Review: Fiat 500 TwinAir Sport
Johannesburg - Many iconic cars have come out of Italy, and it’s usually an exotic Ferrari, or perhaps even a Lamborghini, that springs to mind. But this Mediterranean nation, with its narrow cobblestone streets, has also produced some charming small cars over the years, and the original Fiat 500 of the 1950s is easily the most famous of these.
The Fiat 500 was given a modern reboot in 2007 and an updated version of this car still exists today. Whereas a newer-generation, fully-electric Fiat 500 is available in Europe, the older ICE model soldiers on alongside it and this is still the only version available in South Africa.
Having been launched 14 years ago, this Fiat 500 is something akin to a shrunken Polo Vivo with an Italian accent, but Fiat has done a decent job of keeping it up to date, and the latest updates, announced back in August, brought a rejigged model range with four ‘flavours’ that sound truly flavoursome: Cult, Connect, Sport and Dolcevita.
Fiat sent us a 500 Sport for a week and it proved to be a more entertaining package than we’d anticipated.
Currently all Fiat 500 models are powered by the same 875cc, two-cylinder turbopetrol engine that was introduced with the facelift. It produces 62kW at 5 500rpm and 145Nm from 1 900 revs, and while that might not sound like much, it’s more than enough to shove this 930kg baby hatch around with some gumption.
But what I loved most about it was the rorty induction noise that it produced under spirited acceleration. If you’ve ever owned a two-cylinder motorcycle you’ll be familiar with this, and it adds to this car’s character in a hugely satisfying way.
We had a great deal of fun driving this car, which can turn even the most mundane journey into an enjoyable one. The slick-shifting five-speed manual gearbox that’s fitted to the Sport model added to this sensation, as did the direct and meaty-feeling steering.
With its diminutive dimensions and beefy 16-inch wheels, the 500 Sport is gleefully chuckable, for want of a better phrase, and despite the short wheelbase the ride is actually quite comfortable too. There’s also something about the ‘sit up and beg’ driving position that reminds us of older-generation hatchbacks like the Citi Golf.
If you don’t like changing gears, the Dolcevita model is available with Fiat’s MTA gearbox, which is essentially an automated manual that requires the driver to lift off the accelerator pedal in order to change gears. However, after experiencing it on the Gauteng launch event, my colleague Willem van de Putte said the MTA ‘box felt quite cumbersome. Best you stick with the manual then.
The little two-cylinder engine is meant to be quite economical, with Fiat claiming a combined consumption figure of 4.0 litres per 100km. However, our car hovered above the 7.0 l/100km mark, albeit with much of the driving being in urban conditions and without too much consideration for economy.
As mentioned, the MY2021 Fiat 500 comes in four distinct flavours, but the Sport model we tested would almost certainly be our choice. It comes with distinctive 16-inch alloy wheels (which really look big on this little car) as well as model-specific bumper trimmings, side skirts and a rear spoiler.
Inside you’ll find a dark colour scheme, disrupted by red ‘500’ logos on the dashboard and on the grippy sports seats, which have generous bolstering to keep you firmly tucked in during hard cornering.
As for cabin amenities, the Fiat 500 Sport is actually quite well stocked for its price. Standard features include a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, as well as cruise control, a multi-function steering wheel, automatic climate control, seven airbags and ESC stability control.
Given its diminutive size, the Fiat 500 is not necessarily a very practical car, with rear legroom being tight and the 185-litre boot being good for not much more than a few shopping bags, but then I don’t think this car has ever pretended to be anything more than that.
Priced at R274 900, the Fiat 500 Sport is not the most practical car that you can buy for that kind of money, but it is certainly one of the most entertaining. If you’re single and living it up, this could be just what you’ve been looking for.
Fiat 500 TwinAir Sport
Engine: 0.9-litre, 2-cylinder, turbopetrol
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Drive: Front-wheel drive
Power: 63kW @ 5 500rpm
Torque: 145Nm @ 1 900rpm
Fuel use: 7.0 l/100km (approx)
Boot space: 185 - 688 litres
Warranty: 5-year/100 000km
Service plan: None