March 5, 2009
Punditry: The top five Fiats that Chrysler needs now
Fiat's recent offer to link up with Chrysler could be silver lining within the Carpocalypse's clouds of doom.
Under the proposed deal, Chrysler gets its cash-starved mitts on Fiat's la bella machinas. And Fiat grabs a minority stake in Chrysler and dibs on Chrysler's distributors and dealerships.
We would get a heaping helping of la dolce automobili, but which cars would head stateside? Presuming all goes well, here's my list of the five Fiats that would save Chrysler's bacon.
#5: Fiat Croma
When Dodge canned the Magnum wagon only to carry on with the overweight and overwrought Nitro SUV, they walked out on a market that has been almost completely neglected since the Camry Wagon was discontinued in 1996.
In the Fiat Croma, Dodge has a laser-focused competitor to the Jetta and Passat wagons. With a five-star crash test rating, leather interior, navigation and a smooth, torquey diesel four-cylinder, the Croma nails all the Jetta's selling points.
As the inevitable surge in gas prices returns, the best days for medium-size wagons lie ahead. The Croma can put Dodge back out at the head of the pack.
#4: Fiat Panda 1.3
Back in 2000, Chrysler hit a grand slam with the PT Cruiser. Decent space and decent pace in a package that looked like it drove right out of the Woodward Dream Cruise.
But as time passed, Chrysler neglected their sales champ, timidly futzing with the car's grille and trim and leaving the rest of the car to age as competitors became faster, more efficient and most importantly, a better car to drive.
The Panda 1.3, with its irrepressible pizzazz, is where the PT should be now. Compact, hip, nimble and thrifty -- all fit the 100-hp Panda 1.3 to a tee. Even with 100 horsepower, the Panda can hustle quite well; Fiat runs the Panda Rally Cup as a starter series for aspiring rally drivers.
More realistically, it can reclaim the market for fuel-thrifty people moving vacated by the equally funky first-gen Scion xB. Horsepower has taken a back seat for a large part of the Gen-Y driving demographic, leaving the Panda with a lot to offer.
#3: Fiat Linea
With lines that rival Audi for Teutonic simplicity, the Linea packs the right set of features and the right engine choices (gas and diesel fours) in a modern sedan with a smooth, quiet ride and a bright, inviting interior.
It's everything the 2007 Chrysler Sebring should have been.
#2: Fiat 500 Abarth Esse Esse
In 1957, the original Fiat Cinquecento was the icon of post-war Italian motoring. With a 13-horsepower straight-twin in the back, it took the work of a young Carlo Abarth to turn the frugal microcar into an ankle-biting demon-slayer on the back roads.
Fast-forward sixty years and the new, front-drive 500 has received heaps of praise -- for its thrift, it's charm and the same nimble nature that made the original so memorable.
Sounds a lot like the Mini Cooper, right?
The 500 Abarth Esse Esse is a special order package for the top of the line 500 1.4, much like the John Cooper Works-tuned Mini Cooper S. With a 160-hp turbo 1.4 four banger, bigger brakes and sport suspension, the Abarth Esse Esse could give drivers a cure for the common Cooper.
#1: Fiat 500C
Fresh off its debut at the Geneva Motor Show, Fiat will launch a drop-top version of the 500 this year as an early 2010 model. It's cuter than the proverbial bug's ear and with the right marketing pitch, it could be the next gotta-have-it cruiser, much like the rag-top Cooper was five years ago.
Rather than shuffle off its mortal coil as a maker of steerage-class sedans, Chrysler has a real chance at enduring glory in this torrid romance with Fiat.
It would be ridiculous to claim that I alone could solve Chrysler's woes, but one thing seem certain: these cars would excel at putting asses in seats. That plays a big role in deciding who survives in the car business.