Fiat’s return to the US market in 2011 came by way of its smallest model, the 2012 Fiat 500 hatchback. This mini car line also includes a convertible and a performance Abarth edition, giving Fiat the most model choices in its segment. The segment is a small one and includes the Smart Fortwo, Scions IQ and the Chevrolet Spark.
Beginning this year the 2014 Fiat 500L debuts, a model that is wider and longer than the 500, and built on a separate platform. The Fiat 500L Pop was a recent weekly driver for Auto Trends, a five-passenger front-wheel drive subcompact vehicle.
2014 Fiat 500L
The L portion of the 500s name means large and considering the diminutive size of the 500 series, that name describes this vehicle well. What it does not tell you is that the 500L rides on a different platform than the 500, utilizing Fiats compact wide architecture to underpin what is categorized as a subcompact model.
Its proportions are telling, coming in at 27 inches longer and six inches wider than the 500. It is a tall vehicle too, closer in look to a tall wagon or an SUV and offering 120 cubic feet of interior volume. Compare that number to the 85 cubic feet found in the Fiat 500.
All Fiat 500Ls are powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged four cylinder engine. This engine makes 160 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 184 foot-pounds of torque ranging from 2,500 to 4,000 rpm. A six-speed manual is the only transmission offering with the base 500L Pop.
The next two grades, Easy and Trekking, offer the manual or an optional twin-clutch six-speed automatic. The top-of-the-line Lounge reverses that offering. Yes, the model names are odd, but they are also keeping what Fiat offers with the 500.
Fiat 500L Exterior and Interior
At first glance, the resemblance to the Fiat 500 is apparent in the 500L. But, those similarities are most noticeable with its face. Beyond that you’re looking at a wagon-like vehicle, one with extended proportions all around.
Inside, the Fiat 500L benefits from an updated dashboard, a revised instrument panel and a new steering wheel. Its a fairly well appointed model even in base form with steering wheel mounted controls including cruise control standard.
The front bucket seats and 60/40 rear split seat are cloth covered, offering sufficient support up front, but not enough thigh support in the rear. The rear seat has three seat belt positions, but it is better suited for two people. Rear leg room is excellent and the head room throughout the cabin means there is ample space for tall drivers.
Impressively, Fiat found a way to sate the interior with storage areas including numerous cubbies, netted pockets, storage compartments and in-door storage. That abundance of storage was underscored by both open and covered storage compartments above the glove box, serving up more places to stash your stuff.
All 500L models come equipped with air conditioning, the Lounge edition upgrades this to dual-zone climate control. You also get keyless entry, a tilt and telescopic steering column, UConnect touchscreen radio, power windows and door locks, power heated side mirrors, cloth bucket seats, USB ports, and cruise control.
Model upgrades bring in heated seats, higher end audio systems, a 115-volt outlet, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a dual-pane power sunroof, navigation fog lamps, a rear armrest with upholders, and larger wheels. The two-color exterior paint scheme featured in the first photo is available with the Trekking edition.
There were two demerits that should be noted: 1) the in-door pockets are large enough to hold water bottles, but not shaped to keep them in place, and 2) the sun visors do not extend far enough out to block the sun beaming through the side windows.
The first demerit represents a minor issue as there are center area cup holders available. The second demerit could prove to be a hazard at certain times of the day.
On the Road
As my good fortune would have it, I had a week to partake in much clutch pushing and stick shifting with the Fiat 500L Pop. Manual transmissions continue to fade away, with many model lines equipped only with automatics.
My wife probably represents the thinking of a vast number of drivers when she admitted that they were too much work. I enjoy them, but in heavy traffic they tend to get old. Imagine getting a muscle spasm at the wrong time!
Still, the Fiats six-speed manual combined with a turbocharged four cylinder engine provided plenty of pep and became an exercise in finding the correct gear for the right driving conditions.
