REVIEW | Why more South Africans should consider Fiat's 500 as a next buy

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The Fiat 500 has a tried and tested design.

The little car is compact and very light on fuel.

The interior can be described as funky interior with a thumping audio system.

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Since 1957, the Fiat 500, or Cinquecento, as it's fondly known, has been winning hearts worldwide. In fact, since the original city slicker launched in the late 50s, close to seven million units have found homes around the world. 

The latest, all-new Fiat 500 was launched in Europe earlier this year, but that car is an all-electric model that won't be coming to Mzansi just yet. Fiat is testing an electric car locally, and it is under consideration, together with a few of the Stellantis Group's other EVs. For now, we're being treated to a facelift of the already highly-competent TwinAir Fiat 500.

This version of Fiat's 500 takes me back way back, more than a decade come to think of it, as it's been around that long. For the 2021 model year, Fiat South Africa launched four updated versions of the 500 TwinAir: Cult, Connect, Sport and, finally, Dolcevita. I spent a few days with the Sport derivative and came away impressed with the latest updates to the car, and I think more South Africans should consider this vehicle.

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Fiat 500
Sporty details add eye-catching appeal

Made for a variety of people

If you're new to driving, the Fiat 500 is perfect as its diminutive proportions and easy to operate controls make it a cinch to maneuver. If your first car was pre-owned and you've reached a stage in life where you want to spoil yourself something new to replace your trusted first-timer, a brand new 500 won't break the bank, and it offers up to date features despite its attractive price of R274 900.

And, I think this car is perfect for the young executive couple, particularly in this new world where more corporate execs find themselves working from home. If you and your partner are currently driving a premium sedan or SUV each, which is parked more than it's daily-driven, why not consider a move to something more compact and economical for your "second car" for the home?

The Fiat 500 Sport we tested proved to have more than enough power and torque in reserve from its 0.9-litre two-cylinder turbo petrol engine, with 63kW and 145Nm on tap. Its lightweight steering and easy to use clutch pedal and precise five-speed gearbox with meaty brakes all combine to give a very confidence-inspired drive.

Whether you're new to driving or you're experienced behind the wheel, the latest 500 Sport will immediately impress you with the way it goes. But more importantly, it uses so little fuel, which when petrol costs R18/litre, is quite essential for most of us, I'm sure. I averaged around 5.0-litres/per 100km, while Fiat claims it will use 4.5 litres/100km. You can probably achieve this claimed figure, but it's so much fun to drive, you'll probably end up revving it out a bit and chucking it into corners now and again.

This is a Fiat 500
Fiat 500 Sport gains digital instrument cluster

It has everything you need

The Fiat 500 has come a long way since its introduction more than a decade ago, and while it's regularly updated and looks stunning from the outside, it's the inside of this latest Sport version that will take your breath away. 

You get that familiar two-tone dashboard insert and stubby gearshift lever at a reasonable distance from the seat, and you sit nice and upright in the driver's chair. There's a decent blend of comfort in the interior, and because it's not too firm from a ride and drive perspective, you aren't shaken and stirred in the cabin. I expected the ride to be bouncy, to be honest, considering the short wheelbase and Sport badge, but it's an outstanding balance of comfort and sporty inside and out.

The digital instrument cluster, which is unique in this compact car class, is easy to read and use, and the UConnect multimedia system works like an absolute peach with very little input lag or latency issues when pairing with your smartphone. I used a cable to connect via USB port and immediately accessed CarPlay and streamed Apple Music without any problems while driving. The whole experience using the system left me feeling good, as UConnect used to be relatively slow and often lost connection or couldn't read a device.

Yes, the two-door configuration can be challenging, but it's not a deal-breaker when it comes to practicality. I was able to turn off the passenger airbag and fit the child seat to the front seat to take my little boy with me on local errands, and he loved that setup. I also managed to get the seat into the rear by dropping the rear seat bench and sliding the child seat in through the large trunk opening. There's so much space inside the car, considering it looks so compact on the outside.

Fiat 500 Sport
Digital instrument cluster in Fiat 500 Sport

So, why should more South Africans buy the Fiat 500?

Well, this Sport model hit a sweet spot in terms of what it's able to offer for its sub-R300 00 price tag. If you have to look at other cars, perhaps from Plant Oxford, this Fiat makes so much sense if you want something stylish, something new, something reliable and something that's affordable to run and maintain.

It can help you reduce your monthly mobility commitments without leaving you feeling like you've downgraded, or if you're moving up in the world, this relatively entry-level car makes you feel this good and confident when driving it.

The Fiat 500 Sport comes with a five-year or 100 000km warranty, and you can add a service plan for added peace of mind at your Fiat dealer.

Fiat 500
Sporty alloys come standard
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