Last week we told you about the new Dodge Neon sedan, currently being sold in the Middle East and Mexico. The new Neon is a badge engineered Fiat Tipo which our Forum member: TripleT previously had experience with on a trip to Italy. He was kind enough to share his thoughts on the Tipo and how he thinks it could easily be brought to the North American market under Chrysler. Here are his thoughts:
It almost always exciting to be in Jesi (yeah-zea) Italy to see the first shots of a new product, Jesi is just inland from the Adriatic Sea near Ancona. For those less familiar about 2 o’clock northeast from Rome on the opposite coast. The Food is terrific; the Scenery is lovely, the Wine is wonderful. However, this time I had a new experience, getting to spend the week being shuffled around in a brand new Fiat Tipo Wagon, the new company car of my host. The Tipo is a car that is extremely interesting to me, not because it is particularly special as cars go. It’s a Fiat, so no it’s not a Maserati, Alfa, or Ferrari, but because it seems to be exactly the car that is missing at the Local CDJR and Fiat dealership back home. What is interesting is while it doesn’t fit well in the USA as a Fiat, as it is not whimsical and Cute as defined by the 500 line, it doesn’t fit the Fiat line in Italy either. By Italian or any Narrow street European country standards, it is quite Large “for a Fiat.” No, no one in North America is going describe it as large, but trust me whatever size us well fed Americans think it to be, it is more substantial. It is bigger than a Focus, dare I say it feels more prominent than a Chrysler 200. At the least, it is better packaged than a 200. While I would bump my head getting in a Chrysler 200, with my hair being tickled even on the shortest ride. This was not at all the case for the Tipo. My taller colleague volunteered to sit in the back the entire week without a single complaint. At no point was leg room ever an issue in the front or rear, while not a 300 by any standard no one’s seating position could ever be described as anything but comfortable.
As I continually tap and touch every surface on the passenger side, Monica (who continually reminds me her name is Mown-Aka) clumsily searches for gears. However, I am pretty sure that because she is not used to this much car, as her daily driver is a Lancia Ypsilon. “This car is so much fun because it has so much power.” I don’t know if I would agree with that, but aside from her not being used to the clutch of this car tooling around in the tight parking areas of the town, it is a surprisingly smooth and quiet car. Especially considering it is a Diesel and the poor conditions of the Italian roads. The vehicle exhibited no nervousness or sound from the suspension, and I was never able to detect any rattling and squeaking from the interior. I did take a ride in the rear once, and some road noise did enter the cabin but nothing that was unusual for a Wagon. The base diesel never hesitated while hauling three of us around even when hustling three grown men and a thin woman up a mountain for a scenic lunch overlooking the Italian Countryside.
Being a base model company car, this was not well equipped; it had typical felt flooring often seen in value vehicles in the EU, the seat covers were that durable but not very soft cloth with similar cloth in the door panels. It had the smaller UConnect system and base gauges. It had parking radar but lacked the rear camera. The dash upper was a Urethane or TPU covered two resin component that was soft and pliable to the touch, very similar to the Compass or Charger for that matter. Typical of a base model there are a lot of single process resins, but it is genuinely well tooled and features well matched patterned components. Perhaps it would be lost on others, a car full of plastics people debating what grade resin each part might be, it was settled that most were either PP or ABS. Often if flipped around you would see both listed in the tool as a possible option. There was an excellent satin metal finished component that ran the entire length of the car that hinted at a bit of class and that higher model content could be offered. The rear cargo area had the same felt flooring as the interior, that selection stood out in contrast to this lovely feeling cargo cover that would have felt at home in a Daimler product, with several dedicated positions for various cargo situations. Not understanding the wagon market in the EU this might be a requirement that in NA often sits unused in the garage and nearly never seen in a base model.
In the end, I have more questions than answers. It is obvious there is a giant hole in the NA lineup, if not for volume, but to have another value offering in the line-up to bring customers to the lot. Here it seems we have a car that fits perfectly in the missing soft spot of an economical sedan. With a minimal amount of effort, this car could be branded as Chrysler and put on lots as quickly as it could be certified with nearly no additional tooling cost.
From an exterior perspective, let us be frank, it already looks more like a Chrysler than a Fiat. Aside from the addition of a similar lower grill insert on the new 500, it is out of place on a Fiat lot. Whether by design or a late branding change decision. Its size and look matches nothing sold as a Fiat. While it’s not daring by any sense of the imagination, it has a classic competent look about it. Which oddly stands out as everyone raced to be the most aero efficient, which back seat passengers with bent necks can attest to. The only thing that would be needed is a pair of wings front and back, better wheels, and a remote gas lock option (which may already exist). The interior would need to be upgraded but nothing costly mostly finishing and material upgrades. Of course, leather seating and door inserts would need to be an option. Some higher quality cloth down the line. Power seating options. The steering wheel would need an upgrade, as it was pleather wrapped, and would need to be a nicer leather on North American units. Better gauges and the high-end Uconnect option would need to be added. None of this couldn’t be plucked from the parts bin. Many of the single process components could do with a softer feeling resin, this may be a regional preference thing, as similar components in the Compass had a softer durometer. So again, this just a resin selection. To give the interior a more luxurious appearance, I would suggest that many of the non-patterned parts get a secondary process. The satin metal finish in the dash should be matched in the air vent surrounds, as well as the door panels and front and rear cup holders. Of course, Carpet not felt should line the cargo area of the wagon and the floor of all models. The biggest issue is the powertrain. The fantastic diesel can’t be sold here in NA, thanks to VW. Personally, given the car’s weight there is no reason in the world the 1.4T couldn’t be the base engine, but after that, there would need to be an upgrade. The new 2.0T would turn the car into a rocket and an S model with a mild hybrid would be an absolute screamer. Maybe the MultiAir 2.0 4 cylinder could replace the small 1.4 turbo in lower end models if needed.
So, I am left to ponder why FCA hasn’t already dropped this car in the gaping hole left in NA by the departure of the Dart and 200. After examining the car, I am sure it is not a cost of bringing the car up to NA standards issue unless they feel they need to wait for a better bottom end powertrain option. It could be capacity; it seems that they are suddenly everywhere and there may not be a need at this point to go to the trouble. North America still won’t draw margin. Here is where it may be the biggest issue. Even if the cost was zero does the North American market warrant the cost and effort, as minimum as it is, for a segment that has zero to negative margin? I would argue that it does, that they shouldn’t even try to compete against the Asian sourced models, that it only should be a placeholder, a market segment filler to give the dealers something to show, something for the person who is brand loyal but still wants a smaller car. Maintain reasonable margins, if it doesn’t sell well, so be it nothing is lost, the capacity is directed toward markets that still purchase high value, economical vehicles. It gives Chrysler 2 additional models, if the sedan and wagons were brought over, it also provides a valuable model beyond the Fiat 500 to the entire dealer network.
So, in conclusion, the Tipo is a surprisingly large, quiet, refined sedan. That with minimum cost and effort would make an excellent Chrysler to fill the hole left by the Dart and 200. We can all be left to wonder why FCA hasn’t executed that yet.