By on June 19, 2013

Fiat_Multipla_silver_front

The car you see above is actually not the 2014 Fiat 500L. For most of you, this will be a relief. It’s actually a Fiat Multipla from the mid-1990s. It is ugly. So ugly, in fact, that I love it. I’ve been thinking about importing an LPG-fueled version for use as a daily driver, so that I can fill up at the local taxi garage here for roughly $2/gallon. It’s a terrible idea, I know. Especially when Fiat now sells the Multipla’s successor Stateside.

Fiat500LTrekking

This is the 500L Trekking, a pseudo-crossover version of the 500L. Is the North Americanized version of the old Multipla, in the same way that Domino’s pizza is the dougy, Americanized version of a thin crust Neapolitan Pizza Margherita. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh though. The 500L’s Euro-creds should be enough to excite those who cling to the notion that l’erba è più verde del continente. It is technically a small wagon, at least according to the EPA. It comes in brown, as well as a shade of brown that looks like coffee with a couple creamers added to it. It’s built in the old Yugo factory in Serbia (errm, that might be too European for some people). You can even get an honest-to-goodness three-pedal transmission, but it’s not very good.

For the rest of the populace that harbors no pretensions to living in the Eurozone, there are two automatic gearboxes; an ironically named “Euro Twin Clutch” transmission, and a conventional 6-speed automatic that will be available later on. Fiat couldn’t really give us a straight answer as to why they offered both, but using my mother as a sample size of one, it’s because she found the DSG in my Dad’s old Jetta 2.0T a bit odd after driving automatics all her life. Perhaps Fiat is prepared for an anti-DCT backlash and they tooled up a run of slushboxes. Maybe they couldn’t get the automatics ready in time? I’m not sure. The “Euro Twin-Clutch” is more like a Powershift than a DSG, but there are subtle hints that this transmission is not a conventional torque converter automatic. Tap the throttle after moving your foot over the from the brake and the revs rise briefly as if you were in a real manual. Shifts aren’t particularly quick or snappy, but they are fairly transparent. The DCT is a better choice than the balky, Novocaine-laced manual, and it does a decent job of keeping the 1.4L turbo engine in its proper powerband. Put aside any notions of the 500L sharing an engine with the Abarth. The acceleration of a 1.4T Dart is a better comparison here.

To its credit, the 500L seems massive inside, likely the result of its goofy looking proportions. Headroom is cavernous and the high driving position makes you feel like you’re in something much bigger than a B-segment car. Although I don’t have kids, I can see the appeal of this car for young families living in urban centers where parking space is scarce; you can easily get a couple car seats in and out of the rear seat, as well as the flotsam and jetsam that goes along with the baby, while sitting having room for groceries, dry cleaning and the pricey espresso maker you just bought at Williams-Sonoma.

Yuppie families aside, I’m not sure who will buy this thing or who it’s intended for. Fiat says it’s a way for current 500 owners to grow into the brand, but I’d imagine that a larger crossover might be a more practical option, albeit a less stylish one – and Fiat seems to be counting on the self-consciousness of their customers to keep them in the brand, constantly referring to the 500L as an “emotional purchase”.

Then again, B-segment tall wagon-thingy market isn’t very big, and the 500L isn’t exactly battling against any heavyweights. The Kia Soul isn’t a bad car, but the interior looks cheap and nasty after you get out of the Fiat, and worst of all for the Baby Bjorn crowd, it wears a Kia badge. The Nissan Cube is utterly dreadful in everyway, and the Countryman isn’t far behind in the “biggest turd on sale today” sweepstakes.

The base model “Pop” trim starts at just $20,195, while the top-spec “Lounge” comes in at $27,445. All trims come with Chrysler’s excellent UConnect system (with varying levels of interfaces, from a small headunit to a large touchscreen), and for the first few months of production, Fiat will throw in navigation, a backup camera and park assist on all trim levels above the Pop. Even if Fiat doesn’t sell a lot of these cars, it won’t matter. The 500L rides on Fiat’s new global small wide architecture, which is expected to underpin a whole bunch of new cars, from the upcoming 500X crossover to some new B-Segment Jeeps aimed at Chinese and European customers. Fiat will make their money back on the platform one way or another, the dealers will be kept happy with some additional product and everyone can go home happy.

Except me. Not until I get my Multipla. That’s a face that only a car writer (or Juke owner) could love.

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50 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2014 Fiat 500L...”


  • avatar
    celebrity208

    That Multipla reminds me of Dr. Finklestein from the movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. The designers of that car must have had deadly nightshade in their tea. Ugh!

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Having grown up in the day of the original Fiat Multipla , I think the description you’ve given is good and I hope Fiat makes decent $ on it .

    I rather like old Multiplas , to me they’re a good idea for economical transport of large quantities of people & items in Urban areas , then as now .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    My eyes… where’s the bleach?

