Can Fiat Win the Hearts of Americans?

Alfa MiTo fuel-efficient sportscar photo
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Image: Carscoop

The chat around the watercooler naturally includes the question of whether the Fiat-Chrysler merger can succeed. Fiat's previous venture into the American market left them saddled with the acronymic slogan Fix It Again Tony. "Those of us old enough to remember won't touch them," runs the opening salvo of the discussion.

And it was fully earned: the reputation was not isolated to one side of the Atlantic. Europeans also remember cars that blew their engines before the last payment was made. But Fiat has made incredible strides in reinventing itself. With the Fiat Panda winning acclaim for reliable, efficient transportation and American Alfisti hungering for the availability of the Mito, is it time to learn more about what Americans can expect from Fiat's comeback, and why the environment and your pocketbook will benefit?

Fiat Panda photo

Image: TopGear
The Panda: Turning Point for Fiat
The Fiat Panda won the award for European Car of the Year in 2004. By 2007, Panda landed in the top 10 in a Top Gear survey. Top Gear's reaction: "The top ten's biggest spotlight shines on Fiat though. The company's overall ranking in the manufacturer listings is a pretty lowly 31 out of 35, but an eighth place for the Panda may well mark a sea change." Fiat's Panda pushed the right buttons: cheap, fuel efficient, fits into almost any parking spot but still carries a new washing machine home. Panda also comes in four-wheel drive, nimble like a goat with far less emissions than a jeep.
Fuel efficiency:

  • Panda 1.2-Dualogic: 52.3 mpg combined (127 gCO2/km)
  • Panda Diesel: 65.7 mpg combined (114 gCO2/km)
  • Panda 4X4: 42.8 mpg combined (156 gCO2/km)
Fiat 500 photo

Image: Fiat press
Fiat 500: Return of the Potato Car
Part of the joy for car buffs is the history. With the redesign of the iconic "potato car," as it was called in Germany, Fiat cemented its European comeback. The Fiat Cinquecento (Italian for 500) was recognized as European Car of the Year in 2008. It landed at the top of the Top Gear survey for "sexiest car in the world." The Cinquecento shares a platform with the Panda; both are manufactured in Tychy, Poland. Rumor has it that the Cinquecento could lead the return of Fiat models manufactured in the US, Canada or Mexico.
Fuel efficiency: 44.1 mpg combined (119 gCO2/km).

Alfa Mito: Sporty Italian Gets 43.5 to 62.8 mpg
Although the return of Abarth tuning peps up the traditional line of Fiats, the Alfa Romeo division delivers the sports enthusiast's models. The name Mito stems from Milan, where the car was designed, and Turin, where it is manufactured. Mito targets the lifestyle market, offering an option to Mini-shoppers for whom a better ride and bigger seats appeal more than go-cart handling. And Mito's DNA switch solves the eternal problem for eco-guilt ridder sportscar fans: driving in Normal mode on the highway optimizes fuel efficiency, while switching up into Dynamic on the snaking sideroads delivers the performance and handling an Alfisti expects. Rounding out the acronym, A for All-weather, ensures stability on slippery roads.
Fuel efficiency:

  • Mito 1.4 16V (95 HP): 47.9 mpg combined (138 gCO2/km)
  • Mito 1.4 TB 155 (155 HP): 43.5 mgp combined (153 gCO2/km)
  • Mito 1.3 JTD Diesel (90HP): 62.8 mpg combined (119 gCO2/km)
  • Mito 1.6 JTD Diesel (120 HP): 58.9 mpg combined (126 gCO2/km)

Now that Fiat has buried a reputation for unreliability under millions of low-maintenance, fuel-efficient miles covered by European drivers, their competitively priced cars should beckon American customers. The prospect of a low-cost hybrid being developed at Fiat has raised hopes that a price war could finally come to the green end of the auto market.

So Can Fiat Win the Hearts of Americans?
If American car manufacturers have had it right all these years, the buying public will shy away from the mini and compact platforms that are Fiat's strength in favor of the myth of big car safety. But then, Chrysler is not rescuing Fiat. The last word from the water cooler: "I get the feeling that if this fails, it will be more because of Chrysler than Fiat." Full disclosure: my Fiat Panda has gone over 150,000 trouble-free kilometers (over 93,000 miles) and I love my new Mito.