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2014 Fiat 500L – Whelming

The 2014 Fiat 500L is on sale now.  Fiat unloaded the first boatload of 500Ls in Baltimore early June and by mid-June they had begun arriving at nearby Fiat Studios.  Adding this larger four door vehicle to the Fiat line-up is very welcome to Fiat dealers who have been limited to the Fiat 500 albeit with two bodystyles and a multitude of models.  The 500L is based on Fiat’s new “Small Wide” platform and shares nothing with the smaller 500 except for the “500” nomenclature and its engine.  Like the 500, the 500L strives to be very emotional in its styling with cab-forward proportions and a long floating roof that is usually in contrasting colors to the body.  Early on, it will turn heads.

For those who have not been paying attention, the 500L competes with the Kia Soul, Nissan Cube and MINI Countryman.  It is available with dark tinted rear windows meaning it is classified as a truck.  It is front wheel drive and powered with Fiat’s 1.4L Multi-Air Turbocharged 4-cylinder engine found in the 500 Abarth mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or Euro Twin Clutch automatic – a full automatic will be available in the first half of 2014.  The 160-horsepower 4-cylinder has 184 lb-ft of torque.  But the vehicle is much bigger and heavier than the minuscule Abarth and does not have near the performance.  But that’s another story we’ll address later.

Big Car Room in Micro Car Footprint The real story about the 500L is its size.  Think of it as a B-Segment four-door hatchback with a large car sized interior.  It has panoramic view windows for great visibility.  The seating position is upright and the seat is positioned so you can just slide into it.  No climbing to get up into the seat.  Once you are in, there is generous headroom and adequate shoulder room even for the largest drivers and passengers.  The steering wheel has a squarish inner diameter so the instrument cluster can be viewed without obstructions.  The ergonomics are good with controls easy to reach and operate. Fiat claims the 500L has best-in-class headroom, legroom, interior volume and cargo space.

Four Models – Pop-Easy-Trekking-Lounge The four models range in price from $19,900 (with destination included) for the Pop to $24,995 for the top of the line Lounge.  The more aggressive USA-only Trekking model – shown above with the kayak mounted on the roof – is a step down from the Lounge at $21,995.  While Fiat describes the 500L as the “Anti-SUV”, the SUV-like cues on the Trekking model are certainly a nod in that direction with more aggressive cladding and even a unique front fascia.  While the Trekking model is USA-only now, Fiat says other markets like the model and are asking that it be added to their line-ups as well.  The interiors are differentiated by material usage – hard and soft trim – and color.  But each interior attempts to be a bit playful and engaging.  Attention to detail is very good.

Free UConnect Upgrade for Top Models The UConnect 6.5 system is a free option for the top three models of the 500L for the first model year and uses a Microsoft interface unlike other Chrysler systems (Fiat was an early adopter of the Microsoft interface at a similar time Ford was working with Microsoft on its SYNC system).  From a graphics standpoint it doesn’t come close to the excellent graphics on other UConnect systems that have brilliant graphics and easy to read fonts.  This would be a $1,745 option if you had to buy it, but given the graphics, it might not be worth it.  Maybe that’s why it is free.

Three Negatives May be Killing Points for Some The 500L has Koni frequency selective dampers (shock absorbers) that provide a very stiff ride.  When combined with the small-cushioned firm seats some buyers may object to its ride quality.  The Euro Twin Clutch transmission mated to the 160HP 4-cylinder doesn’t seem very happy.  When accelerating, the engine is either revving too high or bogging down.  It is not very smooth or seamless.  The full automatic coming in early 2014 may eliminate this problem, but right now, prospective buyers may be put off.

Footnote The 500L is produced Fiat’s factory in Kragujevac, Serbia.  You might recognize it as the old Zastava plant that built Yugos even after it was damaged in a NATO bombing raid in 1999 during the Kosovo War.  The Yugo was a version of the old Fiat 128.  Fiat took control of the factory in 2008 and launched Fiat Automobiles Serbia.

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