For all the “Inside Baseball” we play around here, we never forget that this is a car website. And the immediate reason Chrysler has gone under is because its products have been consistently sub-par for several cycles now. With that in mind, we can dissect the financial details of Chrysler’s alliance with Fiat all we like, but if it doesn’t produce products that sell, it goes nowhere. Car and Driver‘s analysis of Chrysler’s plan (PDF) shows that Chrysler has nothing besides a tarted-up “new” 300C and EV vapor in its new-car pipeline. Which means Fiat’s going to have to step up, big style. But are Fiat’s products up to the challenge of overcoming Chrysler’s brand baggage? And will they translate into the US market success that Chrysler needs to pay off its taxpayer loans?
Our own Fiat review archives are stocked with one Panda 4×4 (“2011 Jeep A Segment”, per C&D), one Grande Punto (2011 “B Segment Hatch”), and an Alfa 147 (ha ha, you wish) review, which ain’t bad. While we wait for our man on the continent to update us on the now-relevant Italian whips, we went looking for thoughts on Fiat product on the internet . . . and you’ll never guess what we found.
The first stop for anyone who wants to know about cars that aren’t sold in the US is Jeremy Clarkson at The Times. The man drives just about everything, and there’s no need for Google Translate! And who could ask for more than Clarkson on the Bravo aka Sebring/Avenger 2.0? “To buy this car you must decide that what you really want is something that’s not quite as good as a Golf,” pans Clarkson towards the end. And that’s about it. Crappy but loveable. To wit:
There’s a looseness to the controls that you may interpret as poor build quality or a slackness in the system, and I’d be the first to agree that the steering’s not that great and the handling isn’t especially noteworthy. However, somehow, it puts a smile on your face. Maybe it’s because it feels so very, very different to a taut and muscular Volkswagen.
He loves the styling, which definitely wins the coveted “better than a Sebring” award.
Inside, it’s pretty much the same as all the other cars in the world, except for one thing. I could never quite get comfortable. Italian cars always used to be designed for creatures that are only found under rocks in the sea, and while they’ve got better, they still refuse to accept that a human being’s legs are usually longer than his arms.
Oh dear. On second thought, maybe Clarkson isn’t the first place to go. Even Top Gear’s freebee mini “review” is more helpful.
But what do our underwater friends, the Italians, say about the cars that must win America’s heart to repay the tax bill? To answer this question we must turn to the funniest place on the internet, Google Translate. Unfortunately, Italian reviews tend to sport a distinctly chauvinist streak. Infomotori.com gushes:
What we are living today, is the arrival of another new “queen” for this Italian car constructor from Turin. The new Fiat Bravo has caught everybody’s attention for months, making all experts, dealers and competitors wonder about it. In a short time New Fiat Bravo has already become such a desirable car, like Fiat 500 did in the past. This is a very important result for Fiat, because it represents the concrete its re-birth: Fiat is now ready again to challenge international competitors.
In the Bravo, Infomotori “taste some brave maneuver,” and basically finds nothing lacking. Even a long-term test for Yahoo! Italy (also by Infomotori) suggests “Are you comfortable in five, with no particular Behavior and the line sportiveggiante not minimally affects the input board. A pleasant atmosphere, as we said, free of obvious flaws and drops coarse style.”
One reviewer for omniauto.it gets a little too excited about the diminutive 500, and how it “officially enshrines the awakening of ‘Fiat mother’ by a long agony, the approach to a new life.” He has to remind his readers:
“We must not forget that the 500 is also an industrial product, a car in the banal sense of the word: a machine. And as such, has to with the market and competition. The premise, as it often was for Fiat cars from the past, there are. Mechanics, in no uncertain terms derived from that of ‘Panda excellent, very good promising talents of efficiency and reliability, supported by the merits of the establishment of Tichy: The best of Fiat factories and capable of a quality which, if it is not Japanese, they pretty close.”
Reppublica.it is a little more even-handed. Though they call the 500 “Funny How A Kart,” they caution overeager fashionistas “we must never forget that – refinement of design or not – we are always at the wheel of a car segment A. Segment where the noise often reigns supreme in modern cockpits apparently.” But analysis inevitably swings back towards the nationalist pissing match with the Germans already in progress:
“The kilometers go by and the only possible explanation for this dynamic is that suspensions are beautiful duretta. We go in search of a pavé or uneven ground beautiful, but nothing: the 500 digests scomporsi without even the worst holes. The passenger is not getting those typical shocks to which many German cars have become accustomed. Sure, the seats are very padded their work, but also demonstrate an excellent compromise suspension calibration.”
A series of rather serious enthusiast tests from grandprixnews.myblog.it give a decent overall impression of several Fiat offerings. Grande Punto is knocked for lacking power and a less-than perfectly usable rear hatch. “The vision side driver is not the maximum, the uprights are quite large and the small windows do not help much,” we are told. “Rear access is easy, and opening the door is suitable for raising and lowering of the car without too many contortions.” The Panda review suggests the diesel engine (a theme in nearly every Fiat review) and praises the Panda’s “excellent maneuverability.”
But the Panda 100HP “wins the internet,” as the kids say. Between a killer evo review (“brilliant”) and a virtual driving experience that suggests it is invulnerable to high-speed crashes, the Panda 100HP seems to be the Fiat in which to “taste some brave manouever.” Too bad Chrysler has no apparent plans to bring it to America. So much for the internet, then.