Roberto Giolito, Head of Fiat and Abarth Design, is a man of surprises: “Without having to fall back on a concept car, Fiat has been able to get its hands on one of the themes that can still be considered under-explored in car design: multipurpose vehicles.”
It is an unusual claim in view of the propensity of MPVs, MAVs, SUVs, hatchbacks, station wagons, and the burgeoning number of crossovers. But Giolito is confident that the style-intensive new Fiat 500L is sufficiently “different.” As he stood in a studio at Fiat’s Centro Stile in Turin, flanked by a 500L and an original 1950s 600 Multipla, he also stated that the L would later be joined by the 500XL—“the smallest seven-seat MPV in circulation.” Both the regular 500L, with an overall length of 4140 mm (163.0 in), and the 500XL have a 2612-mm (102.8-in) wheelbase.
Giolito is a total automotive design enthusiast supported by a Fiat team of equal enthusiasts, including Virgilio Fernandez, Chief Designer Interior; Andreas Wuppinger, Chief Designer Exterior; and Rossella Guasco, Head of Color and Material.
Like most automotive designers and stylists, they use “design speak” to describe new products. This has many key words that are used not only by designers among themselves but also with engineering teams and, outside the close confines of the automotive industry, to bolster publicity material.
But for the 500L, the Fiat team eschews designers’ words that are particularly fashionable, such as “aggressive” and “athletic,” and instead stresses the model’s family values and functionality. The result, though, does present challenges of interpretation.
Fiat describes the result of its design approach to the multipurpose vehicle as achieving the “recognizable physiognomy” of the 500L, having a body style without sharp edges and tight lines to “privilege ‘sweeter’ shapes.” This proved strongly evocative of “semantic” values, referring to a “pacific” and nonaggressive object that “transmits popularity and wishes a more harmonic aspect for the urban landscape and environment.” One reference made by the design team to “muscular wheelarches” may raise eyebrows, but the message is about protection, not aggression.
Translated from design speak, all this seems to mean that Fiat has produced an innovative car that is package efficient, looks distinctive outside and particularly inside, and can meet the needs of a broad spectrum of end users. This, say the Fiat designers, may include those who equate the need for a car with load capacity similar to that of a household attic and others who want to ski, picnic, shop, or simply get from A to B in a sensible vehicle.
The 500L, which is squarely aimed at the U.S. among key markets, is certainly an interesting solution, although it will be compared to the Mini Countryman. But a stylish Italian signature distinguishes the Fiat.
The interior of the 500L was designed before the exterior, says Giolito, with its glasshouse configured to give a horizontal panoramic effect via almost continuous glazing without using a 1950s-style windshield dogleg. Glazed area totals 1.5 m2 (16.1 ft2). The command driving position of an SUV (an SUV often has “a negative connotation: grandeur, high consumption, and almost shielding one from the outside,” said Wuppinger) was avoided in favor of a lower H-point and more car-like feel.
Seating and trunk (400 L/14.1 ft3) configurations make it a practical vehicle. Detail touches include an umbrella case.
The 500L, now entering production at a new factory in Serbia, has a safety cell developed to meet U.S. crash test standards. Built on Fiat’s new B-platform, which will be used for future models, it incorporates elements of Punto architecture.
It offers new-generation infotainment systems with an emphasis on efficient and easy-to-use HMI (human-machine interface).
Engine choice will include Fiat’s 0.9-L TwinAir but in 77-kW (103-hp) turbocharged form, as well as four-cylinder gasoline and diesel units.