Although it’s one of the most popular automakers in the world, Fiat never managed to attain the same recognition in the U.S. Even the recently established partnership with Chrysler didn’t help much, seeing as the general population still perceives Fiat vehicles as not particularly well-built econoboxes riddled with reliability issues. The Italians were even absent from the U.S. market for more than 25 years between 1983 and 2011 despite having a long history on this side of the Atlantic. After all, their very first North American assembly plant in Poughkeepsie, New York, dates back to 1908, making it older than most surviving U.S. automotive brands. History aside, we’re much more interested in how the modern 2020 Fiat lineup will fare.
One of the largest automakers in the world, Fiat boasted a global sales figure of around 1.5 million vehicles in 2017. However, the Italians are also some of the biggest losers among the largest car makers, having seen their sales fall from around 2 million units in 2010 – not to mention the pre-recession period. The reason behind Fiat’s plummeting sales is a simple one, though. Their failure to adapt to the contemporary market demands and start fielding a fleet of crossovers instead of conventional passenger cars has obviously cost them dearly. Fiat isn’t even the best-selling brand within the FCA group, having been overtaken by Jeep after 2017.
Furthermore, the famous Italian automaker’s U.S. sales only amounted to 26,492 total units in 2017. On one hand, a five-digit sales figure is reasonable for the Italian car manufacturer at this point. This is a new beginning for them after all, and their U.S. portfolio is rather slim as well. On the other hand, it’s the overall sales trend that’s worrying. Fiat had marketed more than 40,000 vehicles in each year between 2012 and 2015, reaching their modern-day U.S. high in 2014 with 46,121 units. These figures have been dwindling since, and if the first ten months of 2018 are any indicator (and they are), Fiat is in for record-low U.S. sales. Compared to the same period in 2017 when they sold 23,021 cars, the Italians have only marketed 13,235 vehicles concluding with October 2018.
It’s evident that things aren’t working out as planned for the automaker that’s given us the likes of the iconic Fiat 500, X1/9, and Dino. Much like Chrysler, Fiat, too, is becoming a scapegoat in FCA’s grand business scheme. We know what it meant for the Chrysler brand and we probably won’t have to wait long in order to find out what the parent company has in store for the Fiat division. Considering how neglected the Fiat brand has been in recent years, another withdrawal from the U.S. market and even the ultimate discontinuation of the once-mighty brand on a global scale don’t look like unrealistic propositions at the moment.
What’s Hot in the New 2020 Fiat Lineup
02. 2020 Fiat 500
Introduced back in 2007, the 500 is a modern version of the classic Fiat Nuova 500 (Italian for New 500) produced between 1957 and 1975. The prefix Nuova isn’t there for nothing as the original 500-branded Fiat was actually the 500 Topolino produced between 1936 and 1955. The Topolino, however, didn’t feature the Nuova or the contemporary 500’s petite and recognizable frame. The Fiat 500 isn’t exactly an evolution-prone car, but over a decade without any significant upgrades has started taking its toll. The city car will finally receive an extensive overhaul in 2020 with electrification being the focus. Before the all-new 500e EV makes its debut, the Italians will first introduce a mild-hybrid variant followed by estate wagon models dubbed the Giardiniera sometime around 2022. This is certainly a welcome change for the niche city car, but internal combustion models, including the quirky Abarth, aren’t going anywhere.
The mild hybrid Fiat 500 will use a belt driven 12-volt starter generator coupled, most likely, with the currently available 1.4L 4-cylinder engine. The turbocharged Abarth models should carry over mostly unchanged, although a slight bump in their final output figures shouldn’t catch us by surprise. At the moment, the most fun-to-drive Fiat 500 develops 160 ponies and 170 lb-ft of torque which is more than plenty for a car of its size. There still aren’t any substantial details on the forthcoming all-electric 500e but we’d expect it to offer a similar range as its future competitors like the Nissan Leaf, future VW e-Golf, or Chevy Bolt. It’ll likely be priced at around $30,000 or thereabouts, whereas the conventional models should again start from around $16,000. Knowing Fiat, though, the all-electric 500e likely won’t be offered with any class-leading features and specs.
01. 2020 Fiat 124 Spider
A spiritual successor to the 124 Sport Spider from mid-1960s to mid-1980s (known as Pininfarina at the very end), X1/9 from early 1970s to late 1980s (produced by Bertone for the last 7 years), and Barchetta from mid 1990s to mid-2000s – the modern Fiat 124 Spider represents an ultimate flair so uncharacteristic for the Italian volume car maker. As evidenced, though, they’ve always had that stylish 2-door convertible in their portfolio, and this roadster introduced in 2016 is only the latest in a long line of lovable compact drop-tops. The 124 Spider is due for a mid-cycle makeover in 2020, but as is often the case with affordable sports cars, changes won’t be significant. Minor revisions to the body and interior, together with new trim options and possibly a few additional tech features, is all we should expect.
