FCA holds an annual event at their Chelsea Proving Grounds in Michigan for journalists to give them a taste of what the brand has coming to dealer showrooms as well as a taste of future products with upcoming launch dates.
Most of the FCA line is well established, and new often means tweaks to horsepower, which often translates into dollars, as horsepower sells well. Ram Trucks have been refreshed over the last two model years, and their products are doing well, challenging their competitors in the market. Jeep continues to power sales and profits for FCA. And with the recent Gladiator launch, Jeep’s mid-sized pickup truck benefits from having Ram in the family.
Fiat, Alfa, Chrysler have been lagging in new products, with Voyager, a lower cost nameplate variant of Pacifica, a being the most recent. Maserati was not on the field for this event, but the muscle power leader, Dodge, and SRT put out for display a meaty wide-bodied Charger with some muscle-bound Hellcat power and ScatPac V-8 Hemi.
Leave it to the Dodge Boys to show that the love for American Motor Muscle is still alive at FCA with both Challenger and Charger, vehicles that you can raise a family in and be the fastest down the drag strip at the same time. Even if the sheet metal is basically the same for most of the recent decade, both of these machines continue to pump iron.
We gladly reconnected to the Jeep Brand, one that has a long history with this writer. Taking to the off-road trails with Brandon Girmus in a stock Gladiator. Having the pickup’s marketing manager show off his baby from the navigator’s seat was a lot of fun, as he knows which buttons and switches to apply, and when to use them. Plus, we got to talk about the completion of his recent history project an early Military Jeep, and his desire for a Forward Control. No doubt we will see him working on one of those soon.
Work and Play, It Is What You Haul
One of the benefits of having muscle power and the might of the FCA brand is that towing thing becomes easy. Be it with a Ram Heavy Duty Truck pulling a massive piece of construction equipment, a Dodge Durango pulling a swift race-ready Challenger, or a Jeep Gladiator pulling a really nice boat. Was also a highlight. One might think the experience is pretty much the same no matter the tow vehicle, Not so at all, each provided very different experience to the driver. And yes, pulling with a Cummins Diesel, Rocks.
Flashing Lights and Sirens, It’s the Cops
Taking to the test track, we got the behind the wheel of two of Dodge’s police pursuit vehicles. The Charger and the Durango. And we see why so many departments put these into their fleets. Fast and furious and dedicated to the job, FCA makes sure they offer what Officers of the Law need when it comes to their rolling office and detention facility. Police vehicles are very focused on the job at hand, without any fluff.
Abarth, taking to the track in a six-speed 124 Spider with the top down made you want to spend more time, topless in Pure Michigan style. Throaty and growly, agile and comfortable, this little 2-seater was more fun around the test track that should be allowed by law.
While our opinion is that FCA has an aging fleet of vehicles, they still produce ones that have a lot of value and merit in the marketplace. FCA’s has some very dedicated employees who love what they do, and it shows when they talk about the products. Kudos to FCA that they instill that kind of pride in their employees, as it is not easy to earn, especially in today’s world.
Words and Images by William West Hopper
Mr. Hopper currently serves as the President of the Washington Automotive Press Association and has been reporting and working in the automotive industry throughout his career, starting in heavy trucking, then managing a Telco Fleet, and now reporting on the latest news from the automotive industry.
FCA invited Mr. Hopper to attend 2019 What’s New event providing transportation, food, and lodging. This is not compensation for reporting about the brand or the event. His opinions expressed here are his own.
The presentation of the second American edition of the 1000 Miglia Warm Up USA was held this morning (April 26, 2019) at the Italian Embassy in Washington DC. Italian Ambassador Armando Varricchio, together with Mille Miglia President Franco Gussalli Beretta, announced: “We started a journey. Today we consolidate this tradition that is part of the sporting and cultural fabric of Italy that for centuries has made beauty, style, creativity and passion for life one of its characteristic traits. I am sure that the 2019 edition will be as successful as the 2018 edition and will contribute to consolidating a prestigious image of our country in the USA”.
Goals of the 1000 Miglia Warm Up USA
The aim of the 1000 Miglia Warm Up USA is to involve the participants in a compelling sporting experience in the “Spirit of 1000 Miglia,” This the 2nd American event is reserved for 40 historic cars that meet the eligibility requirements for 1000 Miglia and a limited number of Supercars. Newbies to the race will be offered the opportunity of real “Warm Up” dedicated to those who, not knowing much about 1000 Miglia, will have an overview of the rules and activities that characterize the participation in the most beautiful race in the world. During the four day event, the participating cars will travel 800 miles through some of the most evocative and iconic areas of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland to then reach the heart of Washington DC. Ending on Italian soil with the award ceremony hosted at the Ambassador’s residence Villa Firenze in Rock Creek Park.
