By Gordon Hall
Does it rasp? Does it growl? Does it bring out your inner wickedness? It will if you let it and you would be churlish not to.
Does it return, in the real world, the kind of fuel economy figures its maker (3.8-litres/100km) or Car magazine (4.8-lires/100km) claim for it? I challenge you to try but, if you have an ounce of gusto in your soul, you will fail miserably. Its 875cc, two-cylinder turbomotor is simply too much fun to waste.
The tiny motor not only thrives on revs but likes to be kept “boiling” to deliver its best – so there you go, Schumi-ing along happily, heeling and toeing, pointing and squirting, having more fun than a treeful of vervets, while doing no serious harm to any major speed limits in the process. This is what fun is made of but it’s not the formula for ultimate fuel economy, unfortunately.
Fiat’s diminutive 500, that has grown only 301mm since the original Topolino of 1936, is still a cult machine. More than three million examples of the 500 and its various siblings have been sold since 2007, while picking up a “World’s Most Beautiful Automobile” award in 2008.
The local range was facelifted and re-aligned a few months ago and now comprises six models; the entry-level Cult, somewhat smarter Connect, jaunty-looking Sport and top-level Dolcevita. That’s offered in AMT (automatic) only. Cabriolet versions of the Sport and Dolcevita are available at R50 000 extra.
The Cult starts the ball rolling with 14-inch steel wheels, five-speed manual transmission, halogen headlights but LED DRLs, fabric upholstery, U-Connect radio with USB ports, manual air conditioning, seven airbags, central locking and ESC.
Time to Connect
The Connect, as its name suggests, upgrades to seven-inch touchscreen audio with CarPlay and Android Auto; 15-inch alloy wheels; automatic air conditioning; cruise control; stop-and-start that can, fortunately, be switched off and forgotten; rain and dusk sensors and parking monitors.
Sport looks the part with foglamps, 16” wheels, rear spoiler, panoramic glass roof, combination fabric and vinyl sports seats and a big, shiny tailpipe; to show it means business.
Dolcevita boasts a five-speed autobox at R5 000 extra.
A worthy successor? 2021 Golf 8 GTI
Our Sport test machine was finished in Passione Red, one of 13 choices although seriously, how can any hot-blooded Italian hotrod be painted in anything but one or other shade of ruby, scarlet, burgundy, cherry or crimson? Anything else just isn’t natural.
On a more practical level, the car thrums along happily at about 3100 rpm for 120km/h in fifth and although that is past its torque peak, roll-on acceleration is still acceptable. Its 185-litre boot is able to carry a trolley-load of groceries, albeit at a squeeze. The rear seatback splits 50:50 and folds with a step. A Spacesaver spare is stored under the baseboard.
Passenger space in the back would be problematic for a pair of rugby forwards because the car is only 3546mm long, 1627wide and 1488mm tall. It takes up less than three-quarters of a standard South African parking space and almost vanishes under my home carport. Verdict: Rugger buggers in front, OK; but only two little ones in the back, please.
Fiat 500: Possibly perfect for singles or medium-sized parents with small-to-medium kids, reasonably practical, not the least thirsty of them all but arguably the world’s most fun on a budget.
Test unit from Stellantis SA press fleet
Price: R269 900
Engine: 875cc, SOHC 8-valve, twin-cylinder with MultiAir, turbocharged
Power: 62.5kW at 5500rpm
Torque: 145Nm at 1950rpm
0-100: 11 seconds
Top speed: 173km/h
Real life fuel consumption: About 6.3l/100km
Tank: 35 litres
Luggage: 185 – 625 litres
Turning circle: 9.3m
Ground clearance: 114mm
Towing, unbraked/braked: 400kg/800kg
Standard tyre size: 195/45R16
Warranty: Five years, 100 000km
Service plan: None