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    by Patrick Rall

    News is trickling out about Dodge’s plan to unveil the first Chrysler Group vehicle based on a Fiat platform and powered by a Fiat engine: a Dodge compact sedan to replace the Caliber. This car may be the most important car in the new lineup, as it will show how well a European platform can work here in the states. However, we shouldn’t discount the possibilty of Dodge making a subcompact more closely based on the Fiat 500. 

    While recently attending the 2011 Chrysler Product Day at the Chelsea
    Proving Grounds, I had a chance to test the new Fiat 500 in convertible
    and coupe form, with both an automatic and a manual transmission on a
    large oval and a smallish, technical road course.  For those unsure why
    this even comes up, Fiat can acquire 5% of the Chrysler Group from the
    US Government for reaching the final performance goal – which requires a
    Chrysler Group brand (excluding Fiat) products to reach 40 miles per
    gallon with the help of Fiat technology.  This has led many to expect
    that this 40mpg Chrysler Group car could be at least loosely based on
    the Fiat 500 that offers 38mpg when equipped with the manual
    transmission.

    The Fiat 500 derives its power from their 1.6L MultiAir 4-cylinder,
    sending 101 horsepower and 98lb-ft of torque to the front wheels via
    either a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission.  All Fiat 500
    models also include a Sport button on the dash, which alters the
    throttle calibration for more spirited driving and improved response, as
    well as quickening up the shifts in those Fiat’s equipped with the
    automatic transmission.  This drivetrain might be designed to yield
    great fuel economy, but it also makes for a sporty, fun little car. 
    Don’t get me wrong – you might not be winning a great many drag races
    but the MultiAir engine allows this compact to easily keep up with
    traffic, as well as providing a fair amount of acceleration.  Also, on
    the rough sections of the oval track, the suspension of the Fiat 500
    handled the average disturbances that you would come across on the
    highway very well, with a surprisingly low amount of the road noise
    transferred to the interior.

    Once you hit the road course, the fun level of the new Fiat 500
    continued to climb.  The little Fiat cuts smoothly through the corners
    and pulls well out of those corners – even offering some wheel spin in
    the right conditions.  The automatic transmission of the Fiat 500 was
    ready and willing to bounce from gear to gear as we hammered the corners
    than pulled out of them hard and with the 5-speed manual transmission,
    the road course abilities of the 500 are accentuated by the ability to
    keep it in the ideal gear as you climb through the longer corners.

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    Inside, the Fiat 500 offers a surprising amount of quality and class,
    considering that it is one of the least expensive vehicles on the
    American market.  Things might be a little tight in the back seat for
    adults, but there is plenty of leg and elbow room up front.  Cloth lower
    seat portions with leather upper seatbacks flow with the leather
    appointments around the interior when properly equipped – offering
    levels of comfort that I felt were surprising for a car that costs under
    $20k.

    After spending time cruising around the Chrysler Proving Grounds in
    the 2011 Fiat 500 and 500C, I think that this would make for a great
    entry level compact for the Dodge brand.  The interior has an obvious
    European touch with more quality than you’d expect from this price class
    and the drivetrain offers great “fun to drive factory”…along with
    nearly 40mpg.  Whether or not the 40mpg Chrysler Group product uses the
    Fiat platform or just the Fiat drivetrain, it should make for a
    promising addition to the Dodge lineup in the subcompact segment that
    the company has long been inactive.

    What do you think? Would this be a welcome addition to the Dodge lineup? Voice your opinion here!

     
     
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