Why is the Mille Miglia Coming to the USA?
The event is managed by the Italian Government and is designed to show off the best of the Italian culture to the world through this iconic road rally. While historic rallying cars are just one part of the event, engaging in the historic culture of Italy is the main reason. Bringing it to America, as well as other countries gives others a chance to enjoy the excitement and charm of the Mille Miglia.
“The international development of our brand – declared Franco Gussalli Beretta, President of 1000 Miglia Srl – must involve the United States, one of the first and most important countries in the world for the presence of cars of great historical value and it is a great honor, for 1000 Miglia and me, to be here alongside Ambassador Varricchio confirming the inseparable bond between 1000 Miglia and Italy and to present the second edition of 1000 Miglia Warm Up USA. We look forward to involving the participating crews, the fans, and enthusiasts in a week of training and getting to know all the rules, the particulars and the emotions that they can experience when they participate in 1000 Miglia that takes place every year in Italy in May. Finally, I would like to thank Chopard and Alfa Romeo, who has been by our side for many years and who have chosen to support us in this project as well.”
Plans for the 2019 Virginia Event
Car and driver teams will be invited to apply, and entries will be submitted for review through the summer. In early September an announcement will be made as to the 40 historic cars and handful of supercars accepted. The group will gather at the Salamander Resort in the Virginia Horse Country’s quaint village of Middleburg VA. From there they will spend four days broken into a day of training and three days of rallying to points as far north as Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural gem in Western Pennsylvania and to the south to Monticello in Charlottesville VA. Trekking over picturesque back roads and the historic Skyline Drive. Ending their rally in Washington DC.
FCA offered us a week of Italian car time, sending the 2018 Fiat 500 Lounge, or to be proper in Italian, Cinquecento.
This brought back lots of memories of a college-era yellow 1972 Fiat850 Spider. While today’s modern 4-seat two-door hatchback was not a drop top like that classic spider, it did have a retractable glass roof. More important it had a lot more of pick up and go and provided similar fuel economy in the upper 30’s miles per gallon on premium fuel. (Editor’s note: the ’72 got 42 mpg on premium fuel, 9-gallon fuel tank, out of a very tiny less than a 1-liter engine, and the convertible top leaked when it rained, but it was a really cute car.)
This 500 was dressed in Oliva Green Pearl paint with an Avorio or ivory white seats and matching interior that stood out quite well in contrast. At first, there were some feelings of reluctance to like the 500, but as the week went by and the more we drove it, the more we came to like its quirkiness, and how spunky it was. Going downtown on a busy Saturday proved its worth, as the smallness of the Fiat meant no problem parking in a spot that other cars could not have slipped into. Win ONE for the Fiat.
Floor It Again Tony
The turbo powered 1.4 inline 4-cylinder multiport fuel injected engine connected to the six-speed automatic transmission (a $995 option, yes, a manual is available,) produced plenty of power for this little runabout for city driving. And while it does not sound noisy on the outside when parked, there seems to be plenty of exhaust noise on the inside, this may be to make you think it is a powerful, sporty European car. While we did not take it out on the highway, there is no doubt this engine would work hard to keep up at top highway speeds.
At city speeds from 0 to 40, we found it had plenty of power and then we became used to the sporty exhaust noise. Fuel economy was in the mid to upper 30’s for us buzzing around town. Win TWO for the Fiat.
While the design is hardly flashy it is quite reminiscent of that from the 1960s zipping about European cities with movie stars driving them. You must admit clunky can be cute, and the 500 can be customized to make it even more adorable. When they first came out there was even a Gucci designer edition. We found that mature women swooned over this little car. Win Two and a half for the Fiat.
We found the interior to be functional and attractive, using the exterior body color as a splash across the dash in a plastic insert that gives the interior an eye-attracting splash of color. And it does take your eye away from the hard plastics that make up the rest of the interior, which is normal on cars in this price range. Button placement on the mid and upper center of the dash, are large and easy to engage, as well as know what they are doing. This is a major WIN for the Fiat.
