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Fiat 500 1,4 Lounge

by Terence Steenkamp on 21/09/2011

Comments: 0

At A Glance

Make FIAT 500
Retail Price R182 980,00
kw 73.5
Torque 131
Top Speed 182

“Yes, it’s cute, but is it better than a Mini?”

My initial answer to this question asked by a number of people during CAR’s recent road test of the Fiat 500 1,4 Lounge was, “Maybe, possibly. I dunno.”

It all depends on your view of the Italian carmaker’s retro city hatch. If you see it as a direct competitor to BMW’s take on the retro trend, you may end up disappointed. The 500 is both smaller, less dynamically adept and, some would say, not as desirable.

Who cares, however? In Lounge spec, at R165 480 the 500 is a chunky R60 000 cheaper than the Mini One if the latter is equipped to the same level. Niceties such as a sunroof, USB, 15-inch alloys, leather on the steering wheel, trip computer and front fog lights are all standard on the Italian.

The case wasn’t so clear-cut when the 500 was launched locally in the autumn of 2008. Fiat SA’s accountants had aspirations above their station and pegged the 500 directly against the Mini. In the July 2008 road test, the Fiat was lambasted for its R180 000 price tag, only R14 000 less than the Cooper. We simply could not recommend it above the Brit, or other cars such as the Renault Megane, Fiat’s own Bravo and VW’s Polo 1,9 TDI three-door.

In the interim, as these cars’ prices spiralled upwards, Fiat realised its mistake and realigned the 500 offering. These days, the range kicks off at only R137 553 for the 1,2 Pop and plateaus at the 500C 1,4 at R203 044.

With the retro trend showing no signs of abating – the third-gen Beetle is around the corner and Merc has enjoyed critical acclaim with the E-Class and SLS AMG – the 500 has aged surprisingly well, helped by our test car’s vibrant Pasodoble Red and multi-spoke 15-inch wheels. The basic design is quite simple, with a minimum of swage lines and trinkets that tend to date some cars. It drew a good few admiring glances – especially in its natural habitat, the Cape Town CBD (where I live and have lately spotted a lot of 500s).

The retro-theme continues inside with equal success. Instead of the naff ivory finishes with which some 500’s come, our test vehicle’s combination of charcoal trim, bright-red dashboard and overlaid instruments (which are surprisingly simple to decipher) creates a stylish cabin.

And unlike the Mini’s interior, the cabin of the 500 works well, with logically sited controls, large, chunky knobs and buttons, and an easy-to-reach gear lever.

However, I would have liked a smidge more headroom (the Lounge’s sunroof inflicts a space penalty) and reach-adjustable steering. Head- and legroom in the back can’t be described as generous, but are no worse the other city cars’.

With an overall length of only 3,5 metres and finger-tip light steering – which, together with the accelerator weighting, can be firmed up with the sport button on the dash – the Fiat is in its element in city driving. The overhangs are tiny, so parallel parking is a doddle, while the tightly spaced six-speed ‘box allows snappy changes.

The 1,4-litre engine, shared with the Panda 100HP, requires a fair few revs to keep in on the boil, but this adds to the 500’s fizzy nature. It sounds eager – some would say thrashy – and performs well considering the Lounge’s portly 1,1 tonnes. The sprint from zero to 100 km/h is dispatched in a brisk 11,25 seconds, while in-gear acceleration at the coast is strong if you’re willing to play close to the 6 000 r/min red line.

Where the 500’s case against the Mini falls slightly flat is in its dynamic abilities. There nothing inherently wrong with the chassis, but it can’t match its competitor’s composed handling and fine steering. However, this shouldn’t be seen as a major failing on a city car and, besides, it rides with a smidgeon more compliance than the Brit thanks to 55-profile tyres and long-travel suspension.

Summary
Perhaps Fiat’s biggest achievement with the 500 is the fact that, three-and-a-bit years after its launch, and after the novelty factor has worn off, it remains a hugely appealing car. There is real substance beneath the retro looks. And now, more than ever before, it makes financial sense as an urban runabout. Would I choose it over a Mini One and pocket R60 000? Yep!

 

Specifications and test results:

Engine: 4/1 368 cm3

Power/Torque: 74 kW/131 N.m

Length/width/height/wheelbase: 3 546/1 627/1 488/2 300 mm

Suspension (f/r): MacPherson struts, anti-roll bar/torsion beam axle, coil springs

Warranty/service plan: 3 years/100 000 km/5 years/90 000 km

0-60 km/h: 4,82 seconds

0-100 km/h: 11,25 seconds

40-80 km/h: 7,04 seconds

80-120 km/h: 8,77 seconds

100-0 km/h: 2,88 seconds (average of 10 braking tests)

CAR fuel index: 7,56 litres/100 km

Prices And Specs

Make FIAT 500
Model 500 1.4 Lounge 3-dr MY11
Retail Price R182 980,00
kw 73.5
Torque 131
0-100km 10.5
Top Speed 182
Fuel Type Petrol
Fuel Consumption 8.2
Tyre Size Front 185/55 R15
Tyre Size Rear 185/55 R15
Rear Tyre Size Width 185
Rear Tyre Size Profile 55
Rear Tyre Rim Size 15
Spare Tyre Size -
Tyre Pressure Monitor No
Wheelbase 2300

Safety And Features

Air Conditioner Manual
Audio System CD Frontloader
Rev Counter Yes
Gearbox Manual
ABS Brakes Yes
Power Steering Yes
Seats 4
Steering Wheel Heated No
Speakers 6
Colour Coded Bumpers Body Colour
Leather Trim Optional
Alarm Yes
Anti Skid Control Yes
Electronic Defferential No
Gears 6
Height 1488
Onboard Computer Yes
Immobiliser Yes
Split Rear Seats Yes
Brake Assist Yes
Electric Seats -
Cup Holders Yes
Electric Mirrors Yes
Electric Windows Front Rear
Airbag DPS
Doors 3
Airbag Driver Yes
Airbag Passenger Yes
Navigation System Optional
Park Assistance Optional
Side Impact Protection Bars Yes
Sunroof Electric
Fog Lamps Front Yes
Fog Lamps Rear No
Headlight Type Halogen
Towbar No
Payload -
Bull Bar -

  • Charl Bosch

    Despite the price drops, it’s still a very expensive fashion statement. Yes, it looks cute, funky and has won many awards but to near on R180k for a car based on a Panda is alot considering that the MINI is already overpriced

  • Anonymous

    I wonder how production cost compare with the Panda. If Fiat can get a basic version of the 500 on the showroom floor at around R100k like the Panda Young they will have South Africans stampeding to their dealers.

  • Paul Broers

    May I start off by asking whether Merc’s E-Class and SLS AMG are actually retro? If so, what cars in the stable do they emulate?Anyway on the 500. It’s not a guys car, is it, even though as a guy I adore it in much the same way as I did the Smart for 2 when that came out. But you’d have to be either very sure of your ‘maleness’ or imperviously unconcerned about it to buy this as a daily driver. The mini, conversely is the easy chariot of both sexes, no cast askance looks added. Yet it is not the natural competitor to the 500, for both are stand alone just as the Smart was/is. That pricing trick when the 500 1st arrived had been tried and survived by Smart. But the public soon caught on, and wasn’t to be caught a 2nd time, silly Mr Fiat , how dumb should we be? So now we’re getting great value, especially with the Lounge, what with all the standard equipement. But look about you.How many do you see? Nothing like London which is awash with the wee ones, so it seems as if the damage has been done.