Make us your home page
Autos | Compacts

Chrysler-Fiat FIRE engine is solid

I just drove the first engine from Chrysler's dip into Fiat technology, and it's solid. The 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine revs smooth and fast up to a Honda-like 6,900 rpm. It sounds sweet and generates plenty of useful power on the way there.

Called the FIRE engine, a nickname that dates to the 1980s when Fiat jumped on the automation bandwagon and developed an assembly system for a Fully Integrated Robotic Engine, the engine comes out of Chrysler's plant in Dundee, Mich.

The Fiat 500 that goes on sale this month is the first car fitted with the engine, which uses Fiat's Multiair variable valve timing to generate impressive power, torque and fuel economy.

The engine produces only 98 pound-feet of torque, but Multiair makes it available at relatively low rpm for quick maneuvers in traffic. It had plenty of power for fast highway cruising and zipping through curving desert roads east of San Diego, too.

Look for the 1.4-liter to power several of the small cars Chrysler's brands are developing based on Fiat vehicle architectures. Chrysler's Dundee facility can build about 250,000 of the engines annually. Only 100,000 or so will go to the 500.

Nobody will say this officially, but you can expect turbocharging and direct gasoline injection to boost the 1.4-liter's power significantly for cars larger than the tiny 500. Alfa Romeo already offers a 160-horsepower version of the engine in its MiTo sport coupe in Europe.

Multiair can be bolted on to existing engines. It's only a matter of time until it boosts the power and fuel economy of the 2.0- and 2.4-liter Chrysler-developed four-cylinder engines also built in Dundee.

Hatchback comeback

Look for more hatchbacks in showrooms and on American roads soon. This is great news. A good hatchback can look great, and it's a practical body style that provides more cargo space than a sedan of the same size.

Ford expects about 50 percent of sales of its new 2012 Focus compact, which I drove through the hills north of Los Angeles last week, to be in the hatchback style. That follows a surprising 60 percent take rate for Fiesta hatchbacks last year.

Ford expected to sell more Fiesta sedans, but buyers smartly realized the hatchback looks better and has more room.

The conventional wisdom among automakers is that Americans like sedans and shun hatchbacks. It's the reverse in Europe. Hatches account for most European sales of compact and smaller cars, and the body style is moving into midsize cars.

Ford's not alone in its renewed interest in American hatchbacks. GM will test the waters with the Chevy Sonic hatch this fall and the tiny Chevy Spark in 2012.

Chrysler is working on hatchbacks among the slew of new models that arrive starting next year.

One theory holds that Americans don't like hatchbacks because the first hatchbacks Detroit built — misbegots like the Ford Pinto and Chevy Chevette — were terrible cars.

On the other hand, hatchbacks like the Mini Cooper and Pontiac Vibe sold well, and some crossovers are simply tall hatchbacks, like the Nissan Juke. Maybe the secret to selling Americans on hatchbacks is as simple as building a car that looks so good that people can't resist driving it.

Once you've been in a hatchback like the Mini, Juke, Focus or Audi A7, resistance is futile.

Chrysler-Fiat FIRE engine is solid 02/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Detroit Free Press.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Water Street Tampa unveils video showing downtown's transformation


    TAMPA — Water Street Tampa, the sweeping, 50-plus acre redevelopment project in Tampa's urban core, has unveiled new images and video of what the downtown district will look like upon completion.

    Strategic Property Partners released a conceptual image of what the Tampa skyline will look like once its redevelopment of 50-plus acres of downtown will look like. [Photo courtesy of  of SPP]
  2. Florida ranks high for workplace equality between men and women

    Working Life

    When it comes to the workplace, Florida ranks fifth in terms of gender equality, a WalletHub study released Tuesday found.

    Florida ranks high in terms of equality between men and women in the workplace. Pictured is Sandra Murman, county commissioner in 2015, talking about the differences in pay between men and women. | [Times file photo]
  3. Treasury secretary's wife boasts of travel on government plane, touts high fashion


    U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's wife, Louise Linton, boasted of flying on a government plane with her husband to Kentucky on Monday and then named the numerous fashion brands she wore on the trip in an unusual social media post that only became more bizarre minutes later.

    Steven Mnuchin and his then- financee Louise Linton watch as President Donald Trump speaks during Mnuchin's swearing-in ceremony as  treasury secretary in the Oval Office of the White House on Feb. 13. [Mandel Ngan | AFP via Getty Images]
  4. Ford, Chinese partner look at possible electric car venture


    BEIJING — Ford Motor Co. and a Chinese automaker said Tuesday they are looking into setting up a joint venture to develop and manufacture electric cars in China.

    In this April 23, 2016 photo, attendees take smartphone photos at a promotional event for Ford Motor Company ahead of the Auto China car show in Beijing. Ford Motor Co. announced an agreement Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017 with a Chinese partner to look into forming a joint venture to develop and manufacture electric cars in China. [AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein]
  5. Judge throws out $458,000 condo sale, says Clearwater attorney tricked bidders

    Real Estate

    CLEARWATER — Pinellas County Circuit Judge Jack St. Arnold on Monday threw out the $458,100 sale of a gulf-front condo because of what he called an "unscrupulous" and "conniving" scheme to trick bidders at a foreclosure auction.

    John Houde, left, whose Orlando copany was the high  bidder June 8 at the foreclosure auction of a Redington Beach condo, looks in the direction of Clearwater lawyer and real estate investor Roy C. Skelton, foreground,  during a hearing Monday before Pinellas County Circuit Judge Jack St. Arnold.  [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times ]