The latest sign that the product planners and marketers at Fiat and Chrysler have muffed the launch of the Dodge Dart is the announcement that their Dundee, Michigan engine plant that builds the Dart’s turbocharged 1.4 liter Multiair FIRE engine has fired or reassigned 58 employees and is eliminating a second shift. The shift reduction follows remarks at the 2013 NAIAS media preview by Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne blaming poor Dart sales on the powertrain offerings. “The powertrain solutions we made available to that car, in today’s world, in hindsight, were not the ideal solution,” Mr. Marchionne said. Consumers have been disappointed in sluggish performance of the Dart. TTAC reviewer Michael Karesh said that 1.4 L turbo motor was “soft south of 3,000 rpm”.
A few months back, Bertel decreed that TTAC would have no more duplicate reviews. If we wanted to test a car that had already been reviewed, we’d better have a dramatically different take on it. I had a FIAT 500 Abarth for the week. Jack and Alex had already covered it on track and off. I thought someone had a comparison with the MINI Cooper S on the way. What else could I possibly compare the Abarth to that would make sense? It’s not like there are any other high-performance Italian hatchbacks offered in North America…
We decided to take a family vacation this summer in Italy, starting in Florence and driving into rural Tuscany to spend a mellow week in a rental villa near some friends. I reserved a “Ford Focus or equivalent” with Hertz and, after a thoroughly unpleasant hour in the queue (“not exactly” indeed), they handed me the keys to an Alfa Romeo Giulietta with a manual transmission, two liter turbo diesel. Forza Italia! I now had one week with the sort of car that American TTAC readers often like to grouse about their inability to buy at home.
Abarth was founded in 1952 as a “one-stop-shop” for Fiat performance gear. What does that have to do with the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth? Nothing. Seriously. In 1971 Abarth was purchased by Fiat, by the 1990s the “brand” had deteriorated to a trim level on questionable hatchbacks and by 2000 it was “dead trim walking.” In 2007 Fiat decided they needed a performance brand once again and resurrected Abarth with the inexplicably named “Fiat Grande Punto Abarth” and (more importantly) a complete line of clothing and accessories. Despite the apparent soft start for the brand in the Euro-zone, Fiat tells us they held nothing back for the launch of Abarth in North America. Our own tame racing driver Jack took the Abarth for a spin on the track back in March but this time we’re pitting Italy’s hot hatch against a bigger challenge: the daily commute.
Sometime toward the end of my high school years, “fast fashion” shops like Zara and H&M set up shop in at the local malls, and became the place to shop. The clothing there wasn’t any better than the Gap or the Ralph Lauren remainders at Marshall’s, but if you paid for your own clothes, you would have been silly to shop anywhere else.
Shopping at those stores went beyond mere fashion considerations. If you spilled beer all over your shirt at a party, it wasn’t even worth sending it to the dry cleaners. Just throw it in the washing machine and hope it comes out. If that fails, pay $9.99 for another one. Eventually, people got wise to the fact that after three washes, the clothes tended to fall apart, but we willingly ignored the cheapness because we could look cool on a tight budget. Which is exactly why the Fiat 500 exists.
Gucci is no stranger to OEM trim packages for major manufacturers. The House of Gucci originally lent its unique Italian flavor to somewhat of an Intercontinental Bastard: a leaf sprung, Chevy Nova based Cadillac with a Spanish name. Read More >
It’s a strange, strange world out there. Image trumps reality, corporate positioning trumps national identity, the fake conquers the real. Want proof? Consider the Fiat 500 Abarth. The now-iconic television ad features some hapless beta male enduring a strangely erotic tongue-lashing at the hands of a beautiful Italian woman who then mysteriously turns into a chunky little Italian car. Makes perfect sense. Except the Italian girl (Catrinel Menghia) is Romanian, and Italian car which was supposedly tuned by an Austrian racer turns out to be a Mexican car with an American hot-rod engine tuned by Detroit racers. This makes slightly less sense.
Luckily the Abarth itself doesn’t require much in the way of context in order to be enjoyed. If you’d like some, feel free to check out our previous reviews of the naturally-aspirated 500. Finished? Fantastic. We’ve reviewed the little Fiat from an economy-car perspective in the past, but now it’s time to exchange the pocket protectors for my Impact! Carbon Air Draft. Buckle up: it’s racetrack time.
