Before last week, a two-door hatchback with a 0.9-litre engine and 185 litres of cargo space was not my idea of fun or practicality.
Around 500km of driving the Fiat 500 Cult changed that completely, and after testing it with a variety of loads and seating configurations I was impressed with how well it catered to my daily demands.
Yes, my colleagues scoffed at its size (and colour), my friends made fun of the engine, and strangers gave me funny looks for sitting in such a tiny car – but those who got into the 500 were as surprised as I was.
Driving the Cult
The latest Fiat 500 models were released in August and are equipped with an 875cc, two-cylinder, turbo-petrol engine.
The Cult sports a five-speed manual gearbox that would feel at home in any budget-focused hatchback, with the setup producing 63kW and 145Nm.
Pair the output with the Cult’s 930kg kerb weight and you have a lively little hatch whose official performance numbers seem to be lying.
On the brochure, the Cult’s 0-100km/h time is 11 seconds and top speed 173km/h.
In my testing, I managed to hook up the Fiat just right and repeatedly reached 100km/h in 10 seconds – while 60km/h was attainable in a respectable 5 seconds.
It’s not fast by most standards, but it feels fast.
The Cult also easily kept 120km/h on highway drives and I would not be afraid to give the top speed a go on a closed road.
It is sensitive to steering inputs due to the short wheelbase (2,300mm), but confident no matter how quick you go.
This was evidenced by a loud beep when I was driving home one afternoon.
My eyes darted to the small display in the instrument cluster, which showed the beep was a built-in 130km/h speed-limit warning – telling me to slow down.
You can adjust the warning to any speed that you please, but on multiple occasions I found that right where it was kept me out of trouble.
Around corners, the Fiat 500 is no weapon, which is nothing out of the ordinary at this price.
Another benefit of the small engine is fuel consumption. I averaged 17km per litre during my week, but it could have been much better had I not been so enthusiastic with the accelerator.
The go-kart-like two-cylinder engine note is partly to blame for this.
Another noticeable thing at high speeds is the solid build quality of the Fiat 500.
The surfaces are plastic and seats cloth – but what you can’t see on photos is just how well the 500 is put together.
Road noise is nothing short of class-leading and the doors do not rattle when you close them, like on some other cars of this calibre.
The gear lever is also better than the competition’s, while an artificial leather steering wheel and proper stalks give a premium feel.
The buttons, I will admit, are a bit plasticky and clicky, but this is easily forgivable if you remember the Cult’s price – R219,900.
It’s also not short of space in the front seats. A quick adjustment to put the steering wheel higher is all that was needed to comfortably fit into the driver’s seat – and it accommodated front-seat passengers of all shapes and sizes with not one complaining about a lack of room.
This might not sound all that impressive, but it’s worth mentioning that I struggled to fit into the previous-generation Ford Fiesta.
The higher-than-usual roofline also made it a breeze to get in and out, while my eyes were regularly on the same level as that of the drivers of crossovers.
This Fiat is not made to carry four adults, however, and is best suited as a two-seater – unless you have small kids to put in the back.
That said, by folding down a portion of the rear bench, we were able to fit three adult passengers and two golf bags in an impromptu visit to the course.
The Fiat 500 Cult is decently equipped with comfort and safety features.
This model offers a 5-inch infotainment display with Bluetooth connectivity, along with a manual aircon, electric windows, and a multifunction steering wheel.
It brings hill-start assist, ABS, and seven airbags, too, which is enough to cover everyone’s basic needs.
Despite its many positives, there are still a few things you must heed before buying a Fiat 500.
It’s small on the roads and you can feel engine power dropping when switching on the aircon.
Its seats are also quite soft and don’t support your sides too well.
When it comes to design, I personally found it attractive and welcomed the unique look – but my sentiments were not always shared by people who dare not admit that they like something this quirky.
The Fiat 500 Cult beat every expectation I had for it.
What’s more is that I was in the entry-level model – i.e. the cheapest one – meaning you can’t get less than this if you’re buying new.
At a South African price of R219,900, the Fiat 500 TwinAir Cult is worth every cent.
It is a well-rounded hatch that can fit into most lifestyles and it should not be dismissed if it’s within your budget.
This hatchback left a Fiat 500-sized hole in my heart when I saw it driving away after the review was over, which is something I did not see coming.