By Patrick Rall
The Dodge Dart has already made a big impact on sales in the first ten months on the US market but the Dodge brand is still in need of a true compact car with an equally compact price to compete with the Ford Fiesta and Chevy Sonic. Fortunately, they already have a great piece of compact architecture in their family tree in the form of the Fiat 500. While the bubbly exterior design of the 500 is not ideal for everyone, the underpinnings could make an incredible Dodge B-segment vehicle.
Let me start by saying that in no way do I want to see a Fiat 500 rebadged as a Dodge. That wouldn’t work and I don’t think that the Chrysler Group would ever make that move. However, the chassis of the compact 500 could be adapted to fit under a more traditionally American-designed skin to make a fun to drive, efficient and inexpensive compact Dodge. Something a little meaner looking – wider and flatter with a roofline that is more linear – would make a far more fitting Dodge than would a rebadged Fiat.
I have had the pleasure of driving the Fiat 500 in both standard and Abarth form and I can attest that the 500 is easily one of the most entertaining vehicles in its segment. In fact, the 500 Abarth is one of the most entertaining cars that I have ever driven – and I drive a whole lot of cars. The 500 isn’t a drag strip monster in stock form but it most certainly fills the bill in terms of handling performance and I suspect that the type of performance offered by the 500 would fit nicely into the Dodge brand.
I understand that the exterior design of the Fiat 500 is not for everyone but styling aside, the 500 is a very fun little car to drive that offers great fuel economy and a surprisingly plush interior. Most importantly, the Fiat 500 is inexpensive; even in base form, the Italian compact is an impressive option in the compact coupe class. I am also not suggesting that Dodge build a compact with an interior based on the Fiat 500 but instead – the 500 shows that the Chrysler Group can offer a great looking, sporty interior without a big price tag.
The Dodge Dart offers similar fun to drive factor, a low price, a good looking interior and impressive fuel economy of its own but there are still plenty of Mopar faithful out there who demand a 2-door coupe similar to the early Dodge Neon Coupe. While there doesn’t appear to be a Dart coupe in the works, a Dodge B-segment compact coupe based on the Fiat 500 chassis could take all of the positive attributes of the Italian compact and apply them to a compact Dodge. Without some of the Fiat 500′s big ticket items you could have a Dodge compact starting below the 500′s $16,000 base price. That range would also make the B-segment Dodge less expensive than the base model Dodge Dart.
There have been rumors that the Dodge Hornet name would show up in the future on a Fiat-based compact and should the company design a new Hornet based on the 500 – I expect that it will be a total blast to drive while also being the most efficient car in the brand lineup, with fuel economy figures similar to the sporty little 500.