The Fiat 124 Spider is currently available in three different trims – one of which carries the Abarth badge up front. The other two are known as Classica and Lusso, and they currently start from $25,000 and $28,000 respectively. Both sport the same 1.4L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine good enough for 160 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque and come with a proper short-throw 6-speed stick. The Abarth offers the same engine, albeit with a meager 4 ponies more; it is the performance-oriented model in the lineup, after all. In addition to the manual, the 124 Spider Abarth can also be ordered with a 6-speed auto with paddle shifters. It remains to be seen whether an increase in power is in the cards for Fiat’s most extravagant model after the proposed facelift, which is exactly what the class-defining Mazda MX-5 Miata has done. A more contemporary automatic gearbox (read: 9-speed) wouldn’t be unappreciated either. As for the prices, the 124 Spider Abarth will likely continue to retail from just north of $29,000.
What’s Not in the New 2020 Fiat Lineup
02. Fiat 500X
Although officially dubbed a subcompact crossover, the 500X is more of a hatchback with extra ground clearance. Although closely related to the Jeep Renegade, with which it shares the Melfi assembly plant, it’s based on the 500L hatchback MPV’s architecture. The small crossover was first unveiled in Paris during 2014, but only arrived stateside during MY 2016. It recently underwent a mid-cycle update for MY 2019, hence the 2020 Fiat 500X will be basically carried over without any significant changes. Despite being freshened up, the 500X’s underpinnings date back to 2005 and the introduction of the SCCS platform on the Fiat Grande Punto. In other words, the Fiat 500X is the same old overpriced city crossover which never stood a chance against the similarly priced yet more spacious Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5. Speaking of which, the entry-level models start from just north of $21,000, whereas the range-topping Trekking Plus trim costs a whopping-for-its-segment $30,500.
At least the refreshed 500X comes with a new engine which should make the city car more powerful and efficient at the same time. Sadly, the new 1.3L turbocharged 4-cylinder with MultiAir III variable-valve-timing replaces both the 1.4L turbo four and naturally aspirated 2.4L units, effectively becoming the 500X’s sole powertrain choice. It makes 177 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of twist and comes paired with a new 9-speed automatic transmission. Furthermore, every single Fiat 500X will be offered with a mandatory all-wheel-drive setup as of 2019. Although the Italians have gone a long way to update the 500X’s powertrain, most of the old issues will continue plaguing the subcompact. Its competitors are more spacious, offer better equipment, and have far better-projected reliability scores. Despite its shortcomings, the 500X is still a far better choice of the two larger Fiat 500 models.
01. 2020 Fiat 500L
The other of the two larger Fiat 500 models is, of course, the 500L. After all, the suffix L actually stands for “large.” Being produced at the same assembly plant as Yugo, the 500L was always going to struggle on the U.S. market due to its distant, non-related predecessor’s dreadful reputation here (unjustly bad reputation, if I might add). What’s more, being at the bottom of the Consumer Report’s reliability rating lists for consecutive years hasn’t helped it either. The tall hatchback might not be as bad as the reports suggest, but it still suffers from a wide variety of different issues including clunky ride, tons of body roll, lack of advanced safety gear, and poor cabin material quality among others. It does offer an excellent outward visibility, and lots of cargo and passenger space for a vehicle of its size.
By the time 2020 arrives, the Fiat 500L might already be gone. Even if it gets the ax after MY 2019, a number of leftover units will still be marketed as 2020-year models. Unlike the 500X, which received a major powertrain overhaul for MY2019, the Fiat 500L carries over unchanged. It’s powered by a 160-horsepower 1.4L turbo four which works like a charm in the smaller Fiat 500 Abarth, but exhibits a substantial amount of turbo lag in the larger and heavier 500L. The only available transmission is a 6-speed auto with manual shifting mode and optional all-wheel drive is nowhere to be found. The entry-level Fiat 500L starts from around $21,000 and works its way toward the $24,000 in the range-topping Lounge model. The Fiat 500L is evidently at the end of its issue-riddled cycle but it’s also apparent that the compact was never exactly desirable to begin with. It’s not only the most uninspiring of Fiat models but is also hands-down one of the most tragic cars on the U.S. market at the moment as a whole.