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Fiat’s 500L has suddenly risen in popularity Stateside since Pope Francis stepped into one after landing on US soil – and it became a striking counterpoint to the SUVs of most American notables.
Labelled loosely as the ‘little Fiat’ by news organisations in New Zealand, the car used by Pope Francis in the US may have been a little smaller than the Chrysler and Jeep vehicles he also used, but a little car it seriously isn’t.
It’s surprisingly spacious in the back, with generous leg room and a drinks holder in the central armrest to keep the papal coffee from spilling over his white and gold robes. The Holy Father’s favourite liturgical music – or even his own newly released single – can play through the car’s six speakers via Bluetooth. It also comes with a built-in navigation system – not that it’s needed when every journey is accompanied by dozens of secret service vehicles, police cars and motorcycle outriders.
This is the 500L, a mid-sized Fiat with new-found cachet since Pope Francis made it his vehicle of choice on his US trip. He took its back seat on the airport tarmac to the audible gasps of television commentators, the Pope’s little black number has become a talking point across America and the automotive world - who managed to organise THAT?
Procured by Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) from Manhattan’s Fiat dealership, the 500L (L for longer and larger) has a 4-cylinder, 1.4 litre turbo engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, with optional 17-inch wheels on the Papal version, a reversing camera, and it sells well in every market it reaches.
And there’s the rub, it doesn’t sell in New Zealand - yet. Its Australia-based importers ATECO showing some reticence about even acknowledging the car - a technique it has already used with the Panda, Punto and recently facelifted ordinary 500.
In the US FCA flogs it as perfect for a travelling businessman, a soccer mom, a family of five. There’s a lot of room in the back, and very good load space. It has a top speed of 185kmh – though you’re never going to reach that anywhere in America let alone Manhattan.
The 500L has been on the market and selling well, for a couple of years elsewhere in the world and FCA says the Pope and his entourage chose the 500L because of the headroom, comfort and space. And the fact that it’s Italian. The papal vehicle is black, but the 500L comes in a choice of 14 colours, including a striking Vatican yellow. Since the papal connection with the car US Fiat outlets have been inundated with enquiries all week.
The list price in the US is U$28,000, although when it finally gets into New Zealand, the car will probably start at around NZ$40,000, perhaps more.
We can’t pretend that the 500L was opted for by the Papal people as a request. There’s probably a very clever marketing department at FCA which is enjoying a lot of back-slapping at the moment.