We’d all love a sports car. Something with a big engine, a roof that disappears into the boot and looks that make knees go weak as you lazily crawl past the front of a beachside restaurant.
But, after the mandatory reality check, you’ll probably find you can only afford something like a Polo or a Focus.
Fear not, however. I recently drove a small, fairly affordable and cute little car that ticks so many ‘cool’ boxes, it’s almost unbelievable. Welcome to the country’s cheapest convertible, the Fiat 500C 1.2 Pop.
For years, the 500 has been one of my favourite ‘boutique’ cars. It’s retro in its design, modern in its execution and, in the case of the convertible, a dream to drive in. The folding canvas roof, which transforms the 500 into a superb fashion statement, operates silently and at speeds up to 80 km/h.
I adore its design, whereby the car’s roof or side pillars remain in place allowing for good top-down wind characteristics within the cabin, whether the roof is in its ‘sunroof’ or cabriolet position. However, the fact that it’s cute and funky and well-designed is superficial. What really stood out for me was the way that this car made me feel.
I’ll get to that in a minute, because the 500C’s price is something to discuss. It’s R183 500 and that is not at all cheap for a small car with a small engine and no real highlights in terms of features.
Sure, it’s not really missing anything important � you get air conditioning, an ‘ok’ sound system, daytime running lights, a nifty under-seat cubby hole (which isn’t terribly easy to use if I’m honest), a multi-info trip meter, USB, Bluetooth and excellent safety credentials with seven airbags and the usual acronymic systems.
Extra-cost options include hi-fi sound (I’d definitely go for this one), leather upholstery, various wheel upgrades and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, amongst others.
The power train is also a talking point. It’s rather gutless; the 1.2-litre normally-aspirated petrol engine producing just 51 Kw and 102 Nm � figures that translate into a sleepy 0-100 km/h sprint time of 12.9 seconds. You get a five-speed manual gearbox, which is actually rather nice, with the clutchless manual MTA transmission available for R10 000 more (note: this gearbox should be avoided). It sounds like a bit of a dog and yes, you’ll probably avoid the fast lane on the highway. However, I found it to be adequate in almost every environment and besides, being slow means more people get to look at you and your fabulous hair in the traffic.
For this kind of money, I’m sure you’ll have cars like the Kia Rio, VW Polo, Ford Fiesta or the Hyundai i20 on your shopping list. Together with their other B-segment hatchback competitors, they make a lot more sense. Bigger boots, more interior space, an extra pair of doors, more powerful engines and perhaps more features attached to the retail price � a far more sensible buying decision.
However, not one of the ‘sensible’ cars around the 500C’s price level are even remotely as funky and that, if you’re anything like me, is far more important than how many people I can get in the back or how much shopping I can fit into the boot. And that’s where the Fiat’s party piece comes in to play; its raison d’�tre…
It just makes you happy. Sure, it’s slow. I know, it’s not very luxurious. And yes, it’s expensive for what you get. But none of that matters. It’s such an epic little car to drive. With a peppy personality, handbag proportions, Italian flair and a million miles of headroom; you just can’t help but smile and giggle as you whizz through the gears and revel in the wind tickling your ears.
Sure, you can go for the 500C 1.4 Lounge if you want more power and better spec � if you’re willing to shell out R40 000 more, that is. If you ask me though, the 1.2 Pop is just right.
It becomes an extension of your personality and lifestyle rather than a tool you use to get to work and back every day. It’s one of those cars you want to keep warm at night; a car to which you give a name because it becomes more than a chunk of metal. It becomes your best friend and that is something few cars at this price level achieve these days. It’s a means to a happier state of being. It’s good for you.
Simply put, it’s stupendously brilliant and worth every cent. Proof that you don’t need a million kilowatts and neck-snapping speed to have tons of fun in a car. Buy lots of sunscreen!