Fiat 500 gains a few pounds
The first modern Fiat 500 was much larger than the tiny Nuova of the 1950s, but it took off like a rocket anyway when it was launched six years ago.
Since then, the wee design favourite has spawned a family of twin and four-cylinder engines, using petrol, CNG and diesel fuel, and last year the model's first extended version was revealed, the family-sized 500L, a nod to the much-loved Giardiniera of 50 years ago.
Like the three-door 500, the larger 500L is selling well in its native Europe and the first reaction from American punters suggests that the car is also doing well in the United States, which started selling the car this month.
It's hoped that this derivative of the 500 will find itself in New Zealand too, and things look positive, because there are new distributors for the Italian brand here in the form of Fiat Chrysler New Zealand.
Meanwhile, a seven-seater version of the car has been launched, and this car, known as the MPW, or multi-purpose wagon, would seem to be even more suitable for our conditions than the normal 500L.
Fiat says the MPW has all the charm of the 500 and the agility associated with a city car, but with the comfort, space and contents of a C-segment stationwagon or MPV.
These were the ingredients of the conception of the car, which has an additional third row of seats.
At 4350mm, the new car is longer overall by 203mm than the 500L, but the same width and height at 1780mm wide and 1670mm, respectively.
Despite being somewhat shorter than average C-segment stationwagons, the Fiat 500L MPW has a load volume of 638 litres.
Fiat says its new model assumes a position as the first car with a "500" badge that caters for the whole family.
At launch, the Fiat 500L MPW will have two petrol engines - a 70-kilowatt 1.4-litre 16-valve and 77kW 875cc TwinAir Turbo - as well as two turbodiesels - a 77kW 1.6-litre MultiJet II and a 63kW 1.3-litre MultiJet II, the latter also with automatic transmission.
As with conventional Fiat 500s, the MPW range includes two trim levels (Pop Star and Lounge), both with five or seven seats, 19 body colours (including 11 two-tone combinations) and six interior trims, 15 different types in terms of alloy wheels and hub caps, so no fewer than 282 combinations are possible.
The Fiat 500L MPW offers equipment worthy of higher segments too, with new leather interior options, integrated navigation systems and a rear camera to assist with reversing manoeuvres.
The Fiat 500L MPW will be produced in the new Serbian factory at Kragujevac.
Orders will open in July in Italy, to be extended progressively to the other countries of Europe.
It is hoped that Fiat Chrysler New Zealand will confirm its availability for our market some time in the new year, but it won't be drawn on the subject, beyond saying that the car will reach our market in 2014.
The presence of the 500L MPW in New Zealand could be a sensible move, because the family people-carrier slot is not exactly loaded with alternatives in the $40,000 or less bracket at least.
Fiat Chrysler has one of the better offerings on the market in the form of the Dodge Journey, while only two other offerings put their hands up. They are the established seven-seater version of Nissan's Qashqai and the recently launched Kia Carens.
In this company, the Fiat would have the highest funk factor and its engine choices would also give it the best green credentials.