Small, expensive and hip

2012-02-08 14:45

Ridiculously small cars with premium badges coming at equally ridiculously hefty price tags are all the rage these days.

Fiat has recently launched their first genuine Abarth model in South Africa in the form of the Fiat500. While the entry-level model is about R232 000, it’s the limited edition Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari that will set you back R550 000 – for a car with a 1.4F engine.

However, you won’t find a Ferrari engine under its little bonnet but a 1.4 turbo-charged T-Jet 16-valve unit tuned to churn out 132kW of power.

Then it also has a manual transmission automated (MTA) electromechanical gearbox with race-inspired paddle shifts.

Thanks to that, the Abarth 695 does the zero to 100km/h sprint in less than seven seconds and has a top speed of 225km/h.

But who buys these cars?

The Tributo model is rather exclusive with only 25 available in South Africa – and sold out. Thing is, if I had half-a-million rand to buy a car, it certainly wouldn’t be that small and impractical vehicle.

I would imagine that anyone buying a car just for the Ferrari badge probably has a fully kitted Ferrari in their garage and would use this petite, but racy little number as their daily run-around.

I’m still trying to justify the price tag. This car is the only model which Ferrari has allowed to share its nameplate with.

So other than the badge, there’s performance tyres wrapped around Ferrari-designed 17-inch alloy wheels, a modified suspension and Brembo braking system to handle the extra power and special shock absorbers to make as though you really are driving a wild stallion.

Then there’s the Record Monza variable back-pressure dual mode exhaust, designed to improve engine performance and deliver an inspiring sound over 3 000rpm.

To prove that there is a market for these cars, 25 of these units were brought here and South Africans are buying them as if there isn’t a global economic slowdown.

The Aston Martin Cygnet is another example. Though bearing the Aston Martin badge and a few styling characteristics, it’s still based on the Toyota IQ model. It’s not the prettiest of cars, but it has that brand to bear even though it looks like a squashed clump of metal.

Sadly, or perhaps fortunately, the Cygnet will never make its way here. Aston Martin SA’s Nic Naylor says the car sells for more than £30 000 (about R367 000) in Europe and 500 units have already been snapped up, but it would be senseless to bring it here.

“By the time conversions are done to make it a local product and all the taxes are added, South Africans will probably have to pay R600 000 for the Cygnet,” says Naylor. “It just isn’t worth all the trouble.”

But the Cygnet was also created for the rich who needed a baby Aston Martin.

According to a report by Autocar UK, the company realised that their customers needed a city-slicker and because of economic reasons such as fuel and carbon taxes, they created the Cygnet.

Although it has a Toyota chassis and body, it bears the exquisite badge, a dashing paint job and apparently exotic, hand-finished leather.

Lastly, Audi launched their baby A1 last year and with the entry-level model clocking in at R220 000, one has to question what’s so affordable about that when you can buy a bigger A3 model for almost the same price.

Once again, it doesn’t matter because the car was a success in any case, more than 1 000 were sold. Audi SA has announced

that they will be introducing a sportier model in the form of the 1.4T FSI S-line S-tronic onto the local market. Although it also has a small engine, it will be pushing out 136kW of power and 250Nm of torque. Of course, it will have a price tag to make up for such delicious figures and it will cost R312 000.

Other than the body kit, it will also feature 17-inch wheels, climatic air-conditioning, black headlining and the LED interior light package.

It’s claimed to have a 5.9F/100km fuel consumption and only 139g/km carbon emissions.

So next time you’re out shopping for a cutie, a small, expensive run-about will sure have your friends talking and you’ll be buzzing around in the latest fashion accessory.

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