If money was no object

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24 March 2010 Fiat 500 Cabriolet & 500 Sport MTA

Without a doubt the most annoying idiom in the English language is: “If money was no object…” After all, why should your taste for the finer things in life be curtailed simply because you’re not adequately endowed in the wallet department?

Well, fortunately this daft phrase no longer applies to the car you’ve always dreamed of owning – now you can have one of the most covetable convertibles on the planet for under R200 000, or if you prefer, the most techno-savvy, safety-conscious supermini for the same price!

A slight exaggeration I hear you say; well consider this – supermodel Elle Macpherson aka ‘The Body’ drives a 500 Cabriolet, so does Felipe Massa (his is a specially tuned 500 Sport) and frankly they could drive whatever money can buy. They fact that they CHOOSE to pilot Cinquecentos and are proud to seen in them, speaks volumes.

So, to sum up, with the addition of these two new ‘top-end’ 500 models there’s now a Cinquecento to suit every taste and budget: first up is the eco-friendly 1.2 with a launch price of just R135 500, followed by the 1.4 Pop with an equally mouth-watering price tag of just R157 800 and now, the flagship twins – the 1.4 Cabriolet and the 1.4 MTA Sport, both retailing for just R197 600 (all VAT inclusive).

Innovative solution pays homage to the past (500 Cabriolet)
Unveiled to the world for the first time at the 2009 Geneva Motor Show, the new Fiat 500C pays homage to the original 1957 Fiat 500 and its fabric roof, but also offers innovative solutions in terms of mechanical design, engines and comfort. All this in line with the most authentic Fiat tradition of giving people access to segment firsts in content and technology.

Using the saloon version as the starting point, the introduction of the soft top does not change the winning characteristics of the model such as its four comfortable seats and boot capacity, but it does add new functions that heighten enjoyment. These include easier access to the boot even when the soft top is fully open, thanks to a clever system of parallelogram hinges.

Another strong point of the original cabriolet version is its exceptional climate and acoustic comfort. Thorough aerodynamic research means that the turbulence experienced with the roof open has been reduced to a minimum, allowing full enjoyment of the fresh air and the company of fellow passengers.

Even rear passengers have received special attention, as proven by an air-flow speed of 7 m/s with the roof open. In addition, when the soft top is down, the spoiler is arranged so that the third brake light can always be seen. The double-layered roof fabric ensures the best possible insulation from the outside and, along with the internal coverings of the pillars, completes a superb finish for the mechanisms controlling the opening and closing of the roof.

Design-wise, the front of the car demanded a slightly higher windscreen which meant resizing the upper cross member; this gives a better view for the rear passengers, a stronger body and superbly clean lines. These are also enhanced by the continuity of the windscreen, which extends to the fabric roof without exposing any part of the bodywork (an extremely elegant and technologically sophisticated solution in keeping with the spirit of the 500 Cabriolet).

From the side, the car stands out for the outline of the pillars which present strong arches in contrast with the shape of the soft top. The soft top really defines the upper lines of the 500 Cabriolet and gives it a more slender look compared with the saloon version. Staying with the side view, the alloy wheels also stand out: one option is 16 inches, with a cross-spoked design that has echoes of the original 1960s spoked wheels; another is 15 inches, with a more fluid design (both wheels have the classic cup-shaped locking nuts embossed with the 500 logo).

It is the rear aspect of the new car that is most different, particularly the clear division between the upper fabric part and the car’s steel bodywork, emphasised by chrome trim like that of the 500 versions from 1957 onwards. This stylistic element makes the rear of the car appear wider by creating a horizontal line across it. In addition, the rear window (in glass with an electric demister) is more rounded. While retaining the same visibility as the 500 saloon, its smoother corners are closer in design to its 1950s forerunner.

Another important feature of the new car is the boot: this opens upwards without protruding from the shape of the vehicle (this means there is no need to step away when loading luggage). In addition, if the soft top is down, an electronic device lifts it a few centimetres to allow the boot to be fully opened. This is an extremely functional and streamlined solution which can be appreciated both for its usability, and for the way it integrates with the vehicle. It should be stressed that the Fiat 500 Cabriolet is “best in class” in its segment for the ease and versatility of loading and unloading. Merit for this goes to the spacious luggage compartment (with a capacity of 182 litres – just three litres less than the saloon version), the traditional upwards-opening boot and wide access.

But it is the soft top of the Fiat 500 Cabriolet that stands out for its elegant electrically-controlled movements and its impressively finished and carefully selected technical features. Available in three colours (ivory, red and black), the clever soft top is matched to the numerous body colours (six pastel, three metallic and two pearlescent). Some of these are inspired by the vintage colours of its forerunner while others are up to date and boast a really contemporary look. In particular a moulding of the same colour on the soft top acts as a spoiler and houses a third brake light, creating similar aerodynamics to the saloon version with a drag co-efficient of just 0.33.

