The Car I Learned About Today: The 2014- Fiat 500L
Photo: Fiat USA
The Car I Learned About Today: 2014 - Fiat 500L
Here in Florida, we are always worried about what the coming summer will bring us. Tropical Storms... Oppressive Heat... Mosquitoes...
This year, summer's also scheduled to bring us the new 4 Door Fiat 500L.
First off, The 500L has an attractive European style that we don't usually get here in the US. Comparisons to the Mini Countryman come to mind immediately (and we will see that these comparisons extend to more than just looks.) In a base-model to base-model comparison, it may actually win the curb appeal contest.
Inside, the Fiat 500L wins by a much larger margin. Instead of the Childish oversized center speedometer of the Countryman, we find a practical, attractive, and sporty dash. Even if you don't opt for Navigation, or the premium Beats audio, you get a usable Electronic Vehicle Information Center (EVIC) as opposed to the postage-stamp-sized LCD on the Mini.
Another cool touch of "European" is the optional full-roof (OK, nearly full roof) Sunroof, an option which, to be fair, is also available on the Mini Countryman.
So from a distance, or from inside, the 500L looks better than the Mini offering, but how about from the ways I look at a car? How does it look under the "bonnet", and from underneath?
Even the base model Fiat 500L comes with an advanced, 1.4L Turbocharged "MultiAir" engine. Actually, it's the only engine available in the US, but it produces 160 HP. The base Mini comes with a larger (but non-turbo) engine that produces significantly less horsepower. Curb weights for the 500L were not officially advertised as of this writing, but basically, it means the entry level Countryman is going to be a bit of a dog compared to a base 500L.
Both the Mini and the 500L couple their power plants to modern, efficient 6 speed automatic or manual transmissions.
But if we look a little deeper, the Mini's BMW progenitors show their contributions, and the Fiat starts to fall behind.
Moving past the base model, the Mini Countryman S catches up with a turbo. The bigger displacement is now meaningful, and we get 181 hp.
If we take a figurative walk down into the pit, and look up at each car's suspension, we'll find that it's actually the Mini Countryman that's looking up.
Up front, both vehicles have McPherson struts with cast lower control arms. As we would expect from the Germans, the Mini's demonstrates more engineering, and a further (and firmer) suspension upgrade is available if you opt for that "S" at the end of the name. As of this writing, no such upgrade is available for the 500L.
Rear suspensions, however are totally different designs, and this is where we see one of the "You get what you pay for" aspects of the Mini's. The Mini will give you an multi-link trailing arm system with aluminum components.
In comparison, the Fiat has a primitive stamped steel torsion bar setup that's not even a true independent suspension. It's supposed to be an upgrade from what we have seen on the regular 500's, but it's still more like something you'd see on a 1990's mini van.
Now I'll be the first to admit that especially on a front wheel drive vehicle, front suspensions are more important than rear suspensions, but in terms of handling, ride quality, and even accident avoidance maneuvers, there is a difference. I'm not saying that the Fiat's rear suspension is dangerous, but I am saying that there are demonstrable scenarios (such as the "Moose Test") where I would wager that it could be shown to make a difference.
The Mini also gives you better wheel and tire choices across the board.
So with the exception of an under-engineered under-carriage, the new Fiat 500L looks promising. If your on a budget, and you're looking at the base model, you get a lot more for your money from Fiat. If, however, your looking more upmarket, and planning on decking out a 500L, move over to the Mini Countryman S instead, and if you have any money left, upgrade from there.
*This article contains information labeled as "pre-production" for the Fiat 500L.
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