Seats are comfortable though not easily adjustable, the front seat back adjustment lever is on the inside, which took some searching for and the front and rear adjustment is in the front and once released is very quick to move, so don’t do it as you accelerate, which we did, finding ourselves at the back of the track very quickly. Rear seats are not just a covered foam board like in other much higher priced vehicles. Right and left rear seatbacks to fold down individually so you can get someone in the back and carry longer items as well. Don’t expect a lot of leg room, but you would not with a car this small anyway, the good news is there is some leg room, and getting in and out will not turn the rear seat passenger into a pretzel, but if you practice yoga, you will find it easier get in and out of the back of a Fiat 500.
Cargo area is big enough to carry groceries or other items, surprising for such a small car. You actually have a space to put things even if you have four people riding in the car, which is helpful as everyone carries stuff with them.
Power plugs are a must these days and the 500 had three if you include what at one time was a cigarette lighter. Two USB ports, one tied to the Uconnect Audio system in the center console, and one in the glove box that only provides power. A simple audio jack is also undercover in the center console. These three all are vertical, so something could fall into them and cause issues, which is why they have cover doors over them. Like most cars today you have to add a $30 smokers’ package, which is an insert into a cup holder for an ashtray and a cigarette lighter to go in the leftmost power outlet, to accommodate smokers. We thought all Italians smoked.
At this price point, tech is often very low. Though Fiat does give you some trendy pop brand options like TomTom for GPS and Beats audio, and of course Sirius XM Satellite radio. The Uconnect in the Fiat is very basic, we never did connect our Samsung phone to it, as it kept not recognizing the Bluetooth signal. The $595
TomTom GPS is very simple with grainy imagery and clunky operation. The $695 premium Beats audio did not stand out as we thought it might. This is a loss for the Fiat.
What’s not to like
While it is a short list, and the pros are more than the cons, there are some things that we found bothersome about the 500.
The seating position never quite gives a comfortable driving position for your legs. If you put the seat back to stretch out, the steering wheel was too far away, up close, your legs were uncomfortably bent. So this would not be a good long-distance driving comfort. The sunroof’s interior sunshade is an open weave screen fabric letting in the bright sunshine even while closed. And the sun visors are tiny, because the front window is small, and do not extend when you move them over to the side covering less than half of the door’s window. And we never did find the door electric lock/unlock button, to unlock the doors you will have to open the door from inside handle. Price is a con, as it is high compared to other automobiles on the market today. More loss than a win, so be it.
What is to love
At first the cuteness of the size of the 500, easily slips into a small parking spot. The rear camera gave a great view of where the bumper was in relation to the car behind and the curb as well. And if you have the wipers on, the rear wiper will activate as well, helping you see. Visibility was very good for this car, plenty of glass to be able to see out and very little obstructions. Fun to drive in town, we found it zippy and energetic. WIN for the Fiat
Fit and Finish
For a small inexpensive car (though the price may not reflect that) that has the carried the Fix It Again Tony line since the brand started, fit and finish is very good both inside and out. And at this price point no one expects premium materials on the inside, nor do you get them, but the design is good for what is in your main line of vision. Exterior parts are well put together and the doors and hatch feel and sound solid.
While four models of the 500 are available, Base Pop starting at $16,495, 1957 Retro Edition, $19,745, Lounge (what we drove) $19745, and the awe-inspiring Abarth, $20,495. All of these come in your choice of a hatchback or Cabrio, which is more a canvas sunroof. Our hatchback came with the $795 power glass sunroof.
The Cinquecento that we were loaned by FCA priced out at $24,815 which included the $250 Ivory seats, $995 automatic transmission, $795 power sunroof, $595 Tom Tom Navigation, $695 Premium Beats Audio System and the $445 16-inch bright aluminum wheels, with a $1295 destination charge.
At the time of writing there was a $1250 cash incentive on the Fiat 500. Even with that, it is pricy for this segment of car. With just about the same amount being a destination charge, larger vehicles have smaller numbers on that line. No doubt you are paying for the brand names of the audio and navigation systems. Our take on this is to dicker on the price, one and two-year-old models are going for $17K at the big lot used car centers. This is a loss for the Fiat
While this would not be a car that we would seek out for ourselves and our lifestyle. It is a fun little city car that is filled with cuteness overload. While it is pricy for the segment, it would be a great car if you needed something for around town driving and short commutes. Fuel economy is not amazing, especially using premium fuel. It does have a four-star government safety rating, though reliability has not been stellar. The 500 does come with a 4-year 50,000-mile warranty. If this is a car you want, and plenty of people do, then get the best price you can, and have some fun. We recommend the glass sunroof option, and if you like a manual transmission, that is standard. – Ciao Bambino
Word and images (except where noted) by William West Hopper.
