Dolcevita means the Sweet Life. The Fiat 500 still cracks it. Well, mostly.
The little Fiat 500 is big for us of Italian descent. My folks and the family had who knows how many of the original. We’ve had five of the ‘new’ ones, including Fred, our TwinAir Lounge, for four years now. He’s very much part of the family. I was also fortunate enough to go celebrate the ’new’ one when thy launched it in Torino back in ’07. So I’d say we’re pretty well versed in Fiat 500. So yes, there isn’t much ’new’ about this Dolcevita that rolled up on our driveway.
LOUNGE OUT, DOLCEVITA IN
Almost identical to our Fred, the only way you can tell him apart is by the Dolcevita badge. Fred has chic aftermarket Italian flags there. Step inside and they’ve mixed up the colours — white and black is in areas that were black and white last time. And we really dig those leather seat covers with white diamond stitching. Slick. Dolcevita basically replaces Fred the Lounge in Fiat’s reshuffled and dare we say, cooler, perhaps more defined and more competitive line-up.
Dolcevita means the Sweet Life. Cool hey? It keeps Lounge’s neat bespoke 16-inch alloys and chrome accents. You can have two-tone paintwork too. They call that seat material Matelassé fabric with techno leather. 500 has 50/50 split and folding rear seat. To expand its surprisingly functional triangular shaped boot with a large and wide floor.
The competitive bit has had its toll on this latest 500 though. Dolcevita has a slightly larger info touchscreen than our Fred and more basic current model 500s have on the dash. It’s the size of a 30s pack of cigarettes versus 20s, but does the same job. It has DAB Radio, Apple, Android and Bluetooth tech with voice recognition too. Not bad, hey? But the dash has been back-specced from old Fred’s cool digital dials to a cumbersome yellow diode infested one.
A MOST IMPRESSIVE SPECIFICATION
That’s all over and above seven driver, passenger, knee, side and curtain airbags; ABS braking, Electronic Stability Control, a hill-holder and a speed limiter too. Add optional TomTom 3D map HD Navigation. And LED lighting. Impressed? Very!
Talking about making it competitive, while it may not apply to Dolcevita, manual gearbox 500s have had their sixth gear stolen. Not that it makes a huge difference with all that TwinAir grunt, but it’s a status thing to have six cogs in your box. The reason it doesn’t apply to Dolcevita is that unfortunately, this one only comes with Fiat’s two-pedal MTA transmission. Which makes it an ordeal.
They go to great lengths to stress that this is an automated manual. And that it must be driven as such. Now that’s a cool launch trick, but try telling it to your daughter, aunt or anyone else who’d likely be the target buyer of an automatic Fiat 500. We let a few people drive this car. To a person, they hated it. It may be robotised, but it’s stupid. It takes two second to change gears, rocks the car back and forth and feels terrible in most any driving situation.
MUCH RATHER GET A MANUAL 500
We’d advise against this MTA ‘box at all costs. Just take the manual. Even though it now has just five cogs, it’s way, way better. Pity you cant get a manual Dolcevita though — you will have to choose another model. Fortunately, like all 500s these days, Dolcevita still has the splendid state-of-the-art 63 kW 145 Nm 875cc TwinAir turbo petrol twin that pays homage to the original 1960s two-pot. It’s a splendid little engine with a wonderful, classic twin cylinder burble.
That dreadful gearbox also sadly steals two seconds to 100 km/h, which makes it pretty darn slow. But it does return a claimed 3.8 litres per 100 km, which is a certain boon in these trying times with our record petrol prices. Fiat has worked hard to keep the 500 viable. Yes, it has lost a tiny bit of sparkle thanks to a few small spec changes, but it certainly makes up for it in cool and chic.
As for as the Dolcevita goes, sadly it only comes with the horrible MTA gearbox. We really cannot rand will not recommend that. Rather buy down to a manual a Sport or Connect. Or spend the extra dosh for a drop-top C Sport. Because we’d recommend a manual Fiat 500 at a heartbeat. Yes, it’s still the coolest small car out there after all these years. Bar none. — Michele Lupini
ROAD TEST: Fiat 500 Dolcevita Engine: 63 kW 145 Nm 0.9-litre turbo I2 Drive: 5-speed semi-auto FWD TESTED: 0-60 km/h 6.00 sec 0-100 km/h: 13.27 sec 0-120 km/h: 19.63 0-160 km/h: - 400m: 19.4 sec @ 118 km/h 80-120 km/h: 10.20 sec 120-160 km/h: - CLAIMED: VMax: 173 km/h Fuel: 3.8 l/100 km CO2: 88 g/km Warranty/Service: 5y 100K/1y unl. LIST PRICE: R324K RATED: 7