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July 28, 2013

Fiat goes large with roomy all-new 500L

Compared to its tiny sibling, the 500, Fiat’s all-new 500L looks like an exploded airbag.

It’s not an illusion. Though it bears a family resemblance to the 500, the four doors and a hatchback on the 500L surround an interior space of 120 cubic feet, right at the threshold of the EPA’s large car classification.

The 2014 full-size Chevrolet Impala has 124 cubic feet of interior space and an overall length of 16 feet 9 inches. The 500L stretches to 13 feet 11 inches.

In contrast, the interior volume of the baby 500 is 85 cubic feet and it’s two inches shy of 12 feet long, which means that the two-door runabout has barely enough space in the back seat to carry a couple of children.

The two vehicles do not share any parts except for the 500L’s engine, which is the same as on the Fiat Abarth, the high-performance version of the 500. It’s a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder that delivers 160 horsepower to the front wheels.

On the Abarth, the power gets there through a five-speed manual gearbox; on the 500L, there’s a choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed twin clutch automatic. The latter combines two gearboxes controlled by a computer to shift automatically.

The 500L is marketed as a compact station wagon, European style, though its tall profile also qualifies it as a crossover. It delivers space for five passengers and actually has a reasonably comfortable center-rear seating position, a rarity in vehicles nowadays.

There’s enough headroom so old western movie stars like Gene Autry and Tom Mix wouldn’t have to doff their 10-gallon hats, plenty of space for the knobbiest knees, and there’s 21 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seatback, about as much as the trunk in a Lincoln Town Car. Folding the rear seatback adds another 45 cubic feet. The seatback is divided 60-40 for added utility.

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