The sixties was a time of new beginnings, more personal freedom and the birth of counterculture, not to mention the 32 countries which became independent in Africa. The Beatles led the British Rock invasion. The Russians and Americans had their space race. The French went into social turmoil, and Italy gave us the Cinquecento (500), designed by Dante Giacosa and made by Fiat. Almost four million units of the 500 and Topolino were built between 1957 and 1974.
In 2007 Fiat launched a new city car inspired by the original 500. And now, in 2021, the Cinquecento has been re-launched as a third-generation range with up-to-date technology.
The Fiat 500 is a small city car with a big heart. It may look a bit like the original, but it is very modern under the skin.
There are now four trim levels, a choice of five-speed manual or five-speed AMT, and a cabriolet for the two top trims.
We got to drive the Dolcevita, of which Fiat says: "Dolcevita models epitomise Italian style and flair with bespoke badging and chrome accents on the two-tone paintwork. With bespoke 16-inch alloy wheels, the Dolcevita also gets the Techno-leather multi-function steering wheel, glass roof, Matelassé fabric seats with techno leather details, and a 50/50 split rear seat." Pretty snazzy.
All the Fiat 500s locally are powered by the brand's TwinAir two-cylinder 875cc turbocharged petrol engine producing 62.5kW at 5 500rpm and 145Nm of torque at 1 900 rpm. Fiat claims a combined cycle fuel consumption of 4-litres/100km. I did not get near that, more like 7-litres/100km. I think you will need to select the Eco button and be very gentle on the accelerator, being careful not to upset the people behind you, to ever so slowly pull away and hope to reach 100km/h in maybe 15 seconds (although Turin claims 11 seconds).
There is a choice of manual or automated manual transmission (AMT) box. Fiat's MTA transmission allows the convenience of two-pedal motoring while remaining affordable and reliable when it comes to maintenance and running costs. The driver can pre-empt gearchanges either with the floor shift or slightly small paddles behind the steering, which are challenging to use around corners. It adds a bit of fun.
For a small A-segment car, the 500 is packed with safety gear from seven airbags to ABS, Electronic Stability Control, daytime running lights and active hill hold.
The new 500 has a thoroughly modern interior and yet harks back to a bygone era. Very pleasant.
The UconnectTM seven-inch HD touchscreen with "tablet effect" and HD display includes a hands-free system, Bluetooth technology, and voice recognition. Available with Apple CarPlay and Android AutoTM compatibility, the system has an easy-to-use interface to manage maps, music, contacts and so on. There is a second multi-display in the centre of the large round instrument display. The speedometer is on the outside, with the rev counter in concentric circles between the data display and speedometer. I like this setup, and it is very different.
Easy to drive and live with
I loved the Dolcevita around town. It has a huge grin factor even before you climb in. It turns on a tickey, growls as you put power down and changes gears with an old-style clunk. I thought the suspension is very well sorted. An easy car to drive and live with; if space is not an issue.
I think the auto Dolcevita or the manual Connect (R260 900) probably are in the sweet spot. The Cult is very basic, and the Sport is more a styling than performance offering. Don't forget the cabriolets if you want something really different. The soft roof folds back but not right down, with the rear window and C pillar remaining in place.
Fiat's 500 is not just a little nondescript city slicker of an appliance type car. It is a small stylish car that makes a statement, warts and all. A car you buy with your heart because you fell in love. I also think it will make an excellent second car for someone who has a big 4x4 or family car.
Prices start at R219 900 for the Cult 0.9-litre to R324 900 for the top of the range Dolcevita Cabriolet 0.9-litre. I tested the Dolcevita 0.9-litre AMT (auto) at R274 900.The standard warranty is three-year or 100 000km. There is no built-in service plan.
The competition includes the more expensive Mini Hatch, or very affordable Peugeot 108, the Suzuki Swift GLX, Mazda2 or Opel Corsa Edition.
The 500 climbs Upper-Mountain Road in Somerset West with ease. The little Fiat 500 looks good from any angle. The cabin is retro-styled but up-to-date.