2014 Fiat 500LPosted on August 9th, 2013
A bigger 500 for active lifestyles
By Nina Russin
Although it shares front-end styling and nomenclature with the Fiat 500, the new 500L is a completely different car. Built on Chrysler’s small-wide architecture, the newest Fiat shares underpinnings with the new Jeep Cherokee that rolls out in the fall. Power comes from a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine paired with either a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission.
The body is 27-inches longer and six-inches taller than the Cinquecento, allowing room for five passengers and a good-sized cargo area. Second-row seats fold flat to expand the cargo floor, and can also tumble-and-fold forward.
There are four models: Pop, Easy, Trekking and Lounge. Pricing for the base model begins at $19,100, while the upscale lounge starts at $24,195. The Trekking model with styling for outdoor enthusiasts starts at $21,195
Base sticker for the Easy test car is $20,195, excluding the $800 destination charge. A complimentary preferred package adds a Uconnect 6.5-inch touch screen, navigation, backup camera and rear park assist, valued at $1,700 free of charge. The preferred package is available to all buyers purchasing their vehicles prior to the end of the calendar year.
Test drive in Phoenix
This week’s test drive was my second experience behind the wheel of Fiat’s newest model, following a media preview in Baltimore earlier in the summer. Since I had driven the automatic transmission car in Baltimore, I was happy to get into a manual for my test drive in Phoenix.
The 500L is a polarizing vehicle. People seem to either love or hate the styling. I applaud Fiat designers for utilizing a large greenhouse, bucking the current trend towards narrow glass areas. The execution around the A-pillars, however, is a little awkward.
Because of the size and curvature of the front glass there are two pillars in each corner that connect at the top to form a triangle. While this by no means obstructs the driver’s visibility, I did find the front pillars distracting. I also noticed some distortion in one of the triangular glass panels.
By making the roof flat, designers maximized headroom for second-row passengers. The flat roof also makes it easier to mount a top rack for stashing bicycles, kayaks or canoes.
The boxy back end harkens back to the Fiat Familiare station wagon of the 1970s. From a practical stance, it gives the car a surprisingly spacious cargo bay for a vehicle with a 202.8-inch wheelbase. The car’s low lift-over and small bumper have big advantages for smaller drivers who need to load large gear in back.
The 1.4-liter turbocharged engine is the same block used in the high-performance Fiat 500 Abarth. As wonderfully as the engine works in the Abarth, it is not as well suited for the 500L. The problem is curb weight. The 500L weighs about 1000 pounds more than the Abarth, and the small displacement engine simply can’t provide enough low-end torque.
As a result, it’s difficult to shift smoothly, or to do a second-gear start. The upside is fuel economy. The 500L averages 33 miles-per-gallon on the highway and 28 overall according to the EPA.
The six-speed manual transmission is the option to go with, however, simply because it enables the driver to keep the engine in its peak power band. The shift lever is a nice size and comfortable to hold. A reverse lockout ring prevents the driver from inadvertently shifting into reverse when the car is moving forward.
The emergency brake lever is rather large and awkward, but not something that should deter potential buyers from purchasing the car.
The electric power steering system provides plenty of assist at low speeds for maneuvering through crowded streets and parking lots. The turning circle is an impressive 32.3 feet: another factor that makes this fairly large car handle like a much smaller one.
The suspension consists of MacPherson struts in front and a torsion beam rear end. I didn’t notice any tendency of the rear end to hop, something that can be a problem for cars with solid rear axles. A stabilizer bar up front keeps the chassis surprisingly flat in the corners.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the 500L in firm, linear fashion.
Engineers did a good job of isolating passengers from road, wind and engine noise. The wind noise abatement is especially impressive since the 500L is such a tall, square, car.
The large greenhouse makes visibility around the perimeter quite good. The standard rearview backup camera projects a wide-angle view to the back when the driver shifts into reverse. Lines superimposed over the image show the vehicle’s trajectory according to steering inputs.
Convex inserts on the side view mirrors enable the driver to monitor two lanes of traffic on either side of the car: a boon in crowded highway traffic.
The Fiat 500L comes with front, side, side curtain and driver’s knee airbags, antilock brakes, tire pressure monitoring, stability control and hill start assist. Hill start assist applies the brakes briefly when a driver accelerates from a stop on a steep hill to prevent the vehicle from rolling backwards.
Fiat builds the 500 at its Kragujevac, Serbia assembly plant.
Like: A spacious, versatile crossover with the maneuverability of a much smaller car.
Dislike: 1.4-liter turbocharged engine lacks low-end power on a car of this size.
Base price: $20,195
As tested: $20,995
Horsepower: 160 Hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 184 lbs.-ft. @ 2500 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 25/33 mpg city/highway.2014, Best Value 2014, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Fiat, performance, pricing, standard safety
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