FCA, Fiat USA and Motus1 provided us with the use of the 2018 Fiat 500 Lounge Turbo for a week, no other compensation or payment was given to us to review this vehicle.
American family favorites, Crossovers and SUV’s dominate the market due to their versatility. So understandably there are plenty of them at all price points, a mix of high and middle-end models. I have taken these out over the past few months for quick around the block drives as well as extended time periods. Here are my thoughts on them. Some, not all we have done full reviews on which are featured elsewhere on the site.
Fiat 500X – Cuteness seems to be a staple with the Fiat brand. Though with the whinny engine and a transmission hunting for the right gear provide a less than enjoyable drive experience. I took this funky Italian breadbox up the mountain roads of New York State in May. Pluses are plenty of space and a very attractive interior design. Lots of trim levels and features are available. Discounts are plentiful at year end. Minus are: A clunky exterior, a noisy drivetrain, and a transmission always hunting for the right gear. Prices start at $19,995 and with generous year-end allowances you can put a lot of cute Italian into a small payment for a Fiat.
Nissan Rogue– An overall everyday crossover, easy to get in and out of, with plenty of cargo space. I kept expecting more from the Rogue considering the amount of hype this vehicle has gotten from Nissan’s PR department to the auto media. Including being heavily featured in recent Star Wars movie promotions and #RogueTrip events. Pluses are a well-made dependable vehicle. Minus are that the Rogue is not so memorable in the overall scheme of things. Starting at $24,680 and going up depending on trim levels and options. My heart does not go pitter-patter over this model as it does with Nissan’s other products. Though I may need a #RogueTrip to experience this vehicle in more depth.
When did this crossover become so large and in charge? What once was a mid-sized big SUV replacement seems to be growing. While right in the middle of Toyota’s extensive lineup of SUV’s and Crossovers it is a good option for those looking for a dependable, and long-lasting vehicle with plenty of options. Pricing starts at $31,030, incentives are not aggressive due to this being a top-selling model. I was not expecting a WOW, and the Highlander followed suit by not making me squeal for joy while behind the wheel. Though in the long run, the Highlander will be there, dependable and safe as any of Toyota’s vehicles.
GMC is an upmarket luxury truck maker showing that GM is paying a bit more attention to the details. Bringing luxury and utility together in an elegant package. While not as finely outfitted as the Terrain (which was not available to drive, though I attended a presentation on it earlier this year, see another post.) The Acadia is available starting at $42,255 and the Denali (upscale) trim starts at $45,415. While this is not a sports car, nor is it a luxury boulevard cruiser, the Acadia provided a very comfortable drive experience, one that I would find enjoyable on a long road trip. It was a nice both inside and out with a lot of attention to detail, especially for the front seat passengers.
Sorry to say, this is one that I took out of the parking lot and quickly brought back. A cheap fit and finish made it memorable, and not in a good way. Even in the next to the top of the line Night Edition drag, there were some basics that could be improved. I have been very impressed with what Hyundai and Kia have brought to market recently and comparing the Tuscon to other Hyundai models driven in the past year, this one was a disappointment. While the Tucson starts at $20,200, it could be so better from a company that offers America’s best automotive warranty and well-known customer service. Hyundai is pronounced like Sunday for those who wrestle with the pronunciation of the brand name.
Well now we are talking, no longer the boxy wannabe of its forebears, the odd exterior design is not unpleasing to the eye, just reminded me of a bathtub, a luxury spa tub. The Disco, as it is known, would not take long to get used to. The interior was quite comfortable, though not as impressive as I would expect from this legendary British Empire Automotive brand. This is one we would like to spend more time with to get the full Rover experience. Starting at $52,090 it is right at a price point with some strong competitors offering top-notch larger size SUV’s. The Discovery and it’s twin the Discovery Sport are positioned just under the famed Range Rover. The brand is owned by Tata, a large multi-national, multi-product-service company based in India. Which may be why this vehicle and the Jaguar F-Pace seemed to be so closely related, almost cousins. (Jaguar is also owned by Tata.)