I wont hash out my entire findings other than to say that leaving the transmission in fourth gear at speeds up to 50 mph and in fifth gear up to 65 mph makes passing easy. I discovered that if I shifted to sixth gear too early, the RPMs dropped sharply and the car lagged.
That also meant I was downshifting to find the right gear at various times while on the highway when traffic was building.
Its peppiness aside, the Fiat 500L handles well too. The low-rolling resistance tires, however, took much getting used to as its grip seemed to slip when shifting on some road surfaces. In my area, the clay soil tends to seep out onto road surfaces when it rains.
Once dry, it leaves behind silty patches that can contribute to spin out. You can upgrade to the optional Goodyear Eagle tires.
Making an Impression
Priced from $19,100, the 2014 Fiat 500L makes a positive impression. It was also one of the most inquired about vehicles from people that I know including my neighbors who get to witness my weekly switch over of press fleet vehicles.
Across the board, its looks were positively received, even admired, not withstanding my remarks that the Italian Fiat 500L is assembled in Serbia while the smaller 500 is built in Mexico. It seems that vehicle origin is just not that important to most people these days.
Growing up, we used to call Fiats Fix It Again, Tony for its frequent habit of breaking down. The new crop of Fiats are much more refined, stylish and fun to drive, offering a worthy vehicle for first time new car buyers or a solid second car for some families.
Facts About the Fiat 500
Only a few cars could ever claim to be as quintessentially Italian in their essence as the Fiat 500 is. But if the exploits of this model across Italy’s borders are recent history, its tradition in its sun-kissed homeland goes back a long way and springs up in subtle ways even in its most recent reincarnation.
And no worries if you don’t know much about tradition: we have gone under Fiat 500’s skin to reveal the 5 key Italian facts behind this tiny city car.
1) A Nostalgic Car
Although a first version of 500, nicknamed Topolino (literally ‘little mouse’) went on sale in 1936, this versatile, mid-market model could only enjoy a relative success because of Italy’s pre- and post-World War II struggles. Rivaling the German New Beetle, this was also a rather expensive car which was worth 20 times the wage of an Italian factory worker of the time.
But, FIAT hit back in style after the war and in 1957 introduced “Nuova 500”, simply called 500. To the whole of Italy, this became the one and only 500, much more affordable than its predecessor and worth 13 salaries of a factory worker.
The 500 grew up to be a symbol of the country’s economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s — its stylish, unmistakable silhouette and its 3 meters of length — which only made room for 2 passengers turned it immediately into an icon: the 1.5 million units sold between 1966 and 1971 are there to show it.
2) A Bold Car
Consider it a little detail, but no other Italian city car has been able to build upon such legacy and carry the banner of its country abroad: with two flag stripes running across its sides as one of the available customizations, the 500 is Italian through and through definitely not a shy car.
3) A Fashionable Car
Could you actually separate Italians from style? You probably wouldn’t bother trying. And you can’t take away the style from the 500 either: topping the most fashionable cars of the last few years is the 500 Gucci, a unique collaboration between the Turin manufacturer and Gucci Creative Director, Frida Giannini.
Combining red and Gucci’s trademark green stripes on the sides, with ivory and black interiors and Gucci logos on the alloys, the luxury feel of this car is simply magnificent.
4) A Migrant Car
Millions of Italians migrated to the USA at the beginning of the 20th century. A new ad for the American market portrays FIAT 500 as a migrant car, one that is now gearing up for success across the Pond.
Once again, the 500 is a symbol of Italian legacy as well as change: in 2010 it became the first Italian car to sell more units abroad (54 percent of the total) than at home. This is quite impressive for a 55-year-old model!
5) It Makes Coffee!
Italian coffee tastes great, is perfect for a break and helps you stay awake…so why not install an espresso machine is an Italian car? This comes as an option available in the new 500L, one only few Italians could ever do without.
Supplied by Lavazza, another local institution, the built-in coffee machine will make getting from points A to B a much tastier task.
Fiat 500L photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved.