The Fiat 500 subcompact may be Italian through and through, but the U.S. version that arrives in dealerships late this year will cater to American tastes.
The American car will have a more powerful engine than the European version, a slightly softer ride and -- most important -- more substantial, American-style cupholders.
Nearly 27 years after leaving the United States, Fiat returns at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week with the 500. The U.S. car will have the same 1.4-liter engine as Europe but will add MultiAir, a Fiat engine-breathing system that the company says improves power 10 percent and cuts emissions 10 percent.
The engine will be teamed with a new six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. The North American version also will have new bumpers and body cladding and a slightly softer suspension. In the cabin, there's a new center console with American-style cupholders.
American drivers traditionally have looked askance at small cars, but the segment is changing rapidly. The 500 will have to jockey for space not only with boutique cars such as the Mini but also with aspiring newcomers such as the Ford Fiesta.
Fiat has not issued performance numbers or specifications. Based on comparisons with the European version, Automotive News estimates the 500 will average 40 mpg city and highway.
The 500 will be manufactured in Chrysler Group's plant in Toluca, Mexico. Dealers will get their first cars in December, and the 500 will go on sale in January. The market launch is scheduled for March.
The 500 will be sold in about 165 stores. As of last week Chrysler had not identified the entire network and still was in discussions with some dealers. The first dealers, named in October, were Chrysler dealers. The company also is holding discussions with some non-Chrysler dealers.
The showrooms will be called Fiat Studios. Chrysler wants the showrooms to be showcases for modern Italian design.
Luca Ciferri contributed to this report