Motoring: Fiat pumps up the volume

Fiat 500L is built on a new B-segment “small wide” platform with room for five and 42 per cent more interior space.

For customers who want rugged  styling and the versatility of a sport utility vehicle

For customers who want rugged styling and the versatility of a sport utility vehicle

BALTIMORE, MD:  Fiat is expanding its footprint in the Canadian market in more ways than one with the introduction of the five-door 2014 500L.

The 500L is the second car in the Canadian Fiat lineup, but it more than just a stretched version of the iconic Cinquecento (500) that was introduced here in 2011.

It is a brand new vehicle, built on a new B-segment “small wide” platform with room for five and 42 per cent more interior space.

While somewhat boxy and quirky like the this generation of the iconic 500 that has sold more than one million units since its global launch in 2007, the 500L is 660 mm (26 inches) longer, 152 mm (6 inches) wider and taller.

Right out of the gate, the 500L comes well equipped in one of four different trim levels, starting at $19,995.

Fiat calls the 500L a multipurpose vehicle and one could look at it as a modern take on the venerable old station wagon, similar to the Kia Soul, Scion xB, Mazda 5 and MINI Cooper Clubman. Fiat says the 500L was designed from the inside out, aimed at buyers who love the cutesy 500 but need more space.

The 500L is assembled in Serbia at a former Yugo plant and is powered by a 160 hp MultiAir turbocharged 1.4-litre SOHC inline four-cylinder engine. This is the same engine that powers the track-ready Fiat 500 Abarth and the Dodge Dart. The engine comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed Euro twin clutch automatic ($1,450). A conventional six-speed automatic will be offered later on in the model year.

Multipurpose is actually a good tag for the 500L because it does offer versatility with an adjustable load floor at the rear and 60/40 split rear seats that flip and tumble to offer more luggage volume.

The exterior design harkens back to a Fiat of the ’50s and ‘60s, the Fiat 600 Multipla, yet it also has several design cues from the current Fiat 500.

One of the beauties of the 500L is the opportunity for customization with dozens of colour combinations, including three roof colours, and funky Euro interior designs.

Two things about the interior strike you immediately when you sit down in the cockpit. First, there’s lots of room, unlike the 500, which feels and is, quite tiny. Also, the amount of light that comes in the greenhouse-like expanse of glass on the 500L makes it an inviting place to be.

Add to that a panoramic dual-pane power sunroof that is a $1,200 option available on all but the base Pop model and you’ll almost feel you’re in an open-air convertible.

The 500L has a modern looking interior with two large round gauges front and centre and a strange shaped steering wheel that the Italian designers refer to as a “squircle” because it looks like a square within a circle. It’s hard to describe but to easy to grip.

The seats are also comfy, although I would prefer a bit more length on the bottom seat cushion for my longer legs. Otherwise, the interior is very nicely finished and quiet on the road, even with the audio system off as my driving partner and I preferred it.

It’s not a sports car, but it does gobble up corners as we discovered during a drive through winding roads in the countryside south of the city. We drove both a twin clutch automatic Lounge model and after lunch, an entry-level Pop with manual transmission. Both were engaging and fun to drive.

The rear hatchback makes for handy loading and unloading and it has a neat grab handle for easy closing. The back seats fold and tumble easily and also have 12 cm of fore and aft travel.

Cargo volume is 605 litres with the rear seats upright and 1,268 litres with the seats folded.

The Pop is loaded with standard features like air conditioning, cruise control, a body-coloured instrument panel, six-speaker AM/FM audio system with hands-free communication, tilt/telescoping steering column, steering wheel mounted audio controls, 16-inch steel wheels with covers, power windows/locks/mirrors, seven airbags, remote keyless entry, Electronic Stability Control with Hill Start Assist, four-wheels antilock disc brakes, tire pressure monitor and engine block heater.

The 500L Sport ($22,995) adds heated front sport cloth seats, 17-inch aluminum wheels, sport suspension, rear armrest with cupholder, automatic temperature control, Sirius satellite radio (one year free subscription), front centre console, fog lamps and power four-way driver’s lumbar support.

For a more rugged lock, the 500L Trekking ($23,995) has premium cloth seats, 17-inch aluminum wheels, unique front and rear fascia, body-colour fascia accents, bodyside moulding and door handles and painted instrument panel.

On the top rung of the trim ladder is the 500L Lounge ($25,995) with leather-face seats, premium vinyl-wrapped instrument panel, power driver and passenger four-way lumbar support, chrome bodyside moulding, six premium speakers, rear park assist and rear back-up camera.

Among the options is a premium Beats audio system ($995), navigation system ($495) and white or black Nero roof ($500).

The 500L is available at dealers as this is written in mid-June and early buyers can take advantage of a couple of launch packages.

Buyers of the 500L Sport get a no-charge Beats premium audio system, while Lounge purchasers get the audio system plus the dual pane sunroof at no charge, a $2,195 incentive.

Chrysler Canada is hoping the 500L will bring newcomers to the brand as 84 per cent of Fiat 500 purchasers have been new to the Chrysler family.

But it also may be a move-up vehicle for current Fiat 500 owners who love the car, but have the need for more space.

Fiat 500L 20145

Body Style: five-door hatchback.

Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel drive.

Engine: 1.4-litre SOHC 16-valve turbocharged MultiAir inline four-cylinder engine (160 hp, 184 lb/ft of torque) with a six-speed manual or six-speed Euro twin clutch automatic transmission.

Cargo Volume: 605 litres, 1,268 with rear seat folded.

Fuel Consumption: 8.0L/100 km city, 6.0L/100 km hwy with six-speed manual; 8.7/6.0 with Euro twin clutch automatic.

Price: $19,995 to $25,995.

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