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If you're a fan of the all-Italian style of the Fiat 500 but think it's just a little too much of an automotive Speedo for your needs, don't worry. Fiat's got you covered.
The 2014 Fiat 500L is the automaker’s latest model, and the “L” stands for large. Which it is, at least compared to the regular 500.
Part of a growing segment of small multipurpose vehicles that includes the equally snazzy MINI Countryman and Kia Soul, the colorful 500L has seating for five, a decent amount of cargo room and a high-fashion cabin complete with a rectangular emergency brake handle and a steering wheel that appears to be square, but isn’t.
The exterior design, too, is unique: a mix of retro and modern elements dressed with lots of chrome and that can be topped with a contrasting white roof. The web of pillars holding it up accommodate 10 panes of glass -- not counting the two for the optional panoramic sunroof -- that make you feel like you’re driving around in a gazebo or bubble umbrella.
The rear seats are raised a couple of inches to give back seat passengers an even better view. They slide and recline for added comfort and tumble forward to make room for large objects. On the floor behind them you’ll find a long, narrow, hidden compartment that appears to have been perfectly designed to carry a couple of boxes of spaghetti or linguini – and not much else.
Although it’s got a mini SUV look, the 500L is available only with front-wheel drive and is powered by the same 160 hp turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine used in the sporty 500 Abarth and Dodge Dart Aero. It can be ordered with a six-speed manual or six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission that came in my test car.
It’s a lively performer, but the engine needs to rev hard to make things happen. Fortunately an appealing growl accompanies it as it does, but the transmission can be a little lazy about shifting, even when you’ve got it in manual mode.
Fuel economy is strong for a car in this class at 33 mpg highway, and while it leans a fair amount around curves, the 500L has much better body control than its tall, narrow proportions would suggest.
Prices start at $19,995, which is in the middle of the super cute SUV pack, but can quickly rise to over $28G as you move up through the trim levels and add options that include navigation and a crystal clear, pre-Apple Beats audio system.
Overall, the 500L is a very enjoyable, if quirky car with a European flavor like few other vehicles on the road today. It’s hard to drive this and not feel like you’re on vacation.
And that may be its biggest problem. While the little 500 is much the same, it’s also the perfect size for urban living, while the objective qualities of the 500L aren’t very unique. You can get something similar for less money or a far larger car for the same price.
Then there’s that Dodge Dart. Despite its combination of power and a 40 mpg fuel economy rating, Americans have found the turbo powertrain’s traits to be too foreign, largely passing on it for the more conventional models.
Of course, sometimes it’s fun to wear a Speedo, even if it’s a little big.
2014 Fiat 500L
Base Price: $19,995
As Tested: $28,245
Type: 5-door, 5-passenger crossover
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Power: 160 hp, 184 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
MPG: 24 city/33 hwy