Fiat needs 500 to deliver ‘fun-to-drive' moments

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News
Will the Fiat 500 be a hit?

The U.S. version was revealed last week at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The 500 is a cute little sporty hatchback that's a bit shorter than a Mini Cooper.

The first Fiat 500 vehicles arrive at dealers in January, as 2012 models. Pricing starts around $16,000. The marketing blitz kicks off in March.

Fiat is targeting U.S. sales at 45,000 in 2012. That seems like a lofty goal considering Fiat's U.S. history and reputation for quality is far from stellar.

But it is not an impossible goal if the car makes a good first impression with journalists and buyers. It has to be a winner from Day 1. This is the Fiat brand's second chance in this country.

Specifically, fit-and-finish, ride, handling, comfort have to be exceptional. The car has to have a solid feel.

Under the hood, there needs to be a powerful yet economical engine that contributes to that fun-to-drive feeling.

I expect reviews for the 500 will appear in the next several weeks. We'll know fairly soon whether the Fiat 500 has the potential to be a winner.