I have spoken about cult cars before and how they somehow manage to attract both car-nuts and car-nots. There is one car, though, that I feel manages to attract more car-nots than car-nuts – the Fiat 500. In 2007, Fiat decided to go the same route as BMW with the MINI brand and Volkswagen with the New Beetle. They reinvented a vehicle which was incredibly popular back in the day, but with modern engineering and, don’t vomit, “retro” styling. I hate that term, but that’s exactly what it is.
As you can imagine, the 500 was an instant hit and while it may have taken South Africans a moment to warm to the little newcomer, the rest of the world went bananas for it. Barring the Americans, of course. While it never really appealed to those of us who enjoy driving briskly, the trendy and fashion conscious set loved how adept the 500 was at karting their quinoa salad takeaway home from Tasha’s.
The 500 recently underwent a not too insignificant revision and goodness has it transformed the 500. I was never the biggest fan of the pre-facelift’s asthmatic motors and while the 1.4 litre NA motor’s 74 kW might sound okay, the 131 N.m offered was not. I adored the concept of the 500 but always felt that there were a few shortcomings.
Enter the refreshed Fiat 500, now available with 2-cylinder sewing machine engine (not really) and a little turbocharger. The Pop Star model we had on test offers 63 kW and 145 N.m which is in fact less power than the previous 1.4 litre naturally aspirated motor and only 14Nm more torque, but said torque is now available from just 1 900 rpm as opposed the previous motor’s lofty delivery close to the 6 000 rpm redline. The higher-spec Lounge model has the same motor, albeit in a higher state of tune with 78 kW. This punchy motor, displacing a mere 900c, makes easy work of running around town and if you’re not too heavy footed, Fiat claims a combined average fuel consumption of just 3.8 l/100km which is impressive. Of course, we didn’t achieve anything close to that figure which we put down to the fact that you still have to boot it a little to get moving, hence our average of 7.0 l/100km. A 1.3-litre turbo diesel motor is also expected to join the line-up at some stage.
Aside from the brilliantly characterful motor, the minor styling upgrades have done a world of good for the Cinquecento – it’s adorable. LED daytime running lights have now been incorporated into the smaller set of headlights which are actually the high beams and minor tweaks to the rear as well as an array of new colours and wheel options come together to create a rather endearing little thing.
Inside, the air vents have been redesigned and things have been moved around a little to incorporate FCA group’s all too familiar Uconnect infotainment system. It works just as well as the one found in Ferraris and Jeeps and should you go for the Lounge model with its 7” TFT instrument cluster, you’ll have quite the techy looking 500. Sound deadening materials have also been increased to minimise cabin noise and here too, different trim options can be had to best suit the trendy human who would buy this sort of car.
Prices start at a not too heady R179 900 for the Pop model and work their way up incrementally to R280 900 for the 500C 0.9 TwinAir Lounge Auto. I reckon the 500 TwinAir Pop Star is the sweet spot in the range with nice to haves such as xenon headlights and PDC should you be unable to confidently manoeuvre your 3cm long vehicle. All models come with a 3 year/100 000 km warranty and service plan.