The wait is over! Fiat's 500, the most talked-about car of the year, has arrived here - not only to steal the hearts of South Africans, but to change the way the public look at Fiat, too.
With its retro look, Fiat hopes that the 500 will turn the Italian carmaker's fortunes around. And in Europe the 500 has received praise and glory since its debut there last year.
Design-wise, the 500's cute retro look promises to be as successful as that of the new Mini meaning that the little Italian is definitely the latest must-have wheels.
Yes, the 500's fate is that of being a fashion accessory - a niche car for the café society. Its styling, which is a successful redesign of the original 1950s model, is to attract a fresh breed of customers to the Fiat brand.
But the 500 isn't only about cute looks and a funky image - it is a car that is at the forefront of safety and engineering too. So, critics out there will have to take note that the 500 is a car of substance.
Though its pricing, as expected, might raise eyebrows. The one aspect where the new 500 differs from its predecessor is that it isn't aimed as affordable wheels for the masses.
Pricing for the entry-level 1.2 Pop model starts at R149 000, while the two other derivatives, the 1.4 Lounge and 1.4 Sport, both retail for R179 000. Then there is a long list of optional extras which will hike the base price even further. However, standard equipment levels are good.
But like Mini, the Fiat 500 is aimed at being different, being unique and being special. And in that it succeeds…
The 500 is quite a small car - it is just 355cm long, 163cm wide, 149cm tall with 185 litres of boot space.
It has a chunky wheel-at-each-corner stance, with funky detailing, bold chrome trimmings and luscious curves. The car certainly puts a smile on your face, and behind the wheel you instantly realise that fun is the name of the game.
Fiat has paid a lot of attention to the interior design too continuing the retro theme, without it being over the top.
There’s a circular speedometer and rev counter, while the dashboard finish is the same colour as the exterior. A raised gearlever and straight-forward buttons for the air-con and radio mean that ergonomics are top notch too. One has to compliment Fiat for the 500's overall build quality too.
Fiat says there are no fewer than 500 000 possible styling combinations and options for the 500. In South Africa, the 500 is offered with three trim levels - Pop, Sport and Lounge. There are also 12 body colours and numerous alloy wheel designs to choose from.
As mentioned earlier, the 500 has impressive equipment levels. Besides all the usual comfort and luxury features the base Pop model gets daytime running lights, a trip computer and an MP3-compatible audio system.
The Lounge and Sport models come with a glass roof as well as a Microsoft-developed Blue & Me system, which consists of Bluetooth phone compatibility and a USB port.
Locally power comes from a choice of two petrol engines, 1.2 and 1.4-litre units.
The tried and tested 1.2-litre Fire engine delivers 51 kW at 5500 r/min and peak torque of 102 Nm at 3 000 r/min. Its claimed fuel-consumption is an impressive 5.1 litres per 100 km in the combined cycle, with C02emissions of 119 g/km. It's not the fastest number around and it will take 12.9 seconds to cover 0-100km/h.
The 1.4-litre, which we sampled on the launch, delivers a maximum of 73.5 kW at 6 000 r/min and peak torque of 131 Nm at 4 250 r/min.
The 500 is a great city car with a tight turning circle, excellent manoeuvrability and a comfortable ride.
Although it's not necessarily the most agile hatch out there the 500 is a lot of fun and road grip is quite good too. With its small proportions the 500 feels stable on the road with little body roll in corners too.
Top speed for the crisp 1.4-litre is 182 km/h and it accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 10.5 seconds.
The 500 is packed with character - not only in terms of looks, but also behind the wheel. It has real charm and is highly desirable.
So, with Fiat's questionable reputation can one expect the 500 to be reliable? Guess only time will tell, but the 500 shares its genes with the Panda that has proved to be a solid car with a trustworthy reputation.
Also, the Italian carmaker has invested heavily in the 500 realising that it is a make-or-break model for them.
Anyway, there is no doubt that the 500, with its fabulous detailing, is an impressive car. If you see one, the chances are good that you will want it!
Fiat 500 1.2 Pop: R149 000
Fiat 500 1.4 Lounge: R179 000
Fiat 500 1.4 Sport: R179 000
Fiat offers a three-year 100 000km warranty as well as a five-year 90 000km service plan.