By Matt Davis
Practicality From The Italian Ministry of Cute
As seen in the correct Italian/European light, Fiat is rightly dubbed a small car kingdom. This is not the marque’s whole story, though, and it’s certainly not a way Fiat appreciates being pigeonholed. But even the brand itself sort of has to admit that, in the end, without clever and right-priced smaller cars in its lineup, it might not even exist today.
Between the early 1980s and the dawn of the 21st century, however, the Fiat brand seemingly did everything it could to wreck itself and its core compact-car reputation by producing a series of certifiably unamazing cars that mostly looked drab and behaved below average. Just go have a gander at the Ritmo, the Uno, the Duna, the 1992-98 Cinquecento, 2004-07 Seicento/600, and the most recent European mega-flop, the Stilo, discontinued in 2008. Thankfully, almost right out of the gates since the mid-aughts, however, that has no longer been the case.
Jammed in this self-inflicted Catch-22 of small-car dependence, Fiat finally started capitalizing on the millstone hanging around its neck and turned it into a positive with the introduction of the new 500 back in 2007. The 500 and its wildly popular Abarth interpretations have allowed Fiat to at last create good premium-subcompact profits because these cars have become personalized trend and fashion statements worldwide.
Now I’ve driven this cheeky 2014 Fiat 500L mini-MPV, which should arrive in the US by the end of June. It’s the next chapter in the Fiat brand’s rise from the ashes and re-entry in America. The latter has been perhaps a much slower rise than desired due to the Great Recession and a European car market that continues to collapse in on itself in pretty scary fashion, but there is now light at the end of the Fiat tunnel. After a whole week of normal day-to-day with child and friends and stuff and many miles traveled, I was genuinely convinced by the 500L after not really knowing at all what to expect.