I will admit I'm an avid fan of beautiful women and beautiful cars, so I wasn't that disappointed when Fiat chose Jennifer Lopez to be the spokesperson for the 2011 importation of the Fiat 500. She certainly looked dazzling tootling through her Bronx neighborhood - except that she actually didn't make the drive.
I've owned only one Fiat, but that's not from a lack of trying. I fell for the Fiat 850 coupe and convertible in the 1960's-70's, but could not find one that survived New England winters. My one Fiat came in 1979 when an Oldsmobile ran a red light in Burlington, VT, and took out the front end of my MGB. So I found a '72 Fiat Spider which, despite its lovely lines, had seen hard times but ran quite well over my two years of ownership. Mine never looked this good but I quite enjoyed the 5-speed on long trips - but the high revving engine meant low torque at low rpm, and thus a lot of traction problems in the snow.
So I joined a lot of enthusiasts in welcoming Fiat back into the US market - and a lot of economists in thanking Fiat for taking over and reviving Chrysler.
Fiats always rewarded enthusiastic driving and featured elements of Italian style unique to their culture. So when Fiat announced its new dealerships would be called "Design Centers" I wasn't surprised, but I was puzzled when the first marketing campaign re-introducing the brand into the US focused on its "cute" factor.
This remained puzzling because Fiat's niche has always been their driving entertainment factor. Yes, the interior comes filled with clever design features and its appearance has the right "adorable" factor, but remember that Abarth, Zagato and Pinninfarina all designed special models for Fiat. The Abarth and Zagato versions always provided extra performance, too.
The word from Fiat-Chrysler's current CEO, Olivier Francois, is that Fiat has accelerated their push to remind potential buyers that Fiats have real performance, not just style cred. A Fiat would never replace my Land Rover but I would not toss a Fiat convertible out the door, either.