The iconic Fiat 500 grows up
Despite being so new to the market, the 500L already has a huge competitive edge.
I recently spent some time driving what I nicknamed the “Little Red Rocket”. It’s a bit of an ironic name, considering it’s neither little nor a rocket. The all-new 2014 Fiat 500L is the big brother to the 500 that I’ve now become accustomed to seeing all over our roads. Though a quirky and fun little car, the Fiat 500 is far too small to be considered practical for any more than two people at any given time. The 500L is supposed to be Fiat’s answer to the question nobody really asked – just how big can a 500 be before it becomes awkward-looking.
Nobody can go as far as to call the Fiat 500L ‘gorgeous’. It’s a decent looking vehicle that clearly values function over form. I’ll add a small disclaimer here – this class of vehicle has never exactly appealed to me. The Nissan Juke and Mini Countryman S that we’ve recently tested were decent enough to drive, but if I were the one signing the purchase agreement, it would be a Volkswagen hatchback or something with a Subaru badge on it. My first opinion on the aesthetics of the 500L was that it looks like a bare-bones version of the Mini Countryman. In fact, there are uncanny resemblances between the two cars that are extremely surprising.
Where the 500L excels over the Mini Countryman is in the interior room department. Though the numbers don’t exactly suggest that it’s much more spacious than its German rival, the Fiat’s large greenhouse-like windows and great sightlines make it feel much roomier than it actually is. It’s actually quite reminiscent of the (much uglier) Fiat Multipla of the 90s. My tester was a 500L Sport in one of the most intense shades of red I had ever come across; Fiat refers to it as “Rosso Perla”. The interior was a two-tone grey and red setup that matched the red exterior quite well. In fact, I particularly like the interior because I feel as though the color adds to the bright and roomy feeling that the 500L exudes.
Okay, enough about the colours. The 500L Sport is powered by a 1.4L MultiAir turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. Sound familiar? It should, because we have also driven other Chrysler applications with this engine; namely the Fiat 500 Abarth and the Dodge Dart Rallye. In this application, the engine puts out 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. It’s a properly linear power curve and you don’t actually feel the turbo lag. The size of the 500L means it doesn’t feel like as much of a rocketship as the Abarth, but city maneuvering is as easy as it can be.
The 500L scoots around very smoothly. It’s not fast by any means, but it’s adequately quick. Lane changes are seamless with its large windows and virtually non-existent blind spots. Driving around downtown Toronto was incredibly easy; dodging taxis and oblivious bicyclists has never been easier for me. The Mini Countryman we tested with the John Cooper Works package was tight and nimble, but it felt a bit harsh. This Fiat 500L Sport didn’t feel as harsh, but also lacked the tight and nimble feeling. Piloting this thing with the odd square-shaped steering wheel is strangely satisfying. One point I did notice is how sensitive the brakes are. The pedal isn’t overly boosted, but the 500L was capable of stopping on a dime during one instance where a taxi driver felt as though his time was more important than mine.
The 1.4L MultiAir was coupled to a double-clutch (six-speed) transmission that, apart from paying homage to our website name, is awesome to use. It’s not as quick to shift as the S-Tronic box in the Audi applications or the DCT in the BMW M-cars we’ve had recently, but it’s definitely noticeably more fun and efficient than a conventional automatic. As a driving purist, I’d like to see how the manual drives, but I can understand that the majority of 500L sales will be of the automatic/double clutch variety. The efficiency showed; the 500L returned 8.2L/100km during my week of spirited driving in the city. Not bad in the slightest, especially for a turbocharged vehicle.
This 2014 Fiat 500L brought out the inner geek in me. The in-car technology kept me preoccupied for the rest of the week and discouraged me from driving this thing as spiritedly as I would have its two-door sibling with the raspy exhaust note. The uConnect seamlessly transmitted Bluetooth from my cell phone to the car; iPod connectivity is seamless, and the USB port is easily accessible. My particular tester kept asking for a code to activate its navigation system, but I can personally attest to the fact that Chrysler’s navigation setup is one of the most user-friendly systems in the industry. The interior layout overall is pretty well thought-out. Nothing really came as a surprise to me; nothing felt out of place. My car was also equipped with a panoramic sunroof, which added to the premium feel of the big Fiat.
Despite being so new to the market, the 500L already has a huge competitive edge. Completely loaded, my Sport tester came in under $30,000. In just under two years, Fiat has done a wonderful job as establishing its image as a brand in Canada; the cars are now selling like hotcakes. Its connection to Chrysler means that Fiat isn’t exactly treated as a newbie to the market anymore. In terms of value, a fully-loaded Mini Countryman S with the John Cooper Works package comes in at over $50,000. This thing is 90% as much fun and slightly more practical; it’s hard for the Mini to stay competitive at this rate. Undoubtedly though, the car made by BMW feels better, heavier, and more confident. It’s like comparing the Grand Caravan to the Odyssey though; if value is important, one of the options is better. If you can afford the price premium though, the Countryman is hard to say no to.
2014 Fiat 500L Sport Gallery