Papal Fiat Frenzy

Car buyers check out the new popemobile

Pope Francis’ six-day U.S. visit put more than religion and faith front and center.

It also was a rolling commercial for a tiny black Fiat car that moved the pontiff from venue to venue when he wasn’t greeting the masses in his white “popemobile” customized Jeep.

Related: Pope My Ride

“We’ve been inundated with calls,” Fiat Chrysler brand manager Kathy Finn told the Paris Guardian. “Customers are calling, surprised at how spacious the car is and asking about that particular model.”

The Fiat 500L, a six-speed automatic with a four-cylinder engine, has plenty of room for the pope and his flowing robes. It was likely chosen, noted Manhattan Fiat salesman Giuseppe Salvitta, because of its headroom, the U.K.’s The Guardian reported.

“It’s comfortable, spacious and reliable. And it’s Italian,” Salvitta said of the car, which can get up to 25 miles per gallon in the city and 33 on the highway.

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The pope’s sporty black version, which escorted him off the Andrews Air Force Base tarmac in his extensive motorcade, was on full display for days, whisking him on a tight schedule to events in Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia. He flew home to Rome on Sunday afternoon after an epic mass in the City of Brotherly Love and a send-off from Vice President Joe Biden.

The 500L enjoyed a big year in 2014, but sales dropped off in the U.S., according to June sales reports. But that may soon turn around.

Fiat, for its part, is using the pope’s choice as a sales point, noting on its website that “the humility of the brand fits well with the humility of the man.” Fiat also acknowledged the vehicle’s appeal for those who, like the pope, are environmentally conscious.

“A humble man, Pope Francis brings his message of love, understanding and forgiveness as well as his concern for the environment to the United States. He sets an example by riding in a 500L, a car from one of the global leaders in sustainability,” Fiat noted.

Whether the pope is aware of the attention he’s brought to the car is unknown.

ABC’s “Good Morning America” contributor Michael Strahan, a former NFL star who is 6 foot 5, pointed out that the Fiat fits a lot more than meets the eye.

“I can actually see why he picked this car. There’s a lot of room in here,” he joked after getting into the back seat in an on-air segment featuring a model like the pope’s.

“It’s very economical. It’s good on gas. It fits five of us comfortably, including one large man,” Strahan praised. “He’s known for his simple ways, so it should be no surprise that he picked a modestly priced … Fiat 500L for his visit.”

Related: Pope on the Hill: 6 Takeaways

The car’s MSRP starts at $19,345 for its 500L Pop style, with its 500L Lounge model starting at $24,695, according to Fiat.

Whether the pope is aware of the attention he’s brought to the car is unknown. To be clear, Francis is not a car guy. He rode the bus back to the Vatican hotel the day he was elected pope, rather than use a church driver, NPR reported. He also rode the subway in Argentina, even after he was confirmed as cardinal.

The car, a six-speed automatic with a four-cylinder engine, has plenty of room for the pope and his flowing robes.

A friend of his, another priest, gifted him with a 1984 Renault 4 a year ago, and Francis uses this car to drive himself around the Vatican grounds, NPR said.

Nonetheless, the Fiat sent many gear heads and consumers alike buzzing as cameras captured the pope’s tour in the tiny vehicle — a boon for the Italian automaker, and also a match for the humble spirit Francis continues to share with the world.

“It looks like a clown car when they all get in it. But it’s just such a perfect metaphor for his message,” Stephen Schneck, the director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, told NPR.

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