All Europe is crazy about it

Forget all those Lamborghinis, Ferraris and super luxurious Bugatti Veyrons - the most irresistible car of the year is the all-new Fiat 500, a cheeky city runabout with sex appeal.

Forget all those Lamborghinis, Ferraris and super luxurious Bugatti Veyrons - the most irresistible car of the year is the all-new Fiat 500, a cheeky city runabout with sex appeal.

In France and Italy, where the little car went on sale this summer, the Fiat 500 is well on its way to becoming an automotive icon. About 80000 have been ordered.

Meanwhile, in Germany it's a case of "catch me if you can", with would-be owners having to wait for up to four months before being able to lay their hands on one of the stylish, little minicars.

"Demand for this car is not just lively, it's huge," said Micheal Kuehne, a salesman at the main Fiat dealership in the northern German port of Hamburg.

"Four out of six of the cars I move at the moment are Fiat 500s," seconded his colleague, Matthias Brockmoeller.

With so few on the roads, the Fiat 500 is a guaranteed to turn heads wherever it appears.

The sight of one whizzing through the streets of Hamburg or Berlin attracts the sort of attention normally reserved for film stars or heads of state.

The first 3500 Fiat 500s to be imported to Germany were sold within days and Fiat Germany boss Manfred Kantner is confident of finding customers for up to 15000 yearly

"This car is not simply a new Fiat model," he told Germany's Der Spiegel magazine. "It's a statement that underscores the competitiveness of the entire company."

Automotive pundits agree that the revitalised 500 is probably the best new Fiat for decades and even notoriously critical journalists are waxing lyrical.

Britain's Top Gear motoring journal said the runabout "embodies effortless Italian style and epitomises the Italian ability to accomplish miracles from simple ingredients".

Stern magazine was equally enthusiastic: "This is not just a car for travelling from A to B, it has the potential to become a dear friend."

A reporter from the journal was on the international panel of 58 motoring journalists who last month awarded the Fiat 500 the title of Car of the Year 2008.

The jury lauded the design and safety features, which include seven passenger air bags as standard.

So what is all the fuss about?

Well, the Fiat Cinquecento is riding on the retro-wave started by the enormously successful new Mini but is much cheaper.

It also avoids the tackiness long associated with the once near-bankrupt Italian marque. Overall it appeals to people who could afford a bigger car but prefer to buy a smaller one instead.

The resurrected Fiat oozes visual charm. The shape harks back to the original Fiat 500 or Topolino (Mouse in Italian) of 1957 but the car is technically much more sophisticated.

Styled by Robert Giolito, the new Fiat 500 has a considered modern shape, unlike the new Volkswagen Beetle.

The baby Fiat is no family carriage but does boast enough space for four people. Two children can travel in the back in comfort, though long-legged adults will find it cramped.

The interior of the new 500 is best described as funky, with a dashboard made up of four concentric circles dominated by a giant speedometer and a stubby gear lever in the middle.

There is a choice of two petrol engines, developing either 69 or 100 horsepower, and a diesel unit with particle filter that turns out 75 horses. - Sapa

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