2014 Fiat 500LPosted on June 17th, 2013
Fiat pumps up the volume with a roomier 500
By Nina Russin
The Fiat 500’s whisker grille and compact dimensions remind me of Topo Gigio: a puppet that made regular appearances on Ed Sullivan’s Sunday night variety show in the 1960s. Unlike many of Ed’s guests such as the Beetles, Rolling Stones and the Doors, Topo never wanted to be center stage. Despite that, his unabashed cuteness found its way into the hearts of millions of kids, including me. Perhaps it’s the association that makes the newest Cinquecento such a lovable design.
The car’s demure footprint has a downside, however, that being its lack of cargo space. This year, Fiat introduces the 500L: an all-new model that could be construed as Topo Gigio’s big brother. The new model is 47-inches longer than the current Fiat 500, and has as much interior space as the Chrysler 300 full-sized sedan.
Classified as a B segment car, the Fiat 500L is based on the automaker’s new small-wide architecture, the same platform that will house the new Jeep Cherokee that rolls out later this year. With fold-and-tumble second-row seats that give its interior enough room to stash a road bike, the 2014 500L might be the Fiat buyers with active lifestyles have been waiting for.
Four available grades priced from $19,900
Buyers can choose from four trim levels: Pop, Easy, Trekking and Lounge. Power for all models comes from a 1.4-liter multi-air turbocharged engine rated at 160 horsepower, with 184 foot-pounds of peak torque. The base model comes exclusively with a six-speed manual gearbox. A six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is available as a $1,350 upgrade on the other three trim levels. A traditional six-speed automatic transmission arrives after model rollout.
Standard equipment on the Pop includes 16-inch steel wheels with all-season tires, remote keyless entry, power windows and door locks, air conditioning, cruise control, steering wheel controls, a six-speaker audio system, 60/40 split folding second-row seats that also recline and tumble, 12-volt power outlets and a capless fuel filler door.
The Trekking model has special styling intended to appeal to outdoor enthusiasts, with unique front and rear fascias, wheel arch and body side sill moldings. The car rides on 17-inch aluminum wheels, has unique interior trim and bucket front seats.
The upscale Lounge that starts at $24,995 is fully loaded, with the exception of two available options: a panoramic sunroof and Beats audio system.
Test drive in Maryland
At a recent media event, journalists drove the Fiat 500L around the Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland metro areas, with routes ranging from heavily trafficked city streets and highways to quiet rural roads. My driving partner and I jumped behind the wheel of the Easy model, equipped with the optional dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Base price on the test car, excluding the $800 destination charge, is $20,195. The automatic transmission adds $1,350 to the base sticker price. A $700 popular equipment group adds dual-zone climate control, power driver’s seat with four-way lumbar support, 115-volt power outlet and rear seat armrest and cupholder. The Beats audio system and Sirius XM radio comprise the premium plus package ($700). Other options on the test car include the power sunroof, heated front seats and a contrasting color roof, bringing the final MSRP to $25,545.
All cars built before the end of the calendar year come with a free premier option package valued at $1,745. It includes a 6.5-inch Uconnect touch screen with navigation, a rearview backup camera and park assist sensors.
Different by design
Drivers who are tired of the current design trend towards narrow windows and thick supporting pillars will love the Fiat 500L’s large greenhouse. By narrowing the A and D pillars and lowering the car’s beltline, designers were able to create a 360-degree glass area that brightens up the interior and enhances visibility in all directions.
Designers also did an excellent job of giving the newest Cinquecento a unique profile. It does not look like a stretch version of the 500.
Access and egress to both rows of seating is exceptionally good, with high hip points. Thanks to the large windshield, I was able to get a clear forward view without having to adjust the driver’s seat upward.
Inside the car is as spacious as advertised. A colleague who is six-foot nine-inches tall was able to fit comfortably in both first and second-row seats, with several inches of headroom to spare. By keeping the armrest narrow and confining storage cabinets to the instrument panel rather than a center console, designers were able to increase hip room for both first-row passengers. The car’s six inches of additional width over the 500 makes the second row spacious enough for three adults. With no floor tunnel or center console to get in the way, the center passenger has a reasonable amount of legroom.
The steering wheel and gearshift lever are arranged ergonomically, with center stack controls that are easy to reach from either front seating position and intuitive to operate.
The 1.4-liter turbocharged engine is both a welcome and necessary upgrade from the 101-horsepower naturally-aspirated base block in the Fiat 500. The 500L carries about 1,000 pounds of additional curb weight, giving it almost 33 percent greater mass.
Engineers faced the unenviable challenge of meeting rising C.A.F.E. standards with the dual-clutch automatic transmission, forcing them to program shift points that are too early to let the engine wind up properly.
When I utilized the transmission’s manual gear select feature, I was able to keep the engine in its 3000-3500 rpm sweet spot, versus the fully automatic mode that shifts between 1500 and 2000 rpm under normal driving conditions. Because the engine revs so low, the transmission has to downshift very hard during wide open throttle. Having briefly experienced the six-speed manual transmission, I would recommend it over the automatic.
The electric power steering system gives the 500L an excellent turning circle for a car of its size, making it possible to perform U-turns on fairly narrow two-lane roads. Steering response is pretty good at all speeds. The system has the typical lag in on-center response typical of electric power steering systems, but at no point did I feel disconnected from the wheels.
The suspension consists of a MacPherson strut setup in front and twist beam rear axle. The Koni shocks on the Fiat 500L are the same units used on the front wheels of the high-performance Fiat 500 Abarth. The suspension did an excellent job of isolating us from jousts on uneven city streets, and kept the chassis flat while taking some off-camber turns at speed.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the car in firm, linear fashion.
Engineers did an excellent job of isolating passengers from road, engine and wind noise, enabling them to converse easily on the highway or enjoy the audio system.
The Fiat 500L comes with front, side, side curtain and driver’s knee airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, daytime running lamps and hill start assist.
Fiat builds the 500L at its assembly plant in Kragujevac, Serbia.
Like: A stylish and extremely spacious five-passenger crossover with high levels of standard convenience and safety features. Its versatility makes the Fiat 500L a good option for active families.
Dislike: Dual-clutch automatic transmission downshifts hard during wide-open throttle.
Model: 500L Easy
Base price: $20,195
As tested: $25,545
Horsepower: 160 Hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 184 lbs.-ft. @ 2500 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 9.3 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 24/33 mpg city/highway2014, Best Value 2014, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Fiat, performance, pricing, standard safety
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