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2014 Fiat 500L: Is Bigger Always Better?

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Launched at the 2010 LA Auto Show, the Italian Fiat 500 became an American icon as it impressed consumers with its fascinating micro-body contour, Italian styling and emotional marketing ploys. Entertainer J-Lo sure enough was amused by Chrysler’s new brand as is rapper Pit Bull. Even Gucci joined the fray and will unveil a second version since demand was so high for the introductory model. Take a look and you’ll see Fiats tooling around in the streets making a name for themselves. Three of my neighbors have Fiat 500s, with one very proud of his Abarth model. I can hear it every morning around 7am as Fred jettisons off to work. To expand upon the company’s miniscule premise, Fiat will upstage the Fiat 500 with its “Simply More” strategy and offer a larger car to answer the call to family needs.

California will once again be a major focus for Fiat since they had success there with the 500. In fact 50% of Chrysler’ sales gains from 2011 to 2012 in California came from the Fiat brand. The Sunshine State also represents 20% of Fiat products with 28 retail locations. They believe the 500 electric car will be a hit and we agree. Yet, does that mean a bigger Fiat with 42% more interior room will be an instant success as well? Do customers want supersized variants of the emotional, fun-to-drive vehicle they fell in love with? Fiat is assured that growing families and active lifestylers will gravitate towards the 500L. “Like the Fiat 500, the all-new Fiat 500L’s strength, design and personality traits are strong attributes to the iconicity of the Cinquecento family,” said Roberto Giolito, Head of Fiat Brand Design. “With its versatility through design innovation, our new five-passenger Cinquecento further develops the brand identification while paying homage to clever city-friendly vehicles in Fiat’s history.”

Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But the 500L is very odd looking. The cute and sassy Fiat 500 dimensions have been stretched to the point of non-familiarity. It doesn’t look fluid and athletic, but bloated and lethargic. Yes, it’s spacious, has a laundry list of cool technology features, and can be outfitted to meet the needs of on-the-go families, but it doesn’t feel like the Fiat I have come to respect.

Behind the wheel you feel like you’re driving in a video game since all you see is the greenhouse and not the hood. It’s amusing with a very high ceiling and all-glass retractable (one-touch) roof with a large retractable sunroof screen which is also one-touch.

While driving around Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland, the vehicle teaches you the virtue of patience since you won’t be going anywhere fast in the 500’s equivalent 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine with 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. I’m not sure how you enlarge the size of a vehicle with 800 to 900 pound increased weight and not upsize the power. Either a six-speed manual or Euro Twin Clutch transmission can be partnered with the 4-cylinder unit for an estimated 33 highway mpg.

I can say that the braking system is extraordinary as we found out when an abrupt halt and turn had to be made. The kit features single 2.24” front piston calipers with 12×1.10” vented rotors and 1.49” rear calipers with solid 10.4x.4” disc brakes. Safety comes in the form of electronic stability control which is embedded with electronic brake-force distribution, electronic rollover mitigation, hill-start assist, brake traction-control system and brake assist. However, I’m not sure about the weird emergency brake lever. It looks like some sort of enlarged alien pod!

The 500L is not an extension of the 500 since it is outfitted on a separate platform. With two added doors, and an abundance of window panels, Fiat offered the same amount of room for rear and front passengers. It’s now 20% longer, 9% wider, 11% taller and comprised of 75% high strength steel. Electric steering (control united on steering wheel) was used to keep the fun to drive aspect for Fiat customers. The second row seats fold and tumble for additional storage and add armrests, heat, and reactive headrests. Fiat also gives owners a cargo box and dual glove box with middle shelf for items such as your smartphone. Uconnect 5.0 and 6.5 is Chrysler’s touchscreen multi-media system that is tops in the business and can be partnered with a 6-speaker Beats Audio system. It even receives and sends audio text messages. Three large, round gauge dials, soft-touch materials and a long gear shifter finish out the comfort creatures of the 500L.

Base pricing for the Fiat 500L starts at $19,100 with $800 destination and gives you 16” wheels, Bluetooth, chrome exhaust tips, and the 6-speed manual transmission. Four additional models include 500L Easy, 500L Trekking, 500L Pop, and 500L Lounge. As an added value, the free Premier Package ($1,745 value) adds Uconnect 6.5 with navigation, ParkSense rear park assist and ParkView rear backup camera and comes with the Easy, Trekking and Lounge models. Ten exterior hues are available along with three top options including body color, Nero (black) or Bianco (white), and Mopar is around for extended personalization options.


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