A Fiat for the Family?

Fiat claims it made the new 500L to accommodate families, and after the big reveal at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show this week, I want to put my family in one.

My small family of three values style and fuel efficiency and enjoys a smaller car. With a toddler in a forward-facing safety seat and no double stroller to fit in the cargo area, we get by just fine in unorthodox family vehicles and own a VW Jetta.

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The Fiat 500L brings the playfulness and fun of the 500 in larger — if not gigantic — form. The beauty is in how the automaker optimized what space the car does have.

After sitting inside the 500L at the auto show, I could envision the three of us en route to the grocery store or headed out on a day trip with enough room inside to not only be "accommodated," but comfortable. It has a surprising amount of headroom, which immediately makes it feel larger inside. The taller roof, which from the outside appears to float thanks to blacked-out roof pillars, keeps everything light and airy on the inside.

Fiat says the 500L has 42% more room inside than the 500, and it's two feet longer than its smaller sibling. I was convinced of those stats after I shared the backseat with one of Fiat's tall male representatives at the show; we both had a comfortable amount of legroom.

I particularly liked the cargo area's two levels of storage. There is a horizontal divider in the back that allows you to stash the things you always need — reusable shopping bags, first-aid kit, an extra coat — and leaves another wide-open surface on top to load groceries, luggage or the stroller when you need it. That small detail is another great demonstration of how Fiat makes a small space more efficient. Honda tried this trick a few years back but it never caught on. In this smaller application, the shelf seems to make more sense.

I also happen to love the 500L's looks, and I do find many similarities between it and the Mini Countryman. Especially from the profile view, the 500L and the Countryman definitely look alike. The oversized badging on the 500L's liftgate is reminiscent of the Countryman, too.

But the better news for my family is that the 500L will cost less than the Countryman, which has a starting price of $22,700 including a $700 destination charge; Fiat says the 500L will start under $20,000. You can't get many compact sedans with decent features for that price.

My inner tech-geek is thrilled that the Fiat 500L comes standard with a 5-inch screen, where the base Countryman does not offer one (both provide a 6.5-inch screen on higher trim levels). A 160-horsepower engine may not sound like much, but it's more powerful than Mazda's CX-5 155-hp engine, so performance-savvy parents should enjoy the 500L as well. I know I can't wait to get behind the wheel of one to test drive it with my family along for the ride.

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