It didn't take Fiat long to realize that the immensely successful 2011 launch of the cute and cuddly 500 would trigger a demand for something a little bigger.
Young families attracted to the sophisticated style, economy and panache of the 500 needed more rear seat space and a little more cargo convenience to make the sale. Plans were actually in the works as early as 2007 and so the response has been much quicker than expected. Say hello - or perhaps 'ciao baby' - to the 2014 Fiat 500L.
This is not simply a stretched version of the 500. It is built on an entirely different platform and is 610 mm (2.0-ft.) longer, 152 mm (6.0-in.) wider and taller than the 500.
Interior space is increased by 42 per cent while the four doors and wide-opening hatchback add enormously to passenger comfort and cargo flexibility. The second row is split 60-40 and can move forward or back to increase rear passenger legroom or add to cargo space. In addition they fold-and-tumble forward to create a flat floor that increases cargo capacity from 23.1 cu-ft. (653 L) to an estimated 50 cu-ft. (1,415 L, with the front passenger seat folded forward).
The sense of space and airiness in the cabin is further enhanced by the available 10.8 square foot panoramic sunroof. The 500L is a genuine compact MPV (Multi Purpose Vehicle).
While Fiat recognized the need to add space and convenience to the 500L, they didn't want to lose any of the unique "huggable" styling that has made the 500 so successful.
The nose is very similar with the same broad grin and "button" headlights but the more upright, flat windshield uses a unique double A-pillar design that provides additional front three-quarter vision when making turns. No other company uses colour as a design element as cleverly as Fiat.
The 500L makes a bold statement with its Nero (black) or Bianco (white) roof combined with 10 exterior colours and a choice of three different wheel rims.
Under the hood, the 500L shares the same engine as the 500. The turbocharged 1.4 litre MultiAir four-cylinder engine pumps out 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque and is mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed Twin-Clutch automatic (that's more standard horsepower and torque than the Mini Countryman or Kia Soul).
The award-winning MultiAir technology features electrohydraulic valves that force a dense mix of air and fuel into the cylinders resulting in more efficient combustion and better fuel economy while the turbocharger boosts the engine output to provide better acceleration and agile performance. The bottom line is a city/highway economy rating of 8.0 and 6.0 L/100 km.
There are 4 models to choose from starting with the Pop ($19,995), the Sport, the Trekking and the Lounge. Our tester was the Sport, finished in Russo (Red) with Nero (black) roof and duo-tone red/grey cloth seats. As with the exterior design, no other company uses colour and textures with the same imaginative flair as Fiat. The exterior Russo body colour is brought inside to add excitement to the dashboard, leather-wrapped steering wheel rim and seat panel inserts. Both front seats are shaped a la Recaro racing design with generous thigh and torso bolsters to keep you comfortably in place. Both have full manual adjustment with height levers for both driver and passenger. Its wide-opening doors, low step-in and increased height, make entry and exit a snap, while the tilt/telescoping steering wheel allows you to tailor the perfect driving position.
All the major gauges and controls are logically placed and easy to reach. The steering wheel provides fingertip controls for Cruise, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and audio functions while the 6.5-inch colour screen in the centre stack is your Uconnect communications hub. It includes easy-to-use-and-learn functions such as hands-free calling, text message receipt and response, and voice controlled audio. The premium Beats by Dr. Dre audio system includes 12 months of free Sirius XM satellite radio. The screen is your Navigation hub and also doubles as your ParkView Back-up Camera.
With its longer (compared to the 500) wheelbase and wider stance, the 500L smoothes out the bumps and hollows more easily, but Fiat engineers didn't want to lose the sprightly, funto-drive experience of its sibling. To do it, they used some pretty sophisticated suspension engineering including MacPherson struts up front mated to Koni Frequency Selective Damping shocks and a twist beam rear axle. Combined with the electric power-assisted steering, it provides the same kind of agility and parking manoeuvrability of the 500.
The manual transmission on our tester was a pleasure to use. The leather-wrapped gearshift notched into each gate as if it knew where to go and the clutch take-up was smooth and consistent. Standard dynamic assists include Electronic Stability Control, Hill Start Assist and 4-wheel power-assisted disc brakes with ABS and Brake Assist. Electronic Stability Control uses sensors at each wheel to automatically adjust power or braking as necessary to counteract understeer (when the front wheels drift wide) and oversteer (when the rear wheels slide out) on slippery or loose surfaces. Hill Start Assist prevents roll-back when re-starting on a hill while Brake Assist recognizes when emergency braking is required and increases pedal pressure automatically.
Standard equipment included remote keyless entry; power door locks and windows with one touch up/down front and rear; power, heated outside mirrors and rear defroster; dual zone climate and A/C control; bi-function Halogen Projector headlights; fog lights; 7 airbags including a driver's knee bolster; active front head restraints and the LATCH system of anchor points for child seats. Our tester also included the optional panoramic power sunroof and stylish 10-spoke, 17-inch painted aluminium rims.
Alan McPhee is a Canadian automotive journalist and is former editor of Carguide Magazine. His articles appear each week in this space.
2014 FIAT 500L Type: Five-door compact MPV Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged I4 Horsepower: 160 @ 6500 rpm Torque: 184 lb-ft @ 2500-4000 rpm Fuel economy: City - 8.0 L/100 km; highway - 6.0 L/100 km Base price: $22,995 Price as tested: $28,734 Vehicle provided Neal's Nanaimo Chrysler
© Copyright 2013