Fiat 500: Yes, Coming to America

One of the biggest non-surprises at the LA Auto Show was the official announcement that the Fiat 500 is coming to America.

One of the biggest non-surprises at the LA Auto Show was the official announcement that the Fiat 500 is coming to America. Well, it has long been announced that it is coming to the U.S., but it is being put on display as a model with kickable tires just like all the other non-concept vehicles.

Actually, the Italian car is already in America—well, at least North America—as it is being manufactured in North America: at the Chrysler plant in Toluca, Mexico. The engine is being produced in Dundee, Michigan. So they are cleverly positioning it as having “’Made in Italy’ technological innovation” and, in the words of Laura Soave, manager of the Fiat brand in North America, “It offers prestigious Italian design, value and efficiency, all smartly calibrated for our market.”

 

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Fiat 500 in the gritty city

That is, although the Fiat 500 has been rolling around the streets of Italian and elsewhere in Europe in its present form since 2007, to meet the specs for the U.S., the car, which will start at around $15,500, had to be modified to meet U.S. specs and consumers’ expectations. For example, the body structure was redesigned for better crashworthiness; the fuel tank size was increased to provide greater range (realize that the car is pretty much a city car in Europe, and even people in the U.S. who work in cities tend to drive into them from some distance); the HVAC system was made robust; and “seats for the driver and front passenger redesigned with a new armrest and new cushions to improve comfort over long distances”—which is probably a nice way of saying that they’re capable of accommodating Big Americans.

The car will be offered in three versions: Pop (the base model with a five-speed manual and 15-in. wheels); Sport (also with a manual, as well as modified springs, shock tuning, and steering calibration and 16-in. wheels); and Lounge (with a six-speed automatic, fixed-glass roof, BOSE audio, and other amenities).

There is one engine for the 500: a 101-hp 1.4-liter in-line four with Fiat’s MultiAir technology, which uses an electromechanical system to control intake valve actuation for improved efficiency.

The will be available next month through 130 Chrysler dealers.