As much as Mini may confound and confuse with its eternal atom-splitting of the luxury small-car market, it has no peers for the successful selling of quirky cars. In the 2014 Fiat 500L, the Italian automaker goes boldly where few other carbuilders dare to tread with a head-to-head match against Mini. Is America ready for a car with poems embroidered on its seats?
To be built in Serbia, the four-door Fiat 500L uses a new, larger chassis than the 500 minicar, although it borrows the 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder engine from the 500 Abarth, good for 160 hp and 180 ft-lbs of torque, tied to either a six-speed manual or a new six-speed automatic. Fiat didn't provide performance figures, but given the exterior resemblance to the Mini Countryman, the fuel economy and speed to 60 mph should be similar as well.
But the 500L features one of the more unique -- or "unique," depending on preference -- designs to emerge on American roads in years. While the outside blends a bulbous nose with a straight back similar to Mini, the cues all come from the 500, enlarged to fit the bigger canvas. The most striking view comes from the inside, where Fiat designers narrowed the pillars as much as possible -- and in the case of the front windshield, split the pillars in two -- to create a nearly 360-degree greenhouse.
The designers' quirk quotient hit a new high on one preproduction model featuring cloth seats embroidered with the words "Mere color can speak to the heart in a thousand different ways." To be a success when it goes on sale in mid-2013, the Fiat 500L will need to speak to several thousand hearts -- and wallets.