Review and road test of the Fiat Cinquencento (1993 - 1998)
BY JONATHAN CROUCH
The story goes that when the first Fiat Cinquecentos rolled onto the showroom floor of one local dealership, an eager customer waved a cheque under the head salesman's nose. "I'd like one of those chubby-checkers please... "
Ever since then, the cute numerical Italian name (translated as '500' and pronounced 'ching-kwee-chento' by the way) has provoked tongue twisting at Fiat dealers from Lands End to John O'Groats. Not that it appears to have put customers off. In the UK, sales of the little city car proceeded very nicely, thank you, and the result is that many examples now appear on the used market at tempting prices, many of them part-exchanged for the later Seicento.
Models Covered: CINQUECENTO - 1993-1998 900cc three-door Hatchback [base, S, SX] / 1.1 three-door hatchback [Sporting]
Two versions were initially offered at the May 1993 launch - the standard model and the better-equipped SX. Both had the same economical sub-one-litre engine and 'chuckable' handling.
There was an interior restyle in January 1994 and a new model was added in February the following year. This was the Sporting and it brought with it a new 1.1-litre engine. The styling was modified with a large air dam built into the front bumper and tiny alloy wheels were standard that gave it a sporty, if diminutive appearance.
The base model was renamed S in June 1995 but the rest of the range stayed as it was. The Cinquecento range was replaced with the Seicento in summer 1998.
What You Get
A fantastic city car, especially the Sporting, which is very zippy and charges into gaps that only a Mini could challenge it for. The other Cinquecentos are much slower (0-60 is a paint-drying 20 seconds) and less likely to get you revved up and grinning from ear to ear as you negotiate roundabouts.
Standard equipment extends to central locking, sunroof and electric windows on the SX and Sporting. The mini-hot hatch also gets sports seats, a rev-counter and a choice of either bright yellow or red paint, though for would-be dark and mysterious types, a deep black lustre is also available.
What to Look For
All Cinquecentos were built at Fiat's Polish plant and the quality was unbelievable compared to what once came out of Eastern Europe. These cars are very solid for such tiny machines and the doors shut with a firm thump. The interiors need to be looked after but generally stand up well.
Engines are well known from other Fiats (the heritage goes all the way back to the 903 of the late '60s) and have proven reliable, though some cars have experienced noisy tappets.
Corrosion is not likely to be an issue as Fiats have been well protected for years and most of these cars are still fairly young, anyway.
Make sure the Sporting you're looking at hasn't suffered a major smash. Many were bought by enthusiastic young owners, tempted by the cheap insurance. Driven like the baby Ferrari many say it reminds them of (check all red ones?), the Sporting may have met the odd hedge, or worse, so have a good look for body repair signs.
(approx based on a Cinquecento Sporting) An exhaust system is in the region of £95. A clutch assembly will be around £100, whilst an alternator (exchange) should be not far over £64.
Major and minor services cost around £225 and £125 respectively.
On the Road
It's about two different cars, really. The base S and SX models are great little cars that are ideal for town-driving but a bit underpowered for a long motorway journey and probably too noisy, as well. The Sporting, on the other hand, has only another quarter of a litre under the bonnet, but it makes all the difference. On a motorway, you'll have to remind yourself how much fun it is on B roads, or the noise at 70mph may well have you thinking about re-selling. The Sporting is best thought of as a 1990's Mini Cooper, only slightly more civilised.
A great little city car that might just have you singing with happiness like Pavarotti. (Especially if you go for the Sporting.)
Fiat Cinquencento (1993 - 1998) review by JONATHAN CROUCH