By David Undercoffler
9:00 AM EST, November 28, 2012
Fiat's little family of urban runabouts suddenly got a lot bigger at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show.
The Italian automaker used its Wednesday news conference to unveil three new versions of its 500: the four-door 500L, the all-electric 500e and a cabrio version of the spicy little 500 Abarth we tested in May 2012.
The trio will help broaden Fiat's appeal in a U.S. market that has recently embraced the pint-sized 500 after a cold start in 2011. A quarter of Fiat's sales have been in California alone.
Photos: Fiat's 500 family expands
The company's main rival for these small cars is Mini, an automaker intent on wringing innumerable variations from a single product. So it should come as no surprise that each of these new Fiat models has a corresponding Mini competitor.
The biggest departure for the brand, literally and figuratively, is the 500L. Clearly aimed at fans of the four-door Mini Countryman, the 2014 500L has nearly an identical wheelbase, is about five inches longer and has a bit more cargo room.
The Serbian-built 500L is powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged, inline four-cylinder engine that makes 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. That's essentially the same engine that's in the 500 Abarth, and its output falls squarely between Mini's base Countryman and its more powerful Countryman S.
The 500L routs power to the front wheels through a six-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. No all-wheel-drive model has been announced yet, but if Fiat is serious about stealing buyers from the Mini Countryman, which offers an all-wheel-drive model, expect an AWD version of the 500L in the near future.
The 500L will be available in three trim levels: the base Pop, mid-level Easy and premium Lounge, which comes with the automated transmission standard.
A fourth, distinct 500L Trekking model will also be available. This package buffs up the city-slicker image of these small Fiats by adding a more rugged front and rear bumper, slightly flared wheel arches, and unique 17-inch alloy wheels.
Pegged as a 2014 model, all versions of the 500L will go on sale in mid-2013.
As you might have guessed, the new 500c Abarth is the offspring of a pair of 500 models already out: the 500c and the 500 Abarth.
This new ragtop has the same powertrain as the fixed-roof Abarth and will compete with Mini's Cooper S Roadster. This Fiat's engine is a 1.4-liter, turbocharged, inline four-cylinder that makes 160 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. Power goes to the front wheels via the same five-speed manual transmission with the long-throw shifter, which we found to be a bit vague when we tested the hardtop.
The "c" in the name refers to the car's soft roof, which can retract at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. The car isn't a pure convertible, because the steel roof rails remain in place. But the roof does slide as far back as you'd like it, giving all four occupants plenty of open-air access to the car's delicious exhaust note.
Fiat hasn't released a zero-to-60 mph time for the 500c Abarth, but since it only gains 33 pounds of additional weight over the hardtop, don't expect it to be much slower than that car's 6.6-second time, as tested by Road and Track.
Buyers of both versions of the 500 Abarth will get to test that acceleration during a day of track time and driver training by instructors at the Richard Petty Driving Experience of their choice. Fiat will provide the instruction to all buyers of the Abarth free of charge, and track cars will even be provided, so you don't have to worry about putting your shiny new toy into a wall.
Fiat hasn't released pricing on the 500c Abarth, but expect a loaded version to land in the high $20,000 range. The car will go on sale in the first quarter of 2013.
Rounding out this Italian trio is the all-electric 500e.
Cynics will tell you the reason this car exists is less about consumer demand than about appeasing California's strict rules requiring every automaker offer consumers emission-free vehicles. Otherwise, the company is prevented from selling cars in this state, a steep penalty considering California is the largest auto market in the country. (Similar logic underlies Chevrolet's all-electric Spark EV, also making its debut at the L.A. Auto Show.)
Regardless of the impetus, the Fiat 500e hopes to attract eco-minded consumers with an 80-mile combined range and a 100-mile city range. The car gets 111 horsepower and 147 pound-feet of torque from a 24 kWh, lithium-ion battery and Fiat says it has a top speed of 85 mph.
The car will charge fully in less than four hours using a 240-volt outlet. Users will be able to monitor numerous vehicle functions via a smartphone app. These include vehicle status, charging level, nearby charging stations, energy use and efficient route planning.
Pricing hasn't been announced, but unlike other small-volume electric cars such as the Mini E or the Toyota iQ EV, the 500e will be available for purchase outright when the car hits the market in the spring.
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