. The 500 was European car of the year in 2008 (strictly
speaking, it won in 2004 as the Fiat Panda, from which the 500 is based) and is
more common over there than an inflated self-worth.
While our 500 was highly modified from that European
version, it was still basically a port over of a 5-year-old car for Fiat’s
first foray back on American shores.
This 500L is Fiat’s first attempt in earnest; a brand-new
car, designed by Italians and engineered by Americans to capture the market for
small, people movers. Hopefully that kind of collaboration will bleed over to
other industries in the future: baseball uniforms designed by Prada, Hair Club
For Men brought to you by Braschi.
The possibilities are endless.
A car like the 500L runs the very serious risk of turning
out as a muddled composition, however. The 500L is a global platform, whereas
the 500 was a hit over there and ported over here, we’re now returning the
favor. As a rule, Americans like our small utility vehicles to be actually very
large and mind numbingly boring to drive. We don’t do twisty city roads very
often, we have long open interstates, which is perhaps why we multitask behind
the wheel too much.
To that end, the 500L
is about two feet longer than the 500, with plenty of room for a small family
or Italian models. Two child seats fit in the back seats (with a smidge of room
for a booster, I suppose) and that’s really the 500L’s bread-and-olive-oil
here: a family car.
If you’re wondering, the “L” stands for “loft,” which is how
designers describe the floating roof concept, hovering on top of the blacked
out pillars. It could also be used to describe the greenhouse of the 500L that,
when combined with the panoramic sunroof like our test vehicle, felt like a
tourist’s submarine — the kind you get in the Bahamas to look at the fish who
don’t really like you. The 500L’s interior is incredibly open — and if you’re
having issues with the exterior design — makes the funky sheet metal totally
I’ll be the first to admit, the outside will take some
getting used to. Despite Mini’s Countryman as the first “big” little car, the
500L’s bulbous design is a little jarring at first. If English fails you, try a
little Italian: “uovo.” Pronounced like “eww-oh-vo” from your belly up, the
word encapsulated for me just about everything about the 500L, which is to say
it means “egg” in English.
That’s something that Fiat designers aren’t exactly shying
away from. In Baltimore, Fiat designer Fabriccio De Baca said the 500L would be
the “mamma car” for the Fiat brand. So there, I’m not completely full of it.
And neither is the 500L, to be honest. The family car wasn’t
packed to the gills with a massive engine either. Fiat’s 1.4-liter Multi-Air
four fits into the 500L and checks in around 160 horsepower. While that’s
certainly enough to motivate the 500L around town, the engine isn’t exactly
overpowering at altitude here. Most 500Ls will be mated to a six-speed
automatic, a conventional option that helps the car achieve a 33 mpg rating on
the highway. I really preferred the manual in the 500L, a six-speed manual that
helped wring out every available horsepower from the motor. But I’m guessing
the manual will sell only slightly better than diphtheria. Eradication of 17th
century infectious diseases and manual transmissions is just around the corner,
Fiat’s big selling point here with the 500L is its price.
Quite frankly, the Countryman can reach astronomical prices and Volkswagen’s
comparable model, the Tiguan, can too. For that, Fiat is starting the Pop
version of the 500L at around $20,000 with incremental upgrades to cloth
seating and amenities happening every $1,000 or so. Until December, the
manufacturer will be offering navigation and backup camera (a $1,795 option, says
Chrysler) for free in every 500L sold.
It’s a compelling value for money, especially considering
how slowly the 500 caught on here. The 500L improves on that initial step by
giving American buyers a bigger option that’s perhaps suited a little more toward
our driving habits than the 500 was. But don’t take my word for it, just look
at the 500L badge on the back. That’s the biggest name badge I’ve ever seen on
Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He enjoys hearing
from readers. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
2014 Fiat 500L: Is bigger really better?
by Aaron Cole :: posted in Reviews on October 8th, 2013