Throw “Sport” on a car, and I’m going to expect certain things from it. So I wasn’t kind to the first FIAT 500 I reviewed. But, as with people, I’m always willing to give a car a second take from a more amenable angle. To avoid bits I didn’t care for, I requested the base-level “Pop” trim with an automatic transmission. Chrysler counter-offered a top-level Lounge. In brown. With brown leather. Not quite what I asked for, but as a member of the Brown Car Appreciation Society (sans card, alas) I felt duty bound to accept.
Due to the state of the economy and the price of gasoline in America, it’s no small wonder small car sales are on fire. For those that wish to hide the fact that they have downsized for sensible reasons like lower operating costs, there is a segment of the market just for you: small retro cars. While everyone has tried their hand at this game from Chrysler’s PT cruiser, Chevy’s HHR and the continual resurrection of the VW Beetle, nobody seems to have hit the nail as squarely on the head as BMW with their Mini franchise and their 40,000 in yearly sales. What’s the new Italian owner of an American car company and dealer network to do? Sell a “minier” Mini-fighter of course.
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I haven’t been to Italy, in 21 years. My cousins and I are having dinner together for the first time in 21 years. If I didn’t already know it, I’d have learned it now: males with Italian blood are obsessed with cars. My cousin Nicola even works for FIAT, in the seaside town of Termoli.
“Are there Fiats at Chrysler stores in Canada now?” he asks.
“Just the 500,” I inform.
“That’s not the real 500,” says Angelo, his younger brother. Two hours later, we’re in my Nonna’s garage. He pulls the tarp off a stunning, perfectly restored 1968 Fiat 595 SS Abarth. “Quest’è la vera Cinquecento!” he informs me.
I’ve been waiting 28 years for Fiat to return to the United States, and that means TTAC is going back-to-back on the Fiat 500 coverage, following up Michael Karesh’s review with one of my own. Read More >
Last month, as reported by our ever so excellent Matt Gasnier, there was a minor earthquake in Brazil. For the first time in a blue moon, a car other than the VW Gol stood at the top of the heap. That car was the new Fiat Uno. In this ongoing battle to the death (mind you, the rivalry Fiat X Volkswagen is akin to the heated relations between Ford and Chevy of yore) new weapons and tactics are unveiled at all times. Fiat just disclosed their new guns: the new Uno two-door and the Sporting line. Read More >
It’s been over a quarter-century, so perhaps my memory grows hazy. But I recall enjoying the small, light subcompacts of the mid-1980s tremendously. They didn’t have much power. Power wasn’t a requirement, just a willingness to rev and to be tossed sideways through curves. I’ve spent the years since trying to recapture that experience. And failing. Too much mass. Too much tire. Even too much refinement. But FIAT’s not famed for refinement. And, at 2,363 pounds, the reborn 500 (pronounced “cinquecento”) is a quarter-ton lighter than today’s compacts. So perhaps my search is over?
Having some time on my hands, I ventured out again into cardealershipland. Wanted to get my hands on the mini mites that inhabit many an urban Brazilian cowboy’s dream. You know, the call of the sertão (that’s what you think we call the pampas.) In the left corner, all the way from Italy, but made in Brazil, the long-time favorite and market leader Fiat Strada Adventure Locker. In the right corner, the Teutonic tiny titan, the all new VW Saveiro Cross. As the long names suggest, these are the top of the line offerings from each maker. Both offer cheaper, less equipped versions for the daily grind and/or work routine. So hold your cavalos, vaqueiro, I mean, hold your horses, cowboy! Which one comes out on top? Read More >
John Steel, 42. Resident Nurburgring hotlapper, amateur race driver and menace of all slow moving objects. On weekends, he likes thrashing his Porsche 997 Mark II GT3-RS around the local track. Karen Levy, 25. Professional mall stormer, party queen and dedicated student. Enjoys a fine café-latte by the Mediterranean Sea and the gentle spring breeze while driving her Fiat 500C.
Two people, two separate sides of the automotive equilibrium. This time, driving around the peaceful and slow moving streets of southern Tel Aviv, amongst buzzing restaurants and overcrowded coffee shops, I get to explore the latter. Meet the Fiat 500C: the open-air sibling of the 500 retro car, and an inevitable win of form over function.
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