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Already among the most popular cars in Europe, FIAT's subcompact Panda could soon find itself on American shores. The automaker showed off an all-new version of the five-door hatchback at the Frankfurt Auto Show, previewing what could become a new subcompact Chrysler or FIAT for US showrooms sometime in the future.

On sale in Europe since the early 1980s, the newest version of the Panda measures in at just over 144 inches in length - about a foot shorter than a Mini Cooper. In Europe, the Panda will feature six available engines, including Fiat's new 65-horsepower 0.9-liter two-cylinder and a heavily praised turbocharged version producing 85 horsepower. Other engines include several gasoline and diesel motors with FIAT's fuel-saving start-stop technology.

Car shoppers familiar with the current Panda will note several similarities between the two versions. The new Panda will keep the current model's high roofline, nearly vertical sides and compact rear quarter windows. But the updated version also includes a heavily revised front end, more curved lines, and larger front and rear fenders.

Inside, the new Panda features a futuristic interior with lots of soft rounded corners. The three-spoke steering wheel's curved center pad gives it a cartoonish appearance, while stylized air vents frame the console and center stack. Standard features include anti-lock brakes, four airbags and daytime running lights.

While few other amenities come standard in the low-cost Panda, FIAT says the small car boasts a range of exciting optional features. Options include an electric "SkyDome" sunroof, an MP3 player, power steering tuned specifically for city driving and a new Blue&Me TomTomLIVE infotainment system, which allows Panda drivers to use mobile phones and media players without removing their hands from the steering wheel.

Although the new Panda will likely be a hit in Europe, its future in America is uncertain. If the little hatchback does make it stateside, it would probably come as a Chrysler and square off against other small four-doors like the Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Sonic and Honda Fit. But don't expect a US-version of the Panda before at least 2013.


See more coverage of the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show.


JEFFREY ARCHER is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on
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