  • avatar

    do it, Derek, do it!

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I always loved the pure practicality of the Multipla. I’m not sure I would consider the 500L to be it’s successor though, the Multipla was quite a bit bigger and sat 6 in two rows, IIRC.

    I think the 500L is more crossover than wagon – it is the modern version of a Dodge Colt Vista, can’t remember what the actual Mitsubishi name of that was – Bonkers Space Wagon or some such. Certainly a much better price than the ludicrously expensive Not-So-MINI. Hopefully the 500′s playfulness is intact. Bring on the Abarth version of this!

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      I love the packaging ideas of the 1999 Multipla, but I wonder how much fun it would be to drive on the narrow city streets of many old European cities. The styling is plain old confrontational. There was a time when the Italians could make any consumer good beautiful. That time has passed.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      The Mitsubishi was called Space Wagon, and Chariot, and later Expo. With a bigger engine, the Expo was a decent mini-wagon, as long as you were under 5’10″ and wore smaller than size 8 shoes. With a little more leg and footwell room the Expo might have competed with the Nissan and Toyota tall wagons, especially with the sliding rear doors.

  • avatar
    galloping_gael

    This photo does the Multipla justice….
    https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/UQzpFiMipZ8xxFMK2yXvXNMTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?feat=directlink

  • avatar
    mike1dog

    Just trying to think of a situation where you would carry both a canoe and a bicycle with you.

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      You drop the canoe at the put in. You drive to the pull out and park. Cycle back to the boat. Paddle to the car. Carry boat back to bike. Reconsider hiring an expedition company instead of cycling yourself. :)

    • 0 avatar
      AMC_CJ

      Well, next weekend we’re going on a weekend getaway camping trip that includes a 6-mile canoe trip and some bicycling.

      But we hate tents, so I have a 1977 16ft Camper I restored for these things; and something tells me that 500L wouldn’t be able to pull it.

      They’re trying to go for that young active couple that has nearly $30k to buy a new car and go on adventurous outings with it….. that’s a very small market, and as stated, if it can’t pull our camper I’m not interested. I can’t speak for the other 9 people in the segment though.

      • 0 avatar
        Stumpaster

        Active couple buys condoms. This pregnant bee look-a-like is going to attract the same people as the first xB and the Element – older folks who appreciate function over style. Of course they’d rather have the much more functional Multipla, if only because it is much more interesting in appearance, but in the interim they will continue buying the xB and used Elements while this yellow ugly is going to be bought by hipsters who have a canoe and a Cervello bicycle in their walk-up. Don’t underestimate the buying power of hipsters.

  • avatar
    Astigmatism

    Hey, I get it. It’s a Serbian-Italian Ford C-Max with barely better performance and far worse mileage at the same price. Where do I sign up?

    • 0 avatar
      MrIncognito

      If only the C-Max wasn’t $9000 dollars more than the 500L, this would actually be true. The C-Max is BMW X1 money.

      The 500L is more like a smaller Escape for $2000 cheaper with slightly better mileage and acceleration.

  • avatar
    TheEndlessEnigma

    Looks like they’re trying very very hard to make it look like a Mini.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Given the original FIAT 500 looks kind of like an original Mini, that is not terribly surprising. I do think they could have been a bit more daring and made it look like an original FIAT 600 Multipla though:

      http://www.cartype.com/pages/3752/fiat_600_multipla__1955

      Would be WAAAY more interesting.

      • 0 avatar

        krhodes1, couldn’t agree more, Also, as the 500 came before the Mini, one could say it’s the opposite way around as to who copied whom.

      • 0 avatar
        Nick 2012

        It looks like the original 600 Multipla would easily get a Top Safety Pick Plus from IIHS.

        • 0 avatar
          -Nate

          No ;

          They were deathtraps from day one just like all the other motorized tin cans Europe offered back then .

          I don’t care , if you like it , _DRIVE_ it and if you die , you die .

          Sadly , my buddy M. who’s restored Fiat Multipla is a joy to behold , doesn’t feel safe in it anymore and is selling it , it’ll prolly wind up in a Museum or Private Collection =8-( .

          Life is far too short to sweat the “maybes”
          ~ I’ll continue to ride my Moto and drive my preferred vehicles & safety be damned ~ I keep them in very good nick indeed , the crash that kills me , won’t be my fault , it’ll be the other boob like the gypsy cab driver who crippled me in 2008 and walked away unscathed , physically and financially . I was waiting at a red light.

          If you like this thing , buy it , drive and enjoy it , especially the CNG part .

          -Nate

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    The first pic looks alot like Benny’s Taxi.

    some ADM goodness for us all:
    http://www.youtube DOT com/watch?v=sGQ4XEVp6uI

  • avatar
    ash78

    I was just watching some older Top Gear episodes on Netflix (Series 2-5 were much more entertaining and informative than the current crop, but I digress) and thinking that Fiat needed to extend their line.

