2014 Fiat 500L Sport
2014 Fiat 500L Sport
2014 Fiat 500L Sport. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Steven Bochenek

When introducing sidelines, marketers reverently use the jargon, “brand extension”, expecting a pat on the head from their clients though it summarizes the obvious prosaically.

Sometimes brand extensions work: consider Nike taking on hockey equipment. Others? Think New Coke.

As a downtowner, I love the smallness and tight driving dynamics of the less new (but nonetheless new) Fiat 500, introduced in 2011. The new extended 500L, I was less convinced about at first. It’s really big, or grande if you like the Italianesque spin that markets this brand.

Then it occurred: it ain’t about me. Most people in Canada, especially ones with families and pets to transport, don’t live in centro de la citta. Despite our bitching about crowded roads, we hosers still love our oversized rides. So, similar to Starbucks copping the word grande to caffeinate North Americans – effectively supersizing Italian culture where coffee is enjoyed in thimbles with handles – Fiat’s given us the venti model we expect.

Until the 500L, the main reasons you’d have chosen one were the styling, size and driving dynamics – probably in that order (though each is interrelated and affects one another). Let’s examine how those characteristics have been extended and how it works.

Outside styling: Mi scusi?

Okay, so the 500L’s easier to get into. They added two doors and grew the basic 500 model from 3,547 mm to 4,249 mm. The wheelbase (the distance between the centre of the front and back wheels) increased from 2,300 mm to 2,612 mm. They played with other dimensions, further modifying the appearance, adding 151 mm vertically for a total height of 1,670. From three-quarter angles it’s still recognizable but from the side, nope. In short, they took a 500 and elongated it to accommodate space-hungry North Americans.

With its flattened roof, the 500’s iconic drumlin shape morphed into Masada.

It’s not that they’ve given up on the exterior. There are plenty of interesting details like the signature tapering out from the nose and those 500-branded bullet-shaped headlights. You simply have to look up close to notice these – like the groovy nozzle attached to the gasoline door, which replaces your traditional threaded twist-cap. It gives a little sucking pop noise when you yank it open. Charming.

2014 Fiat 500L Sport2014 Fiat 500L Sport
2014 Fiat 500L Sport. Click image to enlarge

It’s just that, overall, the look isn’t pleasing. And of course, there’s me missing the point! The 500L wasn’t created to be looked at right in the middle of the city. It’s for slightly farther out – for going to the mall, perhaps North America’s greatest gift to the world!

And like a mall, for some reason no one ever really cares what the hulking exterior looks like. So prepare yourself to go inside. The designers got that brand extension very right.

Inside styling: Ciao bella!

It’s beautiful inside and calming. The 500’s funky metal-faced dash is finished here with a fuzzy suede-ish covering. It may sound odd but works, preserving the same broad retro feel. The bold and contrasting cream, black and red throughout the interior are impossible not to like. It’s like sitting in a gelato bar.

In the front, it still feels like you’re in the ultra-cool Cinquecento. In the back, thankfully, it doesn’t! Other 500 models eschew the comfort of the rear passengers. Instead the 500L feels almost like you’re in the front when it comes to legroom – less so in the middle – but more about the size later.

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