When you think Italian you think chic, voguish, and trendy-all those words rightly describe Fiat’s retro styled vehicles, including the station-wagonish L and the cuddly C convertible models. Both are loaded with a plethora of goodies to entice those searching for value and utility. We tested the Fiat L Trekking and Fiat C convertible and found them fun and frugal. Base prices start in the teens and low $20,000 range. Add to that good safety scores and exceptional fuel mileage and you have vehicles that just don’t appeal to the daring, but to those who are looking to make a change from the same old to the playful new.
Fiat offers a plethora of other models as well with the daddy sized, SUVish X, zippy Abarth 500, battery powered E model, and new 124 Spyder. All of them have a few things in common besides being cute and that is a vibrant color palette and playful attitude.
Mom’s view: The Fiat L’s interior design is excellent with ancillary controls on the steering wheel and air, heat and radio controls where you can easily reach them. The standard five-inch monitor does not bleach out when the sun shines in as happens in most of the competition. Everything is easy to use, although the emergency brake location is difficult to reach when wearing a bracelet unless the slim center console is raised. The L has a heavy rear hatch and opens very high so be warned, especially if you are wearing a short dress. The side doors swing wide and you simply slide into the comfortable seats. Attaching a child’s seat is easy thanks the height of the L. Outward visibility in all directions is unmatched in the L. The dual glove boxes are handy and the rear seats are cleverly positioned even higher than the fronts. Fiat states that there are over 1000 possible seating combinations, including sliding the front passenger side forward to be used as a picnic table, and over 20 cubbyholes for storage. You really have to spend some time in one to appreciate its usefulness.
Dad’s view: Fiat’s C is one of the most fun cars you can have for trips to the mountains or sea-shore thanks to its nifty handling, spunky drivability, and feisty attitude. It is perfect for 909 readers who get the benefit of an easy to park vehicle, over 30 mpg, and the ability to go topless in seconds. If it rains, which could happen, the top is a snap to raise. The C handles like a go-cart with good brakes and sharp, if a bit heavy, steering. A manual transmission is available, but we much prefer the new six-speed automatic when coupled to the base 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with its 101 horsepower. There is also a 135 horsepower Turbo model.
Our L Trekking had a MultiAir turbocharged inline-4 providing 160 horsepower with a mpg overall rating of 25. Passing and on-ramps were no problem, but there is torque steer evident when accelerating hard from a stop, and the engine can sound gruff when pushed. The L isn’t a slouch, but Fiat really designed it for transporting the family. The rear seats can recline, there is an optional large sunroof that covers both front and rear passengers, and 22.4 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats and 68 cubic feet with them folded. Interior space is nearly identical with a Ford Escape. I enjoyed the L. It grew on me because it was so maneuverable and handy thanks to the Koni suspension components. However, I recommend you test the Fiat X with its all-wheel drive capabilities and similar dimensions and stick with the convertible if you are a fashionista.
Young male’s view: The front-wheel-drive Fiat 500 C has a cute rump and comes in several flavors based on your option selections. They are babe magnets and economical as well. However, there isn’t much interior space. For that you need the L. Either way, Fiat offers a standard Uconnect infotainment system with a USB port and Bluetooth connectivity. You can connect your phone to the system and reply to texts using voice commands. The fonts are easy to see and the system works as well as those on a Mercedes. The L offers a Beats audio system that I recommend. Other options include automatic climate control, rearview camera, rear parking sensors and 6.5-inch touch screen. My choice is the 500 C, but if you want something more wicked get the 500 Abarth.
Young working woman’s viewpoint: Fiat is for those brave enough to leave the safety of same-old for the challenges of change. To that end Fiat has priced their vehicles very aggressively. To assuage quality worries, Fiat Chrysler of America offers a 4-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty with roadside assistance and a 3-year/36,000-mile no-cost maintenance package. There are a variety of C models from the more basic Pop to the loaded Lounge. The L comes in several flavors as well with the Pop, Easy, Trekking, Urbana, and Lounge each adding new levels of considerations. Standard safety features include seven airbags and more, but be warned, ladies, that getting in and out of the C takes modesty practice.
Family conference: Fiats are unique and may not appeal to everyone, but they do offer consumers the safety of a good warranty, friendly ergonomics, and some exceptional lease deals and incentives. There is also an extensive option list to make them easy to individualize. Fiat also offers through its website a Mix and Mingle program that brings users together. In essence, owners have made Fiat a life-style choice and well worth a look for those seeking a little Italian to call their own. Ciao.
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Photo courtesy of Caricos