The Fiat 500L, which made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show last month, heralds a series of multi-purpose vehicles and is an indication of the future for Fiat’s ‘500’ sub-brand.
When it launched the Fiat 500 in 2007, the firm unashamedly followed the example of Mini in its presentation and marketing, making it a must-have fashion item and resulting in the 500 becoming its best-selling model in Europe.
Fiat has rejected the idea of creating a stand-alone brand like Mini, but believes that there is scope to extend the 500 family beyond the Panda-based A-sector model. The 500L (the ‘L’ stands for Large) can be seen as its equivalent of the Mini Countryman – at a lower price.
The 4140mm 500L is 50mm longer and 100mm taller than the Countryman and a more typical compact MPV, though with conventional doors and only five seats. Fiat design chief Roberto Giolito, the ‘father’ of the 500, has adopted the original car’s ‘smiling face’ for the enlarged model, which is spacious and has a light and airy interior, thanks to deep windows, narrow, twin A-pillars and a panoramic glass roof. It includes new finishes and materials of high quality that are claimed to be durable and easy to clean. As with the current 500, there will be three distinct trim levels – Pop, Easy and Lounge - and a wide range of options provide plenty of scope for personalization.
The 500L is built on a development of the Punto Evo platform which Fiat calls ‘Small Wide’ and will be used for a variety of future vehicles in the Fiat-Chrysler group, including the new Fiat and Jeep SUV to be made in Turin. The 500L will be the second Fiat model to be sold in North America.
A seven-seater version, 200mm longer but on the same wheelbase, will be introduced in 2014; it is expected to be tagged XL. Future variants will include a more rugged ‘Cross’ version, front-wheel drive but with sophisticated traction control to make it suitable for mild off-roading.
The 500L is being made in Serbia, at the entirely re-furbished and re-equipped former Zastava plant in Kragujevac that was officially opened on 16 April. The five-door model will go on sale in mainland Europe in the autumn. There will be a choice of two petrol engines (0.9 litre Twin Air and 1.4 four-cylinder) and two diesels (1.3 and 1.6).
Right-hand drive cars for the UK will be available early next year. Prices can be expected to start at around £15,000.