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

Review by Paul Williams, photos by Paul Williams and courtesy Chrysler

When the modern Fiat 500 was introduced to North America as a 2012 model, you knew there were going to be variants. So it was that the Cabrio and sporty Abarth followed in quick succession, with the long-wheelbase 500L making the tour of last year’s auto shows.

Honestly, in my opinion the 500L seemed – literally and figuratively – a bit much. The 500 is a tiny car and its reputation as a cute runabout with appealing if diminutive dimensions would seem compromised by plus-sizing it. That was my first reaction, anyway.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Turns out the 2014 Fiat 500L, which starts at $19,995 for the “Pop” version, is enhanced by bulking up (not that we’re talking serious bulk here; the 500L is still a small car), offering plenty of room for five adults and decent cargo capacity as well. This I learned after driving it at Chrysler’s annual model preview, recently held at the company’s Chelsea Proving Grounds outside Detroit.

What you have is a significant jump in size compared with the 500. The 500L adds a full 686 mm in length, and 152 mm in both height and width.

Why go long wheelbase? It’s all about expanding the reach of the brand, and selling more Fiats, according to Jason Stoicevich, Head of Fiat Brand North America,

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2014 Fiat 500L. Click image to enlarge

“The all-new Fiat 500L expands the reach of the Fiat brand in North America, appealing to customers who like the contemporary Italian style of the Fiat 500 but need more space and functionality to match their lifestyle needs,” he explains.

Of course, the extra length adds a couple of doors, making the 500L more passenger-friendly than the coupe, while providing extra cargo room. With 42 percent extra interior space, Fiat says the 500L has best-in-class interior volume, best-in-class front head and shoulder room and best-in-class rear cargo space (with back seats up).

Power is up, too. The standard 500 makes 101 hp and 98 lb-ft of torque; this version makes 160 hp and 184 lb-ft torque from its 1.4L turbocharged “MultiAir” four-cylinder engine. A six-speed manual or six-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission is available.

Like the 500, the 500L is front-wheel drive and is equipped with disc brakes all around. It weighs in at 1,453 kg (3,203 lb) for the manual transmission model, which is 385 kg heavier than the coupe. That’s a significant increase.

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2014 Fiat 500L. Click image to enlarge

We drove the automatic version and the first impression is one of space. Not interior space, mind you, but exterior visibility in every direction. This vehicle seems surrounded by glass, giving the driver and passengers an almost unobstructed 360-degree panoramic view of the world outside.

It is, actually, something of a classic car experience. One isn’t used to this much light and this much outward visibility in modern vehicles with their wide A-pillars and vision-obstructing rear pillars (especially in hatchbacks and small SUVs).

The Fiat 500L, in contrast, will give drivers an excellent view of the surrounding traffic, and completely obviates the need for electronic parking aids in my view. Drive a 500L and all of a sudden, you’ll be able to parallel park!

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