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It's me doing a little posing while taking a break at the Ouray, Colorado Jeep Jamboree in 1995.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Baltimore and the Fiat 500L Go Together Like....Well, They Go Together



I was in Baltimore a few weeks ago to drive the all-new Fiat 500L.

This marked my first stay in Maryland in several years. I don't think I'd been there since my "Discover America" days. I remember two shoots in particular. One was a segment on the city of Annapolis. The second shoot wasn't for "Discover America" at all. While we were still cranking out episodes of that travel series, the production company I worked for shot a pilot for a show about sports. Those readers who know me probably find my working on a show about sports rather amusing. I couldn't care less about sports. Once you get me outside the sphere of influence of the Pittsburgh Steelers -- those things that directly impact the only team I follow -- my interest in even the NFL drops off expeditiously.

So we were shooting this pilot for a show that I don't think ever got far enough along for us to officially name it. We did a segment on field hockey featuring the University of Maryland's women's team. I can no longer remember why, but we had to make two separate trips there to get the footage we needed. I scripted the segment as well as directed the shoot. All of any substance that I recall from the experience is that field hockey -- like soccer -- is wildly popular as a male and female sport nearly everywhere in the world, but the United States. Moreover, the reason it never translated into a men's sport of any degree in the U.S. is because it came to this country first as a sport for women. I guess like water ballet, it's tough to go macho after it's been embraced by the fairer sex.

So, a few weeks ago I found myself once again in Maryland; this time under Fiat's wing.

The 500L is a longer, four-door version of the Verne Troyer-esque 500. I know what you are thinking: Why a bigger 500? Wasn't the point of the 500 exercise that it's small and fantastically fuel efficient?



Why, yes, it was, but like the Mini Cooper, maintaining some amount of sales momentum requires expanding the product line. Fiat suits say some shoppers who liked the 500 concept were walking out of showrooms, er, "studios" because the 500 was just too dang small.

Fiat's fix to the studio exodus is the 500L. 



I have to say that, in the five-passenger 500L, Fiat managed to retain the fun-to-drive aspects of 500. Stretched more than two feet longer than the 500, the 500L is also wider and taller. Its greenhouse is expansive, providing a nearly uninterrupted 360-degree view. It's 160-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged four banger is rated at 33 mpg in highway driving by the EPA. 

The Trekking trim is more style than substance, but it's a good look.
In addition to other trims, there is a Trekking version that employs some butched up facias and other design cues to project a more rugged image. It won't go anywhere a Pop, Easy or Lounge can't, but it certainly should have appeal to active twenty- and thirty-somethings. For a limited time Fiat is offering the optional $1,700 Premier Package with its rear-park assist, rearview camera, Uconnect with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, and navigation system at no charge. 



Remarkably roomy, the cabin is comfortable and well appointed. All the most popular goodies are there. Even the entry-level, $19,100 Pop comes with full power accessories, air conditioning, remote keyless entry, cruise control, trip computer, Uconnect with 5-inch touchscreen, and a six-speaker audio system with iPod connectivity. 



Fiat put us up in the Four Seasons located at the harbor. I like feeling wealthy; it's exhilarating. The views were marvelous. This section of Baltimore is chockablock with great restaurants, bars and nightlife. 

You must squint to see him, but the guy in the blue shirt with the guitar is Sting.
 Cocktails and dinner our second evening were aboard a party boat called Raven. We wined and dined as Raven motored around the harbor. As the evening closed, we cruised up to an outdoor amphitheater where Sting was performing. I'm not a huge fan, but found the experience impressive and enjoyable nonetheless.

It may be another 10 years before I get back to Baltimore, but I hope not. It's one terrific city!

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