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Motoring: Family-friendly Fiat 500L

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | March 31st, 2014

The Italian car firm Fiat has not only taken controlling share of Chrysler Corporation recently, it has also started selling cars under its own banner in the Canadian market.

Fiat was reintroduced into the Canadian market just a few years ago, with just one model, the cutesy 500, which was originally introduced as a three-door hatchback. Soon, a convertible model (500c) hit the market, followed by the Turbo and Abarth models.

All these variants were great, but since they were all based on the same body, it meant that the 500 would remain a choice for only those who don't have a family to haul around.

So, if you wanted a Fiat 500, but needed more practicality, you were out of luck.

Fiat introduced a new model in its line-up a few months ago called the 500L.

This is a much bigger vehicle compared to the original 500 — it is so big that I think it should have been named the 1000.

The 500L bears little resemblance to its siblings, as this one has four proper doors, plus a big rear hatch. It is also much taller and a bit wider than the standard 500, which helps with practicality.

Step inside and the initial impression I got was that it felt like I had just gotten into a minivan. It's elevated driving position, plus all the glass certainly gives it that feel. So, this is not like a wagon, call it a mini-minivan similar to a Mazda5 or the Ford C-Max.

So how does it compare?

The 500L is certainly the most attractive of this trio. However, most people who approached it thought it was another MINI model, like the Countryman — and I agree with them.

The interior is very spacious for five occupants, and the trunk can swallow a lot of groceries also. The thing that will help sell this model is its interior design. Compared to its competition, the 500L's interior is full of clever storage bins, and the dashboard and centre console has a much more attractive look. Sitting in the 500L does make you smile, and that is something that is missing from most mass market vehicles.

It's also much more fun to drive. The only engine offered in the 500L currently is the 1.4-litre, four-cylinder, turbo charged motor that produces 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Power is fed to only the front wheels via either a six-speed manual or a six-speed twin-clutch automatic.

My tester had the latter transmission, which certainly takes a bit of getting used to. It is a bit jerky at slow speeds, it really doesn't like cold mornings and when using the manual feature, even at highways speeds, the shift times were not very impressive. From a transmission standpoint, the 500L is OK, not great. Thankfully, a proper automatic is planned for this model in the future, which should help smooth things out.

As for ride and handling, the 500L is nothing like the regular 500 model. It feels a lot softer and its responses are quite dull in comparison. However, since this model is aimed at families, sharp handling is not that high on the list of important features.

The 500L does well in the fuel economy department. I had my tester in one of the coldest weeks of the year, it wore proper winter tires, and it still managed a city and highway combined rating of 10.2 litres/100km. In the summer, I bet you can easily shave 2.0 litres from that number.

It is priced well too, starting at just $19,995.

The 2014 Fiat 500L might not be perfect, but if you're looking for a family vehicle that has a bit more character than most, then you should take a close look at this model.
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