The automatic electric soft top can be controlled either by buttons near to the interior ceiling light or from the remote control. In addition, the soft top can be operated throughout its horizontal travel (as far as the spoiler) at any speed. Vertical movement can be engaged at any speed under 60 km/h.

The soft top is also easy to use: to open it, just press the button for at least half a second to trigger the movement that then continues automatically up to the spoiler (a midway point can of course be chosen by pressing the button again). Press the button again for at least half a second to fully open the roof. When using the remote control, the roof can be opened only as far as the spoiler. The same processes will close it; for safety reasons, the roof stops at around 25 cm from complete closure (just press the button again to complete the movement).

When the boot is open, the soft top can only be closed (the opening function is de-activated). However, if the roof is fully open and the boot needs to be opened, when the boot is opened the soft top automatically moves to a midway point to avoid obstructing loading operations.

Finally, there an optional wind-stop can easily be positioned behind the rear headrests (fixed to the parcel shelf). This accessory has been tested in a wind tunnel, designed specifically for the Fiat 500 Convertible, and made from a special porous material: it gives a notable reduction in turbulence for all passengers, at all speeds. It should be stressed that there is no need to remove the wind-stop to open or close the soft top (another unique feature for this segment of vehicle).

The interior of the Fiat 500C is equally exclusive, and boasts top quality materials. In particular, the new sporty seats are upholstered in a high-quality fabric which constitutes an important feature of the car for its feel and durability. The back and cushion of the rear seats are very enveloping and the side panels are upholstered in leather.

As an optional extra, the interior of the Fiat 500C can be upholstered in black, beige or red Frau leather. The chrome trim and a dashboard that matches the exterior colour and is decorated by an exclusive 500C logo complete an elegant and functional interior that can comfortably accommodate four people.

Enviro-friendly 1.4 engine (500 Cabriolet & MTA)

The brilliant 1.4 litre 16v engine delivers 73.5 kW (100 HP) at 6,000 rpm and a maximum torque of 131 Nm at 4,250 rpm. Developed with high performance and low consumption in mind, this engine puts the Fiat 500 (in both Cabriolet and MTA guise) at the top of its class, with a top speed of 182 km/h for both models and acceleration 0-100 km/h in just 11 seconds for the Cabriolet and 10,5 seconds for the MTA.

Fuel economy is impressive too: in the combined cycle, the Cabriolet consumes only 6,1 l/100 km (combined cycle) with a manual six-speed gearbox. The 500 MTA is even more impressive – 5,8 l/100 km in the combined cycle.

A few technical highlights:

  • The adoption of an electronic throttle valve control system known as ‘drive by wire’ (with no mechanical connection between the accelerator and the throttle), while it is the electronic control unit that delivers the torque on the basis of the driver’s demands (torque-based system).
  • Fluid dynamic optimisation achieved by a new high turbulence combustion chamber combined with a continuous variable cam phaser. This innovative system allows a substantial part of the exhaust gases (about 25%) to be recirculated in the combustion chamber, significantly reducing fuel consumption and exhaust emissions when driving with a partial load.
  • The timing components have been made lighter and the valve springs are of the low load type, to reduce friction.
  • Another interesting feature of this engine where fuel consumption is concerned is the use of an active knock sensor capable of managing the advance in the best possible way in all conditions and, above all, the multipoint sequential phased injection system by Magneti Marelli.
  • On the environmental front, the catalytic converter is welded to the exhaust manifold flange. In this position the device is extremely efficient because it reaches high temperatures very rapidly thus abating emissions even while the engine is warming up.

The next generation gearbox (500 MTA)

The five-speed Dualogic gearbox which debuts in the 500 MTA (Manual Transmission Automated) represents the next generation of sequential, robotised automatic transmissions: a cutting-edge smart system processes a complex set of information on the car’s status and the driver’s intentions and automates clutch and gear engagement through electro-hydraulic actuators. Or to put it plainly, what you have is essentially a clutchless manual box with two modes (manual or automatic).

The main advantages of the system are ease of use and a reduction in driver fatigue, particularly around town, because gear shifts can be controlled automatically or manually (under sporty driving conditions, in other words high revs and full throttle, gearshifts can be carried out within a record time of 190 ms); greater efficiency and a reduction in average fuel consumption and emissions compared to a manual gearbox; the prevention of driver errors and a consequent improvement in driving safety.

MTA also ensures effective integration with the latest-generation ESP fitted to the Fiat 500, because the Hill-holder system is engaged automatically whenever the car meets pre-established gradient conditions, rendering a handbrake unnecessary during hill starts (this is a limitation of most automatic transmissions on the market).

MTA offers two operating modes: semiautomatic (manual) and automatic: with the first function, gear shifts take place sequentially by simply pressing a lever on the tunnel. In manual mode, drivers are free to enjoy an entertaining drive over mixed/fast routes, yet without reducing comfort during low-speed drives.

