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Chrysler at the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show

olivier francoisWhat a difference a year makes. In 2010 the Fiat display was the buzz of the Chrysler display, Chrysler kicked off both their prototype show room at the LA Motor Village and, the new to America, Fiat 500 [2010 Los Angeles show coverage]. Sergio Marchionne and Laura Soave were the prominent speakers and the emphasis was on the young, new and discerning buyer Fiat would attract to the new Design Studios.

Fast-forward to today. Soave was nowhere in sight as Olivier Francois, with Pietro Gorlier standing nearby, opened the Fiat 500 Abarth premier with a clip of a new JenLo commercial and several other short spots about the Italian lifestyle, Italian women and the raciness of the Abarth history. A new marketing tack is being taken and today’s presentation gives every indication of being the do-over re-launch of the Fiat brand in North America.

Also given prominence with both several cars and a full display of 500/Gucci handbags and travel bags, was the 500 Gucci convertible, which was nearly as popular as the Abarth, since the Gucci was more visible and the jaded LA crowd will have to drive the Abarth before they “get-it.” As for Sergio Marchionne, he was off in Toledo — Toledo, Ohio, for a Jeep announcement.


The Gucci leather interior will likely be a hit in certain circles.

For the first time in the US, the 1.4L Fiat MultiAir Turbo makes its debut. At an impressive 117 horsepower per liter, this turbocharged engine has 170 lb.-ft. of torque, a 70% increase over the base 1.4L. Behind that tiny powerhouse is a 5 speed manual transmission, touted by Chrysler as a heavy duty using the Torque Transfer Control system. I’m sure the MPG will be quite good, but the reason to own a Abarth will be much more about the thrill of the drive. The turbo spins at up to 230,000 rpm [verified by engineer David M. Schmidt] and is assisted by two charge air coolers, each sitting behind functional front air intakes in the grill. [Full Fiat 500 Abarth information with more photos]

Fiat 500 Abarth car

boost gaugeThe Abarth is equipped with some nice instrumentation touches, including a shift reminder in the center of the turbo psi gauge. Abarth striping, lettering and badging makes it perfectly clear, this is no standard 500.

Fiat did not forget this is being sold in the US and to that end, the Abarth comes with available TomTom navigation, Bose premium sound system and Sirius XM radio.

The Abarth has more aggressive side body skirts, rear deck spoiler and 40% stiffer suspension, with Koni shocks, lower ride height and larger brakes with 11.1 inch rotors in front and 9.4 rear rotors, painted red calipers give the impression of you know who and they are huge by the standards for a car of this size. (2,533lbs)
Steering lock to lock is a go-cart like 2.3 turns!

Overall Chrysler’s display was a nice departure from the other manufacturers, as LA is always the location to ignore performance and dish out reams of lip service to electric, hybrid and alternative, feel good solutions to the transportation issue faced by today’s auto industry. I’m proud that Chrysler has taken the “performance isn’t all bad” approach to driving, portraying their most economical and fuel efficient offering as something that can accomplish a little more than the humdrum, while still being ecologically responsible.

That being said, my personal favorite, surprisingly, wasn’t a Jeep, although there were plenty, including the COD MW3 Wrangler fresh in from SEMA ...

call of duty jeep wrangler

... no, in my opinion it was this eye catching Avenger R/T.

Dodge Avenger R/T

Avenger R/T interior

It might have been the color which stood out in the sea of gray, or the interior, or the knowledge that this might be the last version before CUSW arrives, but the car just stuck me as cool.

The Europe-and-Canada-only* Artic Wrangler was on hand, in a very striking blue,

wrangler arctic


... parked just ahead of the Artic Liberty, which was displayed in white and didn’t have nearly the curb appeal as the Artic Blue. While previously earmarked for Europe and Canada only, some Arctics are showing up at US Dealerships, for a limited time.

In a nutshell, the 2011 LA Auto Show was a refocus upon the 500 with a smattering of the refined and improved products of the last year.
No major LA announcements other than the Abarth (Yellow Jacket and Super Bee were revealed to the press a few days in advance, and in person at a separate event), as Marchionne and Manley were in Toledo for the announcement about Toledo North (again) and Dodge was fairly low key, while Mopar and Ram took the just-off-center-stage attention. More Chrysler media folks were on hand than before, with more than a few VPs in attendance, but the rest of the gang appears to be very busy getting ready for 2013.

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