NEW CAR REVIEW: 2014 Fiat 500L defines sporty versatility

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Three years after Fiat re-introduced its vehicles to the United States via the 500 compact, it’s now unveiled the 2014 Fiat 500L for Lounge and for large.  It’s a five-door compact hatchback wagon with a lot of character, innovation and a unique design.

Fiat isn’t the first manufacturer to experiment with car conformity. Nissan has the Cube. Kia has the Soul. Scion has the xB. And even MINI has strayed from tradition in recent years with the Countryman, its compact wagon.

The Fiat 500L is more than two feet longer than its more well known sibling. It’s equipped with a 1.4-liter, 160-horsepower turbo-charged, four-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic transmission.

The 2014 Fiat 500L is a new style for the Italian automaker.
The 2014 Fiat 500L is a new style for the Italian automaker. Images © James Raia/2013

The Fiat 500L is also among an increasing number of cars with a lot more interior space than it appears from the outside of the car. The new compact wagon is as spacious as many small SUVs. It seems even bigger via is vast supply of windows and large moonscape roof that retracts nearly the entire length of the car.

The Weekly Driver Test Drive

Not everyone likes the feel of driving a Fiat. They’re ideal for the small roads of Italy, of course. But how does the wagon fare on highways and the ever-increasing throes of commuter traffic and in big-city life?

It’s not a concern for the 500L. It still has a sports car feel, but there’s also a sense of security. My test car for the week was the top-line Lounge model. The Fiat 500 standard features list is expansive, but the luxury model also includes: 16-inch wheels, chrome exterior trim and mirrors; heated leather front seats with six-way power adjustments for the driver; dual-zone automatic climate control and an auto-dimming rear view mirror. The Beats audio upgrade, sunroof, spare tire and white with black roof color scheme is optional on the Lounge. Want more sportiness? Optional are 17-inch wheels.

Two impressive qualities are immediately noticeable upon first driving the 500L. Sit anywhere in the car and the vision is near panoramic. The 500L has 10 windows, including a massive front windshield that greatly expands the driver and front passenger’s perspective.

Immediately noticeable also is the interior space. How did Fiat’s designers incorporate so much head and legroom? How can a vehicle with a small exterior be so comfortable and roomy?

Fiat likes to make commercials with its cars showcased on small winding or cobblestone roads. But what if, like the majority of Fiat owners, you’re not driving in an Italian village, but you primarily spend your driving time in commuter traffic and on big open, high-speed freeways?

The Fiat 500L hesitates in early acceleration and it’s quite apparent. But somewhere between 20-30 mph the initial lag wanes and the acceleration quickens. And once approaching highways speed, the Fiat does fine.

With its near panoramic view, the Fiat drives likes it belongs on the road. It grips the road, changes lanes and maneuvers through traffic with confidence.

Likes:

Ten windows, near panoramic vision.

Large console dials and gauges.

Dual-folding 60/40 split rear seats.

Innovative design.

Dislikes:

Not particularly quick from 0-30 mph.

Noisy ride with windows or sunroof open.

Small view in the rear view mirror.

Facts & Figures: 2014 Fiat 500L

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 8.0 seconds.
Airbags: (7)
Fuel economy: 24 mpg (city), 33 mpg (highway), 27 (combined). Six-speed automatic transmission
Horsepower: 160
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $24,195.
Manufacturer’s Web site: www.fiatusa.com
Price As tested: $27,445.
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 4 years/50,000 miles; Powertrain, 4 years/50,000 miles; Corrosion, 7 years/unlimited miles; Roadside Assistance, 4 years/unlimited miles.

What Others Say:

“A new twist on a weinermobile.” —- Dallas Morning News.

“In our view, it’s the interior that will sell the 500L to customers looking for a fuel-efficient utility vehicle with a unique provenance.” — Edmunds.com.

“New for 2014, the Fiat 500L has its drawbacks but this new, larger Fiat’s drivability, utility and value give shoppers a respectable new option among the slew of popular four-door hatchbacks out there.” — Cars.com.

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

“If fun to drive, plenty of cargo space, innovation and good fuel economy are good reasons to buy a car, then the 2014 Fiat 500L is a good car to buy.”

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