Fiat’s 500 or Cinquecento as it is fondly known in its native country, continues to be the torch bearer for the Italian brand and makes for quite the happy, hippy city hatch.With origins dating back to 1936, the Topolino (mouse in Italian) was one of the smallest cars in its era and was an ideal mode of transport in its home town of Turin. The Topolino continued its lifespan until 1955 with only incremental changes over that life cycle.
In 2007, the Italian outfit decided to resurrect the nameplate with a modern interpretation of the model, which was launched in Turin and we were privileged to have been in attendance. The entire city was awash with Topolinos to welcome the latest rendition of the model. To say the model is loved in those parts of the world is like saying South Africans loathe braais and sunny skies. It is just misplaced.
Since the establishment of the Stellantis group - which Fiat belongs to - in January 2021, the local arm saw it an opportune moment to relaunch the historical brand in Mzansi. As such the Fiat 500 is its first port of call as the model receives minor cosmetic changes and, with that, a slew of new trim levels.
These kick off with the base Cult derivative, which runs on 14-inch steel wheels, and spots LED daytime running lights, while a new orange hue makes it stand out in the car park. A level up is the Connect, which builds onto the Cult’s items with the addition of 15-inch alloy wheels, a gloss black roof colour, side skirts and valances with the front also sporting fog lamps. The interior gets more vivid coloured seat trimmings, while the dash houses a larger 7-inch infotainment screen replete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Moving up another rung yet is the funky and more avantgarde if you will Dolcevita spec with a two-tone colour scheme and requisite model badges on the front flanks. It also gets 16-inch alloys and a glass sunroof - in the instance of the hard top. Cabin appointments, meanwhile, include a leather wreathed steering wheel, cloth seats with leather trimming. The Sport derivative can be set apart by its Satin Grey mirror covers, red 500 logos and 16-inch alloy wheels.
All models are equipped as standard with ABS and ESP, which should bode well for those first time buyers and drivers alike. Powering the range is a 900cc, two-cylinder turbo engine with 63 kW and 145 Nm, paired to a five-speed manual transmission or MTA (automatically controlled manual transmission) in the instance of the Dolcevita model.
I can see you muttering under your breath about that puny engine, but I am glad to report that it manages to pull the little mouse with conviction and, while it can sound a tad harsh the higher it revs, it settles into a more composed disposition at highway speeds. That five-speed manual is slick to operate and its position well placed for easy access. Of course, being a city car, there is very little in the way of passenger space, particularly in the rear quarters, which are more suitable for small children.
That said, the Fiat 500 continues to be a genuinely great proposition, particularly with a starting price of R219 900 for the Cult and topping out at R324 900 for the Dolcevita Cabriolet. The sweet spot, in my view, is the 500 Sport manual at R269 900, which comes with all the niceties, not to mention the funkier exterior package. Yes, I agree, cars have become notably expensive, but the Fiat 500 in the grand scheme of things will appeal to those with a fashion conscience and want to stand out from the crowd without breaking the proverbial bank. Should that be you, then the Fiat 500 is definitely worth a second look.