This is the home of automobile road tests in South Africa. We drive South African cars, SUVs and LCVs under South African conditions. It also just happens that most of the vehicles we drive are world cars as well, so what you read here probably applies to the models you can get at home.
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*Please remember too, that prices quoted were those ruling on the days I wrote the reports.
Published in The Witness Motoring on Wednesday October 20, 2010
The majority of South Africans are extremely conservative and have unreasonably long memories. Most will buy at the higher end only from the German Big Three or at more affordable prices, VW and Toyota. And woe-betide any manufacturer that ever went through a bad patch with servicing or reliability problems. Misfortunes of five, fifteen or forty years ago are repeated darkly as having happened to a close relative "just last week."
Having told many of you that you would never buy a Fiat 500 because of being a boring old stick-in-the-mud, let's look at who might. In our launch report of March 31, 2010 we gave you some ideas; those who owned an original perhaps, or those who love cuteness, but definitely those independent buyers bored with all the same old stuff out there.
Don't get the idea that this Cinquecento is simply a rehash of the original, because it's far from that. First, it's somewhat bigger, seating four fully-grown people in reasonable comfort and boasting a 182-dm3 boot that's about average for small cars. The rear seat cushion splits 50:50 to extend loading space. Second, it's been designed by modern engineers and built using high strength steels with up-to-date technology. It has EuroNCAP5 certification to prove it. It just looks remarkably familiar and like Michelangelo's perfectly proportioned statue of David, it appears to be the same size as the original.
It also boasts all the usual modcons and safety kit including ABS, EBD, ESP, ASR, HBA, anti-submarining front seatbelts with dual pretensioners and load limiters, and seven airbags. ISOFIX child seat anchors? Got 'em too. Convenience items include the usual air conditioning, radio/CD unit with USB, electric windows, trip computer, remote controls for music, voice commands and phone on the decently fist-filling leather covered steering wheel, front fog lamps and remote central locking with autolock as you drive away.
The workstation is very retro, especially if you order the Ivory Environment package. It feels like being in the original except for the modern music centre and controls, if you can get around the "Irish" of that statement. Our test car was fitted with the more modern looking Black Environment option, so the choice is yours.
A short stick for the six-speed gearbox juts up from a tower housing the window controls and a swivel-out oddments tray that gets in the way of the driver's left shin if left open. The ambience is rather like being in control of a small bus or MPV, a feeling reinforced by the rather high driver's seat that, even on its lowest setting, feels a bit high. There was still a fist's-width of space between the roof lining and the top of my head though and one gets used to it.
What else on the inside? There is no lid on the glove box, so you need to keep things tidy, but a scattering of small dishes and compartments including the one on the central tower and a box under the front passenger's seat, should accommodate most of your flotsam.
A large dash button labelled "Sport" connects with the electronic throttle valve control system, so you can choose between decent performance and boredom. It also sharpens up the electrically power assisted steering criticised by some as feeling dull, although most mere mortals are quite happy with it. It's like having two-thirds of the MiTo's DNA program, with the so-called 'normal' position best reserved for slippery conditions.
On the road, gearing is well spaced with sixth suited to relaxed cruising and economy. At 120 km/h, the rev counter reads about 3 300 rpm, a little less than average for a naturally aspirated 1400. A quick shift down to fifth is usually needed to maintain momentum up hills.
The 500C's true calling is open top, wind in hair and sunlight on face, oneness with nature and it is tribute to the original design that this is achieved with no more ruffling of hair than would be found in many an upmarket convertible. This is more than your usual all-or-nothing removable top, though. It doubles as a sunroof, opening either front section only or full length, so you get two functions for the price of one. The main difference between this one and the folding cloth top of old, is that the 2010 version opens at the touch of a button, by means of cables and an electric motor.
Never mind nostalgia, cuteness or independence of thought: Fiat's 500 has done retro more convincingly than other players, providing a modern interpretation of an old theme more stylishly and more affordably. And if your thoughts lightly turn to springtime as well, then why not?
Price including CO2 tax: R200 080
Engine: 1 368 cc DOHC 16 valve four cylinder
Power: 73,5 kW at 6 000 rpm
Torque: 131 Nm at 4 250 rpm
Zero to 100 km/h: 11,5 seconds
Maximum speed: 182 km/h
Real life fuel consumption: about 6,9 l/100 km
Tank: 35 litres
Warranty: 3 years/120 000 km
Service plan: 5 years/90 000 km
Service intervals: 30 000 km
This is a one-man show, which means that road test cars entrusted to me are driven only by me. Some reviewers hand test cars over to their partners to use as day-to-day transport and barely experience them for themselves.
What this means to you is that every car reviewed is given my own personal evaluation and receives my own seat of the pants judgement - no second hand input here.
Every car goes through real world testing; on city streets littered with potholes, speed bumps and rumble strips, on freeways and if its profile demands, dirt roads as well.
I am based in Pietermaritzburg, KZN, South Africa. This is the central hub of the KZN Midlands farming community; the place farmers go to to buy their supplies and equipment, truck their goods to market, send their kids to school and go to kick back and relax.
So occasionally a cow, a goat or a horse may add a little local colour by finding its way into the story or one of the pictures. It's all part of the ambience!
Want to ask a question, comment or just tell me you thoroughly disagree with what I say? That's your privilege, because if everybody agreed on everything, the world would be a boring place. All I ask is that you remain calm, so please blow off a little steam before venting too vigorously. Contact me here
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