5 of the oddest Fiat Chrysler-era cars
FCA produced some vehicles you have to travel a long way to see
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles this week announced a merger with French automaker PSA Groupe, made up of Peugeot, Citroen and Opel/Vauxhall. The move definitely opens some opportunities for platform sharing as well as giving PSA a foothold in the U.S., if it wants it. (It wants it).
True to earlier Chrysler eras, badge engineering was embraced within FCA, even though U.S. consumers rarely if ever encountered the fruits of all the … synergies exploited in what was admittedly a difficult time for the automaker. In fact, unless you visit very specific parts of the world, you’ll never see these rolling down the street.
Here are five of the oddest vehicles FCA produced during the last 10 years.
1. Fiat Freemont
The Dodge Journey has been a solid hit for dealers in North America even though it’s clearly a little dated by now. Its size and price also made it ideal for a lot of overseas markets. FCA kept the exterior design of the Journey intact, fitting a pretty generic Fiat grille and offering it as a Fiat starting in 2011, a couple of years after the Journey entered production.
Why it exists: The Journey made a lot of sense for a lot of markets when it was still relatively fresh, and in keeping with Fiat’s theme of thrifty engines, it has been offered in most regional markets like China, Australia and Europe with smaller, four-cylinder engines. What’s interesting is that the Dodge Journey model is also offered in a lot of these markets, including in diesel flavor, meaning there is quite a bit of overlap in places like China, which has both Fiat and Dodge dealers. The main point of the Freemont, we suspect, was to boost the offerings of Fiat dealers in certain markets early on in the decade, even though the Dodge styling comes through pretty loud.
2. Dodge Attitude
First of all: This is not a photoshop. This particular car had nothing to do with any of Fiat’s or any of Chrysler’s brands from a production standpoint, but it’s still a pretty spectacular badge engineering exercise. Just about everywhere else in the world this is a Mitsubishi Attrage sedan, offered as the Mirage in the U.S., but in Mexico, the model is still sold through Dodge dealers as the Attitude.
What kind of attitude does it have? Probably about the same attitude as the U.S.-market Mirage, which is noisy but a bit lethargic at the same time. But it’s only offered in sedan flavor in Mexico.
Why it exists: The point of this model is to give Dodge dealers in Mexico a subcompact sedan to sell because the segment is still very important there, but not important enough for FCA to have had Fiat produce something in this segment elsewhere in the world.
3. Dodge Neon
Yes, the Dodge Neon is alive and well to this day, but there’s nothing particularly Mopar about it. In fact, despite wearing an American badge, there isn’t anything particularly American about it, either: It’s a Fiat Tipo sedan built in Turkey for the Mexican market.
What’s cool about it is that it’s actually a pretty compelling budget sedan with a feisty 1.4-liter gas engine and a six-speed manual gearbox. If the compact sedan segment in the U.S. was not dominated by Japanese and South Korean offerings (and if the segment was not constantly shrinking due to the popularity of crossovers), this would be a pretty neat sedan in the classic commuter sense.
This is also one of two cars on this list that we haven’t driven in some rebadged form because Fiat, despite a dealership network in the U.S., doesn’t offer a small sedan here.
Why it exists: The impetus for this badge-engineering exercise is actually quite simple: Dodge dealers in Mexico needed a compact sedan positioned above the Attitude, but after the demise of the Chrysler 200 and the Dodge Dart, there wasn’t any small sedan that was produced by FCA closer to Mexico. That’s how the Fiat Tipo ended up coming all the way to the new world.
4. Lancia Thema
Miraculously, the Lancia brand was not axed during the FCA years, and it’s partially thanks to an earlier Chrysler marriage — the one with Daimler. That’s how the Chrysler 300 was quickly dressed up as a Lancia, replacing an earlier, adventurously styled model called the Thesis that was pretty cool in its own right as a design exercise but managed to rack up very limited sales. If anything, it is the Thesis that’s worth a look because it was really one of the last Lancias that was designed to appeal to those who love quirky designs. But the Thema’s tenure did not last long: Production ran from 2011 till 2014.
Why it existed: The upside for Lancia was that it had one more model that it could sell and continue existing, and buyers of course understood that they weren’t getting, ahem, temperamental engineering that accompanied previous Themas. So if we look at it that way, Lancia sold a fairly reliable platform with some legacy Mercedes engineering thrown in for free because the Chrysler 300 borrowed some suspension bits from larger Mercedes sedans of the late 1990s.
5. Chrysler Ypsilon
It’s admittedly difficult to picture Chrysler offering a four-door hatchback in 2019, but such a thing exists thanks to the imagination of FCA product planners. Sharing an architecture with the Fiat 500 and the Fiat Panda hatchbacks, the Lancia Ypsilon, which is built in Poland for the European market, is offered in Japan, the U.K. and Ireland as the Chrysler Ypsilon in right-hand-drive form.
Why it exists: There are Chrysler dealers in the U.K. and Ireland that need to sell a small hatchback to offer something in that segment, which is still big in Europe, but it can’t be something as obvious as a Fiat 500 wearing a Chrysler badge. But it can be a Lancia wearing a Chrysler badge, apparently, and it’s offered in relatively undiluted form with Lancia styling — there isn’t anything Chrysler about it except the grille. When it comes to the Japanese market, Chrysler’s main offering there is the Chrysler 300 sedan as a novelty item of sorts, but the Chrysler Ypsilon is the more appropriately urban-size model, exported there from Poland.