Baltimore ? If you?ve watched much television lately you?ve probably seen the Fiat commercial, the ?The British are coming?uhhhh? the Italians are coming.? It features the latest Fiat brand to come ashore — the 2014 Fiat 500L.
Everyone seems to like the cute little Italian Fiat 500 coupe, but ?little? and ?coupe? are not something that works for everyone. That?s where the 500L makes great sense for people who need more ? it?s much larger and has five doors.
By the numbers the 2014 Fiat 500L is 27 inches longer, six inches wider and six inches taller. In Italian, that translates to 42 percent more interior room, which means itwill actually hold five people. Many much larger cars don?t have the rear seat room of the 500L. The actual interior space of the 500L with its 21.3 cubic feet of cargo space is actually larger than the passenger and cargo space in a Honda Accord. And it seems even more spacious, when equipped with the massive 20 square foot sunroof.
The interior d?cor is fresh and contemporary with a bold two-tone treatment for the seats, dash and door panels. I particularly liked the steering wheel, which is ?squarish? with broad rounded corners. The dash and instrument panel have lots of rounded corners and are nearly void of straight lines. It also has abundant storage spaces in the doors, center console and even a second glove compartment. Controls are clean and intuitive.
While the 500L certainly maintains the character of the original, the 500L is not a makeover or stretched version, it?s new from the ground up using Fiat?s new ?small, wide global architecture.
One key reason people like the original Cinquecento, that?s Italian for ?500,? is that it?s so fun to drive with its nimble and responsive handling. The key reason people will like the 500L is that it has the same agile and responsive characteristics, plus you can take friends or family along, too ? it?s a triple win situation.
I applaud Fiat planners for not skimping on the Fiat 500L engine. It would have been easy to cut corners a little by using the smaller non-turbo MultiAir? engine, but with the extra 700 pounds of weight the 500L carries, they need more power, and the 160-hp 1.4-liter Multiair Turbo engine is a perfect fit. That?s the same engine that powers the Abarth performance model but without the racy sounding exhaust system. While it is certainly not as quick as the Abarth, its performance is impressive ? sorry, I haven?t been able to find a timed 0 to 60 mph figure, but I?d estimate around eight seconds.
A smooth six-speed manual transmission with well-defined gear ratios is standard equipment on all but top-level Lounge model. The Lounge has a Euro Twin Clutch six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting mode. The twin-clutch is also an option on the other models. I found the transmission to be more smooth and positive than many other twin-clutch transmissions I?ve driven recently.
The new larger platform is outfitted with a MacPherson strut front suspension and a twist-beam in the rear, and then it?s dampened with Koni frequency-selective shocks.The combination produces a comfortable ride, good control and balance.
To enhance its broad appeal, the 2014 Fiat 500L is available in four trim levels: Pop, Easy, Trekking and Lounge. There?s very little visual difference between the four ? except for the Trekking, which has a different grill and front fascia. All four have different wheel designs and the Lounge has a bit more chrome.
Rather than visual differences, the four models are distinguished by their standard features, and, of course the pricing. The Pop is well equipped with the basics and comes in at a base price of $19,900, including the destination charge. The Pop is $20,995, the Trekking is $21,995 and the Lounge is $24,995. For the extra money, the Lounge gets extras like the automatic transmission, larger wheels, lots of chrome, power sunroof, Sirius radio, leather seats (heated in the front), park assist and other upscale appointments.
On a drive through the beautiful countryside around Baltimore, the 2014 Fiat 500L was well-mannerd and balanced. I never felt any torque steering even when activating the turbo charger (stepping hard on the accelerator) and turning. The 2014 Fiat 500L is impressive on all counts especially in the fun-to-drive and roomy categories.
I like that Chrysler has shared their Uconnect communications and entertainment system with Fiat. It?s easy to operate and is quick. The system comes in a 5.0- or optional 6.5-inch touch screen. There?s also a conveniently located SD card reader, USB and auxiliary plug mounted in the bottom of the center stack with an adjacent storage space. Audiophiles, or people that hear better than me, will enjoy the optional Beats by Dr. Dre audio system.
The Fiat 500L is a very impressive addition to the extensive lineup of coupes, convertibles and the electric 500e. Check it out at your local Fiat studio?that?s how Fiat refers to their showrooms.