FWD Champions: The Fiat Coupé
I’m going to do something unheard-of in this post. I’m going to compliment a Chris Bangle design.
In contrast to the almost insurmountable damage he did to the BMW design image in the early ’00s (which is only just now beginning to be undone), before his sense of style “evolved” to encompass the truly hideous, in the ’90s his designs were considered merely avant-garde, and in some cases, actually attractive.
Take the ’93-’00 Fiat Coupe, for example. Yes, its front wheels do the work of propelling the car, as on so many sports coupes of its day, such as the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Ford Probe or Mercury Cougar. But in contrast to those cars’ derivative proportions and detailing, the Fiat Coupe is striking in its originality and coherence. Most elements, such as the bubbled headlight covers, the taillight design or the bodywork “slashes” above the wheels, are unique in the automotive world, and the car is a true head-turner, and not in a gaudy way, either–the Coupe’s design is provocative without looking superfluous or overwrought. It’s right on the money.
The 220-hp 20V turbo version of the car has a surprising turn of speed, also, its 6.5-second 0-60 dash making it the fastest FWD car of its day. Furthermore, as the Coupe’s chassis dynamics were developed in Europe, it’s far more buttoned-down and taut than most front-drivers offered here in the US.
It’s a shame the car was never offered here, but I doubt it would have sold well in any case. Europeans in general are far more tolerant of daring styling decisions in their small cars (see: Renault Twingo, Ford Ka, Fiat Multipla, etc), although ever since the success of the radically box-like first-generation Scion xB on our shores, our attitude towards economy car design risks has softened a good deal. So the Fiat Coupe might have had a chance here…10 years after it was phased out. It wasn’t a world-beater, but for offering an arresting shape wrapped around a competent chassis and array of powerplants, it deserves to be recognized.
Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting FWD cars I think highly of, in spite of my overwhelming RWD bias. Read the other installments here:
- Peugeot 205 GTI
- B4 Volkswagen Passat
- Lancia Fulvia Coupe
- Acura Vigor
- Mazda Millenia
- Citroën SM
- ’91-’96 Infiniti G20
- ’91-’94 B13 Nissan Sentra SE-R
- ’88-’92 Mazda MX-6
- Audi Coupe GT
- Volkswagen Corrado
- Peugeot 405 Mi16
- ’78-’93 Saab 900
- Volvo 850 T-5R
- 5th-generation Honda Prelude
- 1st- and 2nd-generation Volkswagen Scirocco