Jaguar F-Pace – Here is a sleek and sumptuous SUV that I was very excited to get to drive for a few days this Fall. While it was an enjoyable ride, it was not everything I had hoped it would be. The 2.0 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel-powered version provided excellent fuel economy power and responsiveness. Comfort was nice with heated and cooled seats and all that one would expect in a proper English road car. Some of the technology was substandard compared to the competition, such as a limited vision camera, the center console display and the tinting on the windows rendered my two separate electronic toll pass devices inoperable, which was a tad embarrassing, as I was driving a Tata executive from China to an automotive media event. With prices starting at $42,065 for the basic model, topping out at over $62K for The pinnacle of F-Pace luxury, the Portfolio Edition. With a great ride and wonderful styling and fuel economy in the upper 20’s on diesel fuel, it is not one we would ask to leave the stable. But maybe send back for some more training.
Stepping into a Kia, the last thing you would expect is to fall in love with an economy car, a hybrid at that. That is what I did, within a few moments of driving this odd little crossover, I said to myself, I would buy this car. It was nimble, spacious and had plenty of technology aboard. A bit quirky and awkward at first, but it grows on you like a loveable, nerdy, best friend. I could easily see loading stuff in this car and be heading out on adventures. Prices start at $23,240 for the base model going up to $31,900 for the top-of-the-line Touring model. All feature a 1.6 L 4-cylinder and Full Parallel Hybrid System and provide anywhere from 40 to 52 miles per gallon. Even more of a reason to love this little Korean Crossover. Yet another vehicle from Korea that will give the Prius some challenges in the marketplace.
Cadillac XT5 – For me, it is hard to see Cadillac as a crossover, or even as an SUV. In my mind, Cadillac is a luxury car that says you have made it in the game of life. I have fond memories of the powder blue Eldorado Convertable (with a white top) that I drove to my Junior and Senior Prom in High School (it matched my Tux, hey it was the mid-1970’s and I still have the clip-on bow tie and button on ruffles for the shirt! And even the tux jacket somewhere.) The XT5’s interior rear-view mirror (the same on all Cadillac models) is a bit unnerving as it is a live video feed out the back, which for some reason played havoc with my sense of equilibrium, and eventually, I did find a way to switch it off. As a Crossover, it was a nice, but not as roomy or easy to get in an out of as I would like. And as a Cadillac, it was quite plain. I just would like it to be more elegant, more luxurious, more everything that a Cadillac is. Which also means different from the other GM products on the market, which the XT5 really is not. Prices start at $39,395 and with a number of add-ons it could be a contender. I especially like all of the safety features that Cadillac is offering on its current line of vehicles.
When you think America, the original SUV is just one name JEEP. While it may not be what we see on today’s roads, it was the World War II Jeep that the soliders brought home with them. Realizing that this rugged little four-wheel drive workhorse that took them all across the world’s battlefields. Now it has now become a staple in US driveways. No longer simple or even little, the Jeep has many iterations and is as capable as ever. The 2018 Jeep Compas is as close to the original as you might want to get, just now with a battalion of safety and technology features, not to mention and comfort that was unknown when it became a civilian product. The Compass may not have much more room, but four guys in this Jeep can be an interesting experience. We all found the engine noise annoying, especially on long drives. The Compass is a great size for urban runs. Prices start at $20,995 and discounts can be had depending on the dealer or buying service you are using.
A much-anticipated SUV that feels direct from the Italian Alps is this upscale
ride from the legendary automaker, Alfa Romero. With prices starting at $41,995 the Stelvio will be one that will sell quickly, even adding lots of options. This is one great looking SUV, sales will happen due to the Stelvio’s exceptional style, if for no other reason. Size is not enormous, but the driving experience is all European. Fit and finish need some work, though as with an Italian lover, you get the good with a few rough edges. We have not spent enough time in this vehicle as we would like, and hope to do so in the coming year.
We reviewed this full-sized 3-row American style SUV from the company that built the People’s Car earlier this year. The Atlas will fit the needs of many Americans due to the amount of interior space it offers. The Atlas is not going to win beauty pageants, it is a rolling bread box with very square angles. Made in Tennesee, it looks like a Ford Explorer just with a little some German styling cues. This is not the SUV for you If you are looking to make a statement about what you drive. Starting at just over $30K, this one will be a dutiful and dependable workhorse, as VW’s are well known for.
I was able to drive these vehicles due to membership in several professional automotive media organizations or by invitation of the manufacturer. I received no compensation or incentives for driving and reviewing the vehicles mentioned, other than the loan of the vehicles for up to seven days.
Words and Photos by William West Hopper Photos of the Toyota Highlander, GMC Acadia, Hyundai Tuscon were from their respective automotive media sites.
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