    I’d welcome an Americanized Panda and I think it would do well against Fit, Versa, etc. But for the moment, Fiat is selling fashion and exclusivity, not “cheap practicality.” They’re positioning themselves in the US market as nearly the opposite of what they are on the Continent. Sort of like Buick in China…

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    I love the Multipla, particularly the 2nd gen one. When in Italy, I sought these out from the taxi ranks and they have an unbelievable amount of room and tremendous visibility – perfect for dodging insane moped riders on the streets of Rome.

    I’ve got a 2013 Taurus as a rental at the moment. The gap from the rear deck to the top of the rear window is less than 8″ and I feel like I’m driving with a football helmet on and a pair of blinders…the Multipla suffered from no such form over function fail.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I’ll take a 2013 Taurus with gun-slit windows and a bevy of electronic sensors over the monstrosity that is the Multipla. It *is* still possible to design vehicles that offer excellent visibility while still looking pretty. The 2013 Honda Accord is one such example. One needn’t resort to driving a manatee-shaped MPV in order to see one’s surroundings.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Less than 10 years ago, auto reviewers still took note of broad A-pillars and the blind spots they created. This car combines an A-pillar that has a thick cross section perpendicular to the driver’s sight lines with a second set of A(A+?)-pillars out in the windshield itself. I’ve read three reviews of the 500L in two days and nobody has even mentioned their existence.

    • 0 avatar

      Those extra pillars out in the windshield create a small windowlette that actually aides visibility. At least that’s how a Brazilian journalist who reviewed the car described it.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I would stop taking that journalist seriously. Taking a windshield and dividing it with additional pillars does not increase visibility in this or any other physical world.

        • 0 avatar

          I get what you’re saying, but there are minivans and minivans. The Citroen Picasso and Renault Scenic had this feature and it “kind” of helped in parking at least. The Fiat Idea has it too, but in this car it just makes a bad situation worse. I’d have to get into the car to see for myself I guess.

        • 0 avatar
          Beerboy12

          Two thinn pillars that you can see past… Not two fat ones.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            http://topcarslist.com/2014-fiat-500l-review-and-price/2014-fiat-500l-lounge-6/

            It has those too. Keep in mind that this photo was taken from the center of the car rather than the driver’s position, so the impact of the pillars is actually even worse than it looks here.

  • avatar
    bjchase55

    I too think the Multipla is ugly. I also have always wanted one because of it.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    It’s not just the exterior of the Mulipla that’s so ugly I like it…the center stack is a true work of abstract expressionist art.

    All of the necessary elements of a center stack (plus some that aren’t) were stuffed into the barrels of a shotgun, then fired at the dashboard.

    Put this URL into your browser if you haven’t seen what I’m talking about. It’s really something:

    http://www.carstyling.ru/resources/classic/1999-2001_Fiat_Multipla_06.jpg

  • avatar
    geozinger

    If the 500L is a bigger 500, that would put it roughly in the same size category as the original Chrysler minivans. As I loved those vans for their size and practicality, the 500L may be a winner for folks like me.

    Minivans have become oxymorons, or at the least misnomers. I could easily see me shopping one of these in a few years when we downsize all of our stuff.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    I need a small, economical, spacious vehicle for weekend activities. Now if I could have that with a diesel.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    I thought I’d enjoy the isolation chamber that is a loaded 2013 Taurus Limited over my loud and bouncy Honda Fit and the 285 hp V6 would provide some onramp thrills. However, even with the electronic aids, the lack of visibility fundamentally compromises driving enjoyment.

    I can’t drive it in a manner to make what the brits call “suitable progress” or change lanes with confidence (is BLIS working? What if an aircraft carrier is hiding in the blind spot?). Also, I’m terrified I’m going to take out a kid darting out from behind a car or a pedestrian lost in the 59th Street Bridge sized A-pillar.

    My eyes and brain are far better than any electronic aid, and no electronic aid can see little feet under a parked car getting ready to cross the street.

    I’m looking forward to trading a powerful v6, heated/cooled leather seats, MyInappropriateFordTouch, remote start, etc to feel like I can drive with confidence again.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    There’s someone with Fiat bias here… and it creeps way into the comments of any article containing the words Fiat, Chrysler, 500, 500L, or Italy.

  • avatar
    wmba

    My friend at the Chrysler dealer wanted me to see the 500l today, so I dutifully trotted in. It is an extremely ugly car from the front to my eyes. Inside, it is big and nattily styled, but hard black plastic is the material highlight. The drivers seat feels wobbly due to one’s nether cheeks each resting on their own pontoon of foam. Move a bit and it’s not comfy.

    On the other hand, they’re cheapish, so maybe that will help. Will drive one next week after they’re PDI’d. Only doing that to humor my friend.

    VIN numbers started with ZA, so that’s Italian assembly, not the VX of Serbia.

    Another winner for Marcelo!


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