There is saying here that “everything is bigger in Texas”. Well to the rest of the world, everything seems bigger in America. And for the Fiat 500 to really be a success here in the states, it was a given that the line-up would have to expand, with additional models and additional size. Well, both are now realized in the boxy Fiat 500L. So, let’s find out if that other saying “bigger is better” is also true.
The 2014 Fiat 500L is a multi-purpose vehicle clearly designed with the youngest of families in mind: parents that desire a unique and stylish ride yet still need room for all of the equipment that seems to accompany just about any family outing.
As for what MPV-like space does for the quirky style of the 500, well it looks as if it has entered its awkward teenage years where all of the parts don’t quite seem to fit.
To be fair, neither of its main urban utility rivals, the Kia Soul or Mini Countryman, are great beauties either. But, the 500L really calls for a double take with details like split A-pillars and bug-eye headlights.
The 500L architecture is unique, not at all a stretched version of the 500 hatchback. It’s over 2-feet longer, with 12.2-inches of additional wheelbase. The chassis will also support Jeep’s forthcoming Renegade CUV.
Our 500L also sported a funky 2-tone, almost Taxi-like, Trekking theme. Though it’s far from the extreme compared to some of the color options that are available.
On the really weird front, Europeans can opt for an onboard espresso maker for their 500L. We won’t be getting that option, or the 3-row version. Imagine that, European cars have gone from not even having cup holders to having in car coffee brewing.
Regardless, while it is a much bigger 500, it’s still relatively small compared to most on the road. That allows for a surprisingly refined and quite European driving experience. A relaxed cruiser on the highway that can also handle switchbacks nicely.
Only one engine is available, and how you feel about it largely depends on which transmission is attached to it. It’s the turbo version of Fiat’s 1.4-liter MultiAir I4, here producing 160-horsepower and 184 lb-ft. of torque.
If you choose to go the automatic route, you’ll get a 6-speed twin clutch transmission that’s clunky, herky/jerky nature had most of our staff wishing for a true automatic. If you don’t mind doing the shifting yourself, the standard 6-speed manual makes for a much better experience, and helps the engine at least feel more powerful.
With the twin clutch tranny at the track, it’s hard to tell whether you’re waiting for the turbo to kick in or just waiting for the engine to hit its power band. But it’s not until you get the RPMs up that power comes on pretty strongly. It took a full 9.0-seconds to hit 60; and 17.0 to run out the quarter mile at 85 miles-per-hour.
And as for our handling course, we confirmed our on-road impressions. While the 500L is definitely tuned for comfort, it proved to be quite a lot of fun when dodging cones. Steering, though lacking in feel, is very direct; body roll is minimal, for what looks like a top heavy vehicle; and the chassis has a nimble feel with very little computer intervention.
Brakes were not quite as impressive, as we did see some fade and only an average stopping distance of 128-feet from 60. But, it remained very stable.
Even if you’re a starting center for your basketball team, you’ll find plenty of head and leg room inside, though the seats are flat and a bit short for long distance comfort. Visibility is great all around, and that includes a rear seat child minding mirror. There is clearly a minivan feel to the interior that includes room for 68.0 cubic-ft. of cargo.
Most of our testers liked the “aero” vibe to the cockpit. The layout is far more “normal” than the 500 hatchback. And that extends to spread out, easier to read gauges.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings are 24-City, 33-Highway, and 27-Combined. We averaged a very good 28.8 miles-per-gallon, but of Premium. The Energy Impact Score is better than average at 12.2-barrels of yearly oil use with CO2 emissions of 5.4-tons.
There are four 500L trim levels, covering a pretty decent range of prices, starting at $19,995 for Pop trim and going to $25,195 for Lounge, with our Trekking nestled in between at $22,195.
Being the first passenger vehicle available here in that is assembled in Serbia is just another thing that makes the 2014 Fiat 500L “different”. Like the slightly smaller Kia Soul, and Mini Countryman, the 500L packs a lot of space, comfort, and utility into a small, family friendly package. And that may be just what it takes for Fiat to really gain a foothold here, and hang on to it.
Engine: 1.4-liter MultiAir I4
Torque: 184 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 9.0 seconds
1/4 mile: 17.0 seconds @ 85 mph
EPA: 24 mpg city/ 33 mpg highway
Energy Impact: 12.2 barrels of oil/yr
CO2 Emissions: 5.4 tons/yr