FORGIVE me if I’m about to break all sorts of rules about product placement – but I’m fairly certain you’ll know what I’m on about if I ask what beanz meanz.
There are plenty of other fine purveyors of the flatulence-inducing dinnertime treat, of course, and you can pick up everything from squeezy bottles of sweet chilli ketchup to tins of creamy chicken soup bearing this culinary giant’s corporate logo down at your nearest supermarket, but chances are that if I challenge you to come up with a maker of baked beans you’ll struggle to think of any other name.
In exactly the same way that proper small cars, for far longer than anyone cares to remember, means Fiat.
So I was a tad perplexed to learn the other day that, as part of a mega-merger between PSA (the owners of Peugeot, Citroen and Vauxhall) and Fiat-Chrysler (no prizes for guessing what they own) being signed off that the person heading up the Italian side openly suggested that it’s Peugeot that should take the lead on making combined conglomerate’s smaller offerings. Admittedly, what the Gallic side gets in return – Jeep’s mudplugging know-how for future off-roaders – makes complete sense, but to me it still seems like an extraordinary concession from the carmaker that does it better than anybody else.
I’m not just on about the 500, which despite dating back to 2007 still manages to sell in decent numbers while maintaining a frisson of fun, or its addictively entertaining Abarth counterparts. I’m on about underrated city cars that prove to be far more engaging outside of their natural habitats than any small car ought to be. Cars like the old Panda 100HP and the Cinquecento Sporting. We could go back even further – a year or two ago I drove an Autobianchi Giardiniera, which is essentially a 1960s Fiat 500 turned into an improbably small estate car, and loved every moment. It struggled to get above 45mph, but it was agile, brilliantly packaged and equipped with an endlessly eager two-cylinder engine.
I’ve written before about how emissions legislation is – ironically – making it less cost effective to make small cars these days, and it doesn’t make sense for Peugeot, Citroen, Vauxhall and Fiat to all compete with each other when they’re under the same roof, but having Fiat give up what it does best is a step too far. Peugeot make some cracking small cars, of course, but it says a lot that its most petite offering, the 107, is actually a rebadged Toyota Aygo.
Fingers crossed that someone at the helm of this new carmaking giant borrows a Panda for a couple of hours and sees sense. Small Fiats are a bit like beans on toast – you wouldn’t want to have them all the time, but it’d be a strangely sad world without them.