After a long hiatus, Fiat returned to the U.S. market in 2011 with the adorably iconic 500, also known as the Cinquecento. Many Americans admired the car, but rejected it as being too small for our supersized country.
So it will come as little surprise that for its second U.S. model, Fiat has introduced a larger dose of Italian style, the 2014 Fiat 500L.
The 500L is a five-door vehicle that's 27 inches longer, 6 inches taller and 6 inches wider than the Cinquecento.
The car's expansive feeling is due to the extensive use of glass, not just on the side of the car, but also on the roof, where an enormous panoramic sunroof enhances the feeling of space.
Like so many things on this car, Fiat has nailed the details pretty well. Inside, there are plenty of playful modern design touches. The steering wheel is circular on the outside but square on the inside, mimicking the shape of the Fiat logo on the front of the car. The steering wheel houses redundant controls for various audio and cruise-control functions that are easy to understand and operate. The same can be said of the infotainment system, which controls audio, navigation, Bluetooth and other functions.
Climate controls, whether manual or automatic, are regulated by three simple knobs with buttons in their centers. It's an easy and elegant solution, like so many design touches throughout the car.
The seats are comfortably high and supportive, although they lack aggressive side bolsters to hold you in place while cornering. Legroom is generous in both rows. Headroom, however, may be tight for taller passengers in the rear seat. Thoughtfully, the second-row seats don't just fold flat to expand cargo room; they also slide backward and forward.
The engine, a 1.4-liter turbocharged four, is the same one that's used in the Dodge Dart. Its 160 horsepower is fed through the front wheels. Regardless of model, you'll find there's plenty of power for the daily grind of schlepping people and things.
The 500L's handling isn't quite as athletic or as fun as a Mini Countryman, but it's still very tossable and enjoyable to drive. The 500L exhibits more body lean in turns than the Mini does, which isn't unexpected given the 500L's heritage.
But the Fiat's ride is much more comfortable than the Mini's and better suited for day-in/day-out comfort. It's sporting, yet compliant. Given the neglect of some of our highways, most drivers will find the trade-off to be worth it.
The 500L oozes a modern, quirky, European character while providing space and fuel efficiency in a petite size and price point that's hard to match.
2014 Fiat 500L
Base price: $19,100
Price as tested: $25,545
Engine: Turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder
Wheelbase: 102.8 inches
Length: 167.5 inches
Weight: 3,254 pounds
Cargo space : 21.3 cubic feet
EPA fuel economy: 24 mpg city/33 highway
Bottom line: Quirky modern, attractively priced