BALOCCO, Italy -- New Fiat-based vehicles for Chrysler Group are still two years away. So far, the two companies have revealed few specifics about the cars and crossovers in the works.
But that's starting to change, and now it's possible to paint a general picture of what to expect.
Last week Fiat engineers gave journalists in Italy a peek at a new Fiat platform that will be the starting point for seven compact and mid-sized vehicles for Chrysler beginning in 2012. Engineers will lengthen and widen the platform for the U.S. vehicles and give it a new name, Compact Wide.
It's unclear whether all the characteristics of the Fiat platform will be retained in Compact Wide. But it's safe to say U.S. buyers can expect tight, European-style ride and handling for such vehicles as the replacement for the Chrysler PT Cruiser.
The new Fiat platform has European-tuned suspensions, responsive electric power steering and six airbags as standard equipment.
For handling and steering response, Fiat benchmarked premium compact models such as the Audi A3 and BMW 1 series.
For the new platform, Fiat engineers designed a new front suspension, with McPherson struts, and a dual-link rear suspension. A dual-link suspension has nearly the dynamic response of a high-end multilink suspension but is less expensive.
To save weight and improve handling, the Fiat platform has an aluminum rear-suspension cross member and aluminum front and rear suspension arms. Extensive use of aluminum in suspensions is a given in premium vehicles but is absent in the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger, which will be replaced by Compact Wide vehicles in 2013.
To save weight and fuel, the platform uses electric power steering. But to increase response time, Fiat engineers mounted the electric motor on top of the rack-and-pinion box. Usually, the motor is on the steering column, which slows the reaction time of most electric power steering.
Reducing weight in the platform was a key target. Fiat says the platform is about 10 percent lighter than the one it replaces, in part by using more high-strength steel. By 2014, Chrysler wants to reduce fuel consumption 25 percent from today's level.
The engines in the Fiat-based Chryslers will be a mix of old and new. Engineers will adapt Fiat's fuel-saving MultiAir technology to Chrysler's current four-cylinder engines. MultiAir improves power and cuts fuel consumption 10 percent each with electrohydraulic variable valve timing.
MultiAir also will be adapted to Chrysler's new 3.6-liter V-6 Pentastar engine, debuting late this year on the new Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV.