Brazil is flooded with little Fiat Unos piloted by drivers who smile whenever they need to fill up their cars. South Africans will soon be able to get in on the "happy act" with Fiat Auto SA preparing to release its first dual fuel vehicle here.
Made by Fiat Auto Brazil, these Unos have modified engines that are able to run on petrol, alcohol or any combination of the two.
Biofuel, or ethanol as it's more commonly referred to, will soon become more widely available to consumers. And when this happens, Fiat will already have dual-fuel vehicles on the road in the form of this new Uno Flex.
According to Fiat, more than 400 000 new Flexes are being added to Brazil's roads every year.
The first local Uno Flex, with its unique livery bearing the SA flag, was prepared especially for display at the Durban Motor Show.
The Fiat factory in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, is currently churning out hundreds of petrol-driven Unos destined for the South African market. These models should be here in time for the official launch in July and it won't be long before the production line is spewing out right-hand drive Uno Flex versions too.
The Flex model has a five-door configuration and its 1.2 eight-valve Fire engine is driven by a five-speed manual gearbox. This engine features multi-point fuel injection, including Flex technology, and kicks out 54kW of power at 5 500r/min and 102Nm of torque at 2 500 r/min.
Featured options include alloy wheels, a body kit (side skirts and front/rear spoilers), air-conditioning, electric front windows, sport cloth trim and key-operated central locking.
The display unit also features customised paintwork in the form of carbon fibre door pillar inserts, South African flag decals and a special matte-finish rear hatch.
The petrol Fiat Uno range in three- and five-door guise will debut in July this year. The Flex models will go on sale shortly thereafter.
Prices are not yet available for the new Uno models, but Fiat assures that once released it will be very competitive.
What is Biofuel?
It is a fuel made from renewable biological sources. Biofuels include ethanol, methanol, and biodiesel. Biofuel sources could also include corn, soybeans, flaxseed, palm oil, raw sewage, food scraps, animal parts, and rice.
What is Ethanol?
Ethanol is produced from the fermentation of sugars in carbohydrates, derived from agricultural crops like sugarcane, corn and grains, wood, or animal wastes.
What is a Flex-fuel vehicle?
A Flex vehicle is one that can run alternately on two or more sources of fuel. This includes cars capable of running on petrol and ethanol mixtures, as well as cars that can run on both petrol and natural gas. Using sensors in the fuel tank, the engine management system automatically detects what fuel or fuel mixture is present and adjusts the engine settings accordingly.
If anything, performance is slightly up when your vehicle is powered by ethanol. In the case of the Fiat Uno Flex 1.2, when it runs exclusively on petrol, horsepower goes up from 52 to 53 kW - not that you'd notice, of course.
Service intervals of 15 000 km remain unchanged regardless of whether the car is run on petrol or ethanol.