Tom Crosby: 2015 Fiat gets exposure during pope’s visit

Tom Crosby

Tom Crosby

Fiat executives must have felt their prayers were answered when Pope Francis waved from the rear seat of a 2015 Fiat 500L to tens of thousands of admirers lining Washington, Philadelphia and New York streets last month.

During a short test drive three weeks later of a similar Fiat 500L Trekking at Summit Point Motor Sports Park, West Virginia, it was easy to understand the Fiat’s appeal. It has a spacious back seat, classy interior, responsive handling due to a short wheelbase, low price and a ride smooth enough at slow speeds for a 78-year-old pontiff to enjoy.

While the pope does not choose a particular model to drive – the selection for global trips is made by the Vatican police – his automotive mantra is for modesty and simplicity, hallmarks of the Italian-built Fiat. Still, the pope’s usage should help sales at a time the company could use some good news.

FiatChryslerAutomobiles was recently fined $105 million for failures in recalling vehicles with defects and the company is currently under investigation for underreported fatalities, mostly involving Ram trucks and jeeps. It is built in Kragujevac, Serbia, and since its modern rebirth in 2007, Fiat has sold a million units worldwide.

Here is a quick snapshot of the 2015 Fiat 500L, which will change little in 2016 and is classified as a small station wagon. Cute, nimble and mileage-conscious, the four-door, five-seater 500L is the largest of four Fiat models and the 500L has four trims and three transmissions. All can be customized and color-coded to satisfy a buyer’s fancy. They are fun to drive and handle with short wheelbases and are perfect for snagging parking spaces in crowded cities.

On the highway, the ride can be slightly rough and the small engine – even with the turbo boost – isn’t quick but accelerates steadily. Our test drive had a shiny ivory-colored plastic fascia on the dashboard, a 7-inch touch-screen with good navigation detail, grab handles above all four doors and black/gray form-fitting cloth seats. Rear seats – which don’t fold flat – can hold a pair of normal sized adults comfortably and a trio of children.

Options add comfort and performance and three packages totaling $6,050 included the Aisin smoothly responsive six-speed automatic transmission, the huge powered sunroof, satellite radio, and Beats Premium Audio. Reliability, which may account for low U.S. sales, has consistently been rated below average but Fiat says it is improving.

LIKES: Cute, handling, mileage, price, cabin style and space
DISLIKES: Ride can be bumpy, acceleration, reliability
BOTTOM LINE: Pope’s ride expected to boost Fiat sales

Base price w/destination fee $22,675
Vehicle weight 3,254 lbs.
Wheelbase 102.2 inches
Length 167.3 inches
Width 69.8 inches
Engine 1.4-liter I4 multi-air turbo
Horsepower 160 horsepower at 6,500 rpm
Torque 184 ft.-lbs. at 2,500-4,000 rpm
Transmission 6-speed Aisin automatic
EPA Rating 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway
Range 13.2-gallons premium recommended
Performance 0-60 in just over
8 seconds

Tom Crosby is a former journalist and communications director for AAA Carolinas. He has been reviewing cars since 1996, and has been active in traffic safety issues for more than 30 years. 

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