The Fiat 500 needs to get radical

PARIS -- Every time I see a Fiat 500 on the street here, I have the same thought. It's a little underwhelming in terms of exterior design.

Whatever its other virtues, it just doesn't have the same immediate visual appeal that, say, the Volkswagen New Beetle or the Mini had at the time of their U.S. launches. I know it's based on an Italian icon, but that isn't going to mean a lot in the U.S. So then I see the 500 Twin Air on the Fiat stand. It has a 0.9-liter two-cylinder engine, and, according to the display, cuts emissions by 15 percent, cuts fuel consumption by 15 percent and has start-stop technology.

Fiat isn't planning to bring this version of the 500 to the U.S., and you can understand why. Two-bangers aren't real big in the land of big vehicles and big highways. And it only delivers 86 hp.

But if Fiat could publicize some eye-popping fuel-economy figures, or look pretty green in terms of emissions, it could get some attention. The 500 needs something a little radical.