“So what’ll it be man? Mustang or Camaro?” Muscle car guys hit me with this question all the time when they find out I’m an automotive journalist. It’s the time-honored “Ford vs. Chevy” grudge match debate, and regardless of whether we are talking about classic cars or an automaker’s modern interpretation of one, you can tell that it’s a loaded question engineered to reveal my brand allegiance. While most guys get all fired up over the idea of whooping ass of the line in a Z28 or a Mach 1, I prefer to piss both of them off simultaneously by saying, “Naw man… Gimme a supercharged Challenger any day!”
Okay, so the last Challenger I drove did try to slam me into a concrete barrier while going 65 miles per hour down on racetrack, but after resetting the traction control to where it should have been, I set some seriously fast laps shortly thereafter, with nary a sign of wheel spin along the way. There’s just something about a hardcore Dodge that rubs me the right way when it comes to American muscle, and while the Ford and Chevy guys may laugh in my face for this, I remain a loyal Mopar man regardless.
Maybe I’ve seen the film Vanishing Point too many times, or perhaps the suped-up Charger in Dirty Mary Crazy Larry brainwashed me into believing badass Mopar-equipped cars are the way to go once they’re modified a bit. It might have something to do with the fact that out of all of the restyled slabs of American muscle rolling around, the Challenger remains the only option for anyone wanting a vehicle that retains many of the original car’s external styling cues. Combine that with the actuality that many of the Fiat-Chrysler Group’s offerings are insanely snazzy, offer a plethora of unique interiors and pleasantly quirky touches throughout, and carry more engine options than you might expect, and you’ve got a recipe for success that is sure to win drivers over.
But despite all this, things aren’t always going according to plan for the Italian-owned auto conglomerate. Recalls, reliability woes, emission issues, and a slew of uninspired offerings negate all of the good it is doing while the potential buyer’s confidence hangs in the balance. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but many of my colleagues in the automotive media realm and I agree that Fiat-Chrysler needs to remove a few bad apples from its crate, redesign some vehicles like the overtly drab Dodge Dart with some classic muscle styling cues, and add some cohesion to its far-flung empire.
Regardless of whether this still sounds like wishful thinking or not, stranger things have happened. But for the time being, let’s just appreciate FCA for what it is doing well, which is far more than you might expect.
1. While Jeeps remain awesome off-road, SRT options own the blacktop
For all of our snide remarks about how unreliable FCA vehicles may be, Americans still absolutely adore what the Jeep brand offers off-road. Rubicon Wranglers belong in the wild, and even though it may be slight of stature, the Renegade Sport I recently drove sure does offer a whole lot of traction control options, all of which work flawlessly in junction with the vehicle itself and its engine.
Back on the blacktop, Hellcat Chargers and Challengers rule the roost with 707 horsepower apiece, all while SRT offerings make cars like the Grand Cherokee a lot more menacing when the throttle is engaged. With its elongated waitlist and track-proven results, it’s no wonder that we encourage FCA to continue its unrestrained onslaught on self control with even more insane engineering and rugged trail-rated capabilities.
2. EcoDiesel power quietly brings the thunder
One of the first articles I did for The Cheat Sheet was on Jeep’s EcoDiesel powerplant, and how it is slated for installation on the Wrangler chassis down the line. Already equipped on both the Jeep Grand Cherokee and RAM 1500, this torque-rich lump of power is just what the Wrangler has needed all along — with the proper gearbox attached, there is no telling how popular this machine may become. Capable of towing up to 7,400 pounds thanks to 420 pound-feet of torque and covering 730 miles on a single tank of dinosaur bones, “Dieselgate” does not seem to be bothering FCA at all as it readies to offer more turbo-diesel V6 options in forthcoming years.
3. Product placement and marketing dollars are on point
By now you’ve probably seen one of the Hunger Games commercials Dodge has in heavy rotation, where it shows a slew of vehicles careening around in post-apocalyptic landscapes with scenes from the film spliced within its folds. I have seen countless commercials where soft drink sodas, fast food chains, and electronics companies market themselves in tandem with a film, hoping to snag some added sales before or after moviegoers hit the box office. Who knows, maybe this unconventional approach to joint marketing will pay-off, as FCA looks to appeal to younger buyers in a multitude of creative ways.
Interestingly enough, while watching the 2015 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, I noted that virtually every single vehicle towing floats that day had a big old “RAM” badge on the front of it — and that wasn’t a coincidence. This is an approach that is slightly less obvious, but is undoubtedly equally effective: Millions of viewers and thousands of parade-goers watched as dozens of the latest and greatest RAM trucks towed floats up and down the Big Apple.
4. Cross-pollinate like crazy
Laugh at it all you want, but that little turbocharged 1.4-liter motor in the Jeep Renegade is an absolute blast to thrash with a six-speed manual gearbox. Peppy, responsive, and easy to control, it’s the kind of engineering we like to see making its way out of Italy and into all things FCA.
This kind of creativity will hopefully propel the brand forward as millions of Millennials look toward new ways to efficiently propel the cars they want all while retaining as much fun as possible. Something cars like the manual shifting, turbocharged Renegade have in spades. It’s the same engine found in the Fiat 500 Abarth. The 2.4 liter Tigershark is found in everything from the Dodge Dart to Jeep Cherokee, the EcoDiesel makes itself at home in the Ram 1500 and the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Keeping an engine relegated to one model just isn’t FCA’s style, and for that, we’re thankful. Now, what else can we get the Viper’s 8.4 liter V10 in?
5. Alfa Romeo is ready for a full-blown conquest
As I reported the other day, the 505 horsepower, Ferrari-driven Alfa Romeo sedan you see here is set to arrive in America sometime next year, and are we excited or what. Hellcats are one thing, but Italian-bred, high performance sports cars are a whole new ballgame all together — something FCA has advantage-wise when it comes time to play its hand against the likes of Ford and Chevrolet. Millions of Americans will still likely continue to opt for American muscle over Italian vengeance, but regardless of what performance nuts prefer, there is no denying the fact that this is a card that FCA has been patiently waiting to play. Much like the refurbished SRT line, it’s one that stands a strong chance of turning into a huge hit for the resilient underdog.