Ital­ian-Amer­i­can

Whet your ap­petite with th­ese rich and varied pick­ings from Fi­atChrysler’s menu

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drives - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@carsguide.com.au

AM­BI­TIOUS growth tar­gets and the need to sat­isfy an ex­pand­ing dealer net­work are be­hind Fiat-Chrysler Aus­tralia’s push for more mod­els. Given what’s in the global line-up, the wish­list isn’t un­re­al­is­tic.

The big­gest is­sue will be build­ing a busi­ness case for each model but the emer­gence of In­dia as an au­to­mo­tive pow­er­house will only help our cause, given the sub­con­ti­nent is right-hand drive.

Carsguide trav­elled to the US to sam­ple some of the ve­hi­cles the Aus­tralian arm is in­ter­ested in.

FIAT 500L

The bam­bino has grown up fast, with the L bear­ing only a pass­ing re­sem­blance to the diminu­tive 500.

The curves have been pushed out into a more boxy shape and as a re­sult it takes five adults with ease and has one of the largest cargo spa­ces in its class at 633L.

It also drives bet­ter than the 500, and the vague on-cen­tre steer­ing will be ap­pre­ci­ated by mums glanc­ing back to check on the kids.

The 1.4-litre Mul­tiAir en­gine is a gem with the man­ual trans­mis­sion and Fiat-Chrysler Aus­tralia wants to bring it here with a dual-clutch auto in place of the DuoLogic “manu­matic” fit­ted cur­rently in Europe.

That means we’ll have to wait un­til 2015 but the 500L makes per­fect sense as the car for 500 own­ers who find hav­ing kids means they’ve out­grown the bam­bino.

DODGE RAM 1500

The Ram was named truck of the year at last year’s Detroit Mo­tor Show. Hav­ing driven the big beast, I can see why.

The 3.0-litre turbo diesel, as used in the Grand Chero­kee, is more than ca­pa­ble in the larger Ram when teamed with the eight-speed auto.

Best of all, it doesn’t drive like a US mon­ster truck. The steer­ing is weighted off-cen­tre and the ride qual­ity is ex­cep­tional, even with­out pay­load.

This one’s more of a wish­list prospect than a re­al­is­tic ar­rival but the preva­lence of right­hand drive af­ter­mar­ket con­ver­sions for Rams and Chevy Sil­ver­a­dos in Aus­tralia shows there is a small but en­thu­si­as­tic mar­ket for the big pick-ups. Many are used to haul fifth-wheel trail­ers or big boats. A lim­ited run in the Ram shows it would be a more civilised mode of trans­port than most other op­tions.

DODGE CHAL­LENGER SRT

If Ford can find a mar­ket for the Mus­tang, the Chal­lenger should be just that — a chal­lenger for Aus­tralian per­for­mance en­thu­si­asts’ af­fec­tions. This is an old-school mus­cle car, right down to the gearshift threat­en­ing to vi­brate out of the con­sole the mo­ment the 6.4-litre Hemi V8 (351kW/637Nm) is tapped.

A new model is due in the next cou­ple of years and, in keep­ing with the global mar­ket­ing strat­egy, will be en­gi­neered to ac­com­mo­date right-hand-drive.

That car should also ben­e­fit from the re­fine­ment the Fiat tie-in has brought to all ve­hi­cles in the US-built sta­ble, from Dodge to Jeep — and that would make it a mar­ketable ve­hi­cle in Aus­tralia.

That just leaves Fi­atChrysler Aus­tralia to mount a rea­son­able busi­ness case for the sporty two-door.

VERDICT

Fiat-Chrysler needs more va­ri­ety.

The Alfa 4C sports car and mid-sized Jeep Chero­kee SUV will be shiny new toys for cus­tomers — and deal­ers — in the short-term but the long game calls for a de­cent prod­uct range for all brands. Jeep is the fo­cus for now but the unloved Dodge Jour­ney sorely needs a sta­ble­mate, be that the Dart, the Ram or the Chal­lenger.

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