With the Fiat 500L, the Italian automaker answers a question that we’re not sure was ever asked: Can you make the iconic little compact just a little bigger?
Not a whole lot, mind you, just enough to give the backseat passengers more room and their own door without compromising on cargo capacity?
As a matter of fact, yes.
The 500L wagon, which joins the 500 and 500c, 500 Abarth and 500c Abarth, and 500e (for electric) hatchback in the Fiat portfolio, is all-new for 2014 and with two extra feet in length, offers as much interior space as many full-size sedans.
But it still retains the funking styling that made the original 500 a hit when brought to the U.S. in 2011 as a 2012 model.
With the extra heft, Fiat bumped horsepower and torque up to 160 and 184 pound-feet, respectively, by placing a 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine in all trim levels for the 500L.
Those numbers are similar to those for the hopped-up but smaller 500 Abarth (160 hp and 170 lb.-ft, respectively), and a significant step up from figures for the base 500 model. Horsepower and torque numbers for the 500 are 101 and 98, respectively, for models with normally aspirated four-cylinder engines and 135 and 150 for those with turbocharged engines.
The 500L consumes fuel at the rate of 25 miles-per-gallon city, 33 highway when equipped with a manual transmission, 24/33 with the automated manual (more on the transmission later). Numbers for the base 500 are 28/34 with the six-speed automatic and 31/40 with the five-speed manual.
Regular or 87 octane fuel is considered acceptable for the 500L, though 91 octane is preferred.
The 500L comes in four trim levels: Pop, Easy, Trekking, and Lounge with the Pop version carrying an MSRP of under $20,000 ($19,900, including the $800 destination and delivery charge).
The top-of-the-line Lounge model starts at $24,995 with extras like a power sunroof with a contrasting Nero (black roof), upgraded sound system, and 16-inch painted aluminum wheels running the final tab up to $27,445.
A bonus: During the first year of production, Fiat is offering a no-charge Premier Package of options with Easy, Trekking, and Lounge models that include a rear-park assist system, navigation with a 6.5-inch screen backup camera and Uconnect 6.5 for voice operation many of the technological features. Fiat labels it a package worth $1,700. But time is running out, so hustle on down if you’re interested.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard on 500L Pop, Easy, and Trekking models, and a Euro Twin Clutch automated manual transmission is optional on those trims and standard on the 500L Lounge model. It operates as a six-speed automatic, but can be shifted manually via the lever on the console.
As noted, the big attraction for the 500L is the extra size it delivers. Front-seat riders get 40.0 inches of legroom, and those in the back get 36.7 inches. The 54.6 inches of shoulder room in the back provides enough space to accommodate three children or two adults, and, of course, with the four-door configuration, there’s no twisting or contortions needed to get back there.
Storage room also is a big plus. There is 22.4 cubic feet of capacity behind the second row. Fold those back seats and the 500L offers up a maximum capacity of 68 cubic feet.
Styling pretty much always comes down to a matter of taste, but the 500L does offer a distinctive look with a bit of European flair that sets it apart from the bland features that are typically associated with the compact class.
A wide variety of interior colors are offered, and Trekking and Lounge models come with optional premium leather seats.
The downside: There are a lot of hard plastic surfaces throughout.
For a look at the Fiat 500L and some other specs, check out the accompanying slide show.