Honest little car

Remember the Fiat Uno? The car everybody made jokes about—and then bought?

Between 1990 and 2005, the little cars—then assembled by Nissan South Africa—became favourites with people who wanted a simple, reliable car that didn’t cost an arm and a leg to buy or to run.

More than 116 000 South Africans stopped laughing long enough to take delivery of Fiat Unos and the majority of them were very happy with their cars. The little Italian hatchbacks were very reliable, except for a few in the very early years, the engines of which fell out into the road.

The Uno disappeared from South African showrooms in 2005, swamped by the flood of more modern cars that became available at similar prices, and the Palio took over as Fiat’s entry-level offering.

But now the Uno’s back, offering much the same styling and all the features as its predecessor—decent interior space, basic comfort and safety features, reasonable performance, a fair number of rattles