When automatic mode is active, the control unit takes over control of selecting the best ratio for your driving style. Two operating strategies are available: Normal and Economy: the former places the emphasis on driving comfort while the latter ECO setting aims to reduce fuel consumption by shifting gears at the most effective junctures.

MTA also ensures important benefits for the customer in terms of fuel consumption, emissions and maintenance costs – a 3% reduction in fuel consumption (equivalent to 0.2 l/100km) is achievable compared to the same engine version fitted with a manual gearbox.

Class-leading safety (500 Cabriolet & MTA)

The first car under four metres to receive the five-star Euro NCAP rating both the Fiat 500 Cabriolet and the MTA retain all the safety components and features (active and passive) that justifiably place it among the market’s best in class.

The Fiat 500 Cabriolet in particular is unrivalled in its segment in terms of passive safety, as shown, for example, by the seven airbags offered as standard (two front, two window, two side and one knee bag). Naturally, all these passive safety systems are standard across the entire range, even on the entry-level 1.2.

However, the Fiat 500 Cabriolet and the MTA go even further by making the following active safety systems part of the standard menu: from ABS with electronic brake distribution (EBD) to the advanced electronic stability program (ESP), from the anti slip regulation (ASR) system to the Hill Holder device – which helps the driver with hill starts – and hydraulic brake assistance (HBA) to help with emergency stops.

Moreover, to ensure the safety of the driver and passengers, the 500 has a body designed according to the latest crash resistance criteria (this is the first super-compact car equipped with a front-end structure specifically designed to improve inter-vehicle compatibility in head-on collisions, with a rigid cabin to protect the occupants and high-absorption zones on the outside.

Both front safety belts have dual pretensioners and load limiters (those in the rear are three-point belts). The front and rear seats are equipped with an anti-submarining system that stops the wearer from sliding underneath the seatbelt. Isofix attachments for child car seats are fitted as standard across the range.

Finally, the Fiat 500 Cabriolet and the MTA have all the dynamic and comfort features that allow users to embark comfortably and safely on any journey. The suspension system based on a Magneti Marelli design plays a fundamental role in this: front suspension is provided by independent McPherson struts while the rear suspension is semi-independent with a torsion axle. The semi-independent torsion-axle rear suspension system also features an anti-roll bar derived from the 500 Abarth to improve handling and comfort.

Very generous specification levels

Suffice it to say that while customisation is the 500’s middle name, both the Cabriolet and MTA are so well equipped that I doubt you’d need anything more. (For a full list of standard kit please refer to the specifications document.)

The 500 Cabriolet is trimmed to Lounge spec which means you get many extras over and above what you get on the 1.4 Pop (which in itself is no shrinking violet in the spec department eg air-conditioning, 7 airbags, electric windows and remote central locking all standard). Here are a few of the additional standard items on the 500 Cabriolet:

  • Full passive safety package – ESP + ASR/MSR + HBA + Hill Holder
  • Chrome kit – chrome trim inside and out (side window mouldings, chrome tailpipe, chrome inserts in bumpers and chrome crown on gearlever)
  • 15″ alloys
  • Front fog lamps
  • Body-coloured wing mirrors with electronic adjustment, defrosting function and exterior temperature sensor
  • Sun visor with light and courtesy mirror
  • Leather steering wheel with audio controls
  • Leather gearknob
  • Front passenger seat with oddments compartment under the cushion
  • Pocket in passenger seatback
  • Blue&Me hands-free system with remote controls and USB port

The 500 MTA is trimmed to Sport spec which means that you get all of the above, but with one change: instead of the chrome kit, you get the sport kit which dispenses with some of the chrome trimmings and offers:

  • Sport seats
  • Sport specific interior colours and fabrics
  • Rear spoiler
  • Chrome tailpipe (same as Cabrio)
  • Chrome insert in door sills

Pricing, warranty and servicing

  • Fiat 500 Sport MTA – R197, 600.00
  • Fiat 500 Cabriolet – R197, 600.00
  • Enhancing the ownership prospect, the Fiat 500, as with other premium products in the Fiat stable, has 30 000 km service intervals and enjoys full after-sales support in South Africa thanks to a comprehensive parts inventory (housed and distributed in an all-new, state-of-the-art facility) and the back-up of trained technicians at Fiat dealerships countrywide.
  • Fiat Auto South Africa offers a three-year 100 000 km Warranty (three years on paintwork and five years on rust anti-perforation) as well as a five-year / 90 000 km service plan as standard on both new models. Incidentally the service plan is also standard on the affordable new 1.4 Pop (optional on the 1.2).
  • The new models are covered by the AA Fleetcare roadside assistance for 12 months. The service is active 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is available by calling the dedicated toll-free number 0800 223 727.