GREAT LITTLE CAR

WE'VE had a number of launches recently at which the cars were pretty much the same - similar designs, engines, comfort features and, in all honesty, performance - so what a pleasure it was to attend the launch last week of the new Fiat 500 cabriolet.

WE'VE had a number of launches recently at which the cars were pretty much the same - similar designs, engines, comfort features and, in all honesty, performance - so what a pleasure it was to attend the launch last week of the new Fiat 500 cabriolet.

Different? ... Oh yes. Funky? You bet. Fun? Tons of it.

The Fiat 500 has a long and proud history that dates back to the original, which was produced in 1957 ... and thankfully many of the characteristics from 53 years ago live on today.

Most noticeable is that distinctive canvas roof which, instead of being operated manually as in the past, is today removed with the push of a button.

Whereas many manufacturers have gone with the folding hard-top when producing a cabriolet, Fiat has stuck to their roots and kept a piece of their history firmly in place.

But the 500 cabriolet is not just a pretty face - though the 11 colours it comes in are also attractive - and the performance, safety features and general comfort levels stand up to the most critical eye.

Powered by a 1,4-litre 16v engine, it has a claimed top speed of 182kmh and will get from 0-100kmh in about 11 seconds. But you don't buy this particular car if speed is your thing ... no, this is a car for cruising around in, roof down, and enjoying every moment of your driving experience.

A figure you might be most interested in, though, is the impressive fuel consumption ... 6,1 litres per 100km.

A segment-leading seven airbags, ABS brakes with EBD (electronic brake distribution) and hill assist all contributed to the Fiat 500 being the first vehicle under four metres to receive the coveted five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.

Up against the Mini Cooper cabriolet, Peugeot 206 cab and perhaps the smart for-two cabriolet, the little 500 will give them all a run for their money.

Also noteworthy is the all-inclusive service plan, warranty and the fact that the vehicle only requires servicing every 30000km.

I almost forgot to mention that Fiat also launched the 500 MTA as well last week. Same engine as the cabriolet, slightly different interior but most importantly a five-speed dualogic gearbox, which is a manual and automatic combined. We'll go into details on how this works when we have one on test.

If you don't take my word that this is a great little car that will provide you with oodles of fun, just consider that supermodel Elle MacPherson and F1 racing great Felippe Massa use the Fiat 500 as their everyday runabout.

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