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Geneva show: Fiat lays 500L bare

Bigger bambino: New 500L is almost 600mm longer than Fiat’s three-door 500 hatch.

Stretched five-door Fiat 500L revealed ahead of Geneva, but it won’t come to Oz

2 Feb 2012

FIRST images of the new five-door Fiat 500L have been revealed ahead of its world debut at the Geneva motor show on March 6, but the Italian brand’s first long-wheelbase ‘bambino’ won’t be sold in Australia.

Dubbed ‘L’ for Large, the newest member of the Fiat 500 model family wear similar styling to the three-door hatch and two-door cabriolet models that returned Fiat to its roots when they went on sale here in February 2008 and January 2010 respectively.

However, the all-new 500L is in fact based on a widened version of the same new ‘Mini’ platform that underpins Fiat’s latest Panda light-car, which as we’ve reported won’t be made available here either, and therefore measures a far more sizeable 4140mm long, 1780mm wide and 1660mm high.

That makes the first five-door Fiat 500 almost 600mm longer, more than 150mm wider and some 172mm higher than the Fiat 500 hatch, which at a diminutive 3546mm long offers seating for only four compared to the 500L’s five.

Fiat is yet to confirm as much, but overseas reports insist the 500L will become available with both five-seat and, two month later, seven-seat interior configurations – the latter measuring even longer overall and likely to be seen only in Europe.

Fiat says its second 500L (the first was produced between 1968 and 1972, with L standing for Lusso – or luxury in Italian) is a further development of the cab-forward concept it introduced with the 600 Multipla, which it describes is “a precursor to the concept of the compact people-carrier”.

That is why the 500L is unlikely ever to be seen in Australian showrooms, where compact people-movers have proved spectacularly unpopular in recent years.

“Essentially, the 500L would sell in a segment that simply doesn’t exist here,” said Fiat’s Australian spokesman, Edward Rowe.

GM’s European brand Opel, which will be relaunched here in October, faces a similar problem with the new Meriva, which features the versatility of twin sliding side doors and multi-functional seating, and will be a direct rival for the 500L in Europe.

Others will include the Citroen C3 Picasso, Mini Countryman and Ford B-Max, which was officially revealed this week and will also make its global premiere at Geneva, but won’t make it to Australia either.

The Meriva is unlikely to reach Australian shores for the same reason as the 500L and B-Max, despite the fact it would also be priced similar to many offerings in the overpopulated compact SUV segment, one of the nation’s fastest growing sales sectors.

“With the ‘L’, the 500 expands and grows together with customers, to accommodate new experiences and needs once more,” said Fiat.

“With MPV passenger space combined with the feel of a small SUV on the road and the restrained dimensions and efficiency of a B-segment car, the new Fiat model defies the conventional distinctions between the various segments, combining the typical characteristics of different categories in order to create a distinctive alternative to the traditional B and C segments.” Codenamed L-Zero, the 500L goes on sale in Europe in the final quarter of this year, when it will replace the Fiat Ideal, which was based on the original Punto platform and spawned a reskinned version sold as the Lancia Musa.

It will be powered by the same engines as the 500 hatch and cabrio – at least in Europe – including 900cc twin-cylinder turbo-petrol, 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol and 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engines.

Earlier this week, Australian Fiat distributor released a revitalised 500 hatch and cabrio line-up, powered exclusively by the two-pot TwinAir turbo engine, priced from $22,990 plus on-road costs.

Fiat’s original 500 ‘Topolino’ was also powered by a twin-cylinder engine – albeit a 479cc air-cooled unit - but measured less than three metres long and weighed under 500kg.

The 500L will be produced at a refurbished factory in Kragujevac, Serbia, which once produced Yugo cars but is now 67 percent owned by Fiat and 33 per cent by the Serbian government, who have together invested 700 million euros.

Automotive News reports that annual production output is expected to reach 100,000 vehicles for both Europe and the US.

The 500 hatch, cabrio and hot Abarth models will continue to be built by Fiat at its Tychy plant in Poland, while Chrysler will continue to build the 500 for Fiat at Toluca in Mexico, for North America, Latin America and China.

Fiat’s retro-styled Mini rival notched up 195,000 sales last year, including 156,000 in Europe, 26,000 in North America and the rest in Latin America, China and Australia, where the only Fiat passenger car on offer found 532 homes.

The born-again 500 has attracted more than 770,000 sales in the five years since it was revived in 2007, falling short of the running rate achieved by the original 500, which tallied nearly four million sales between 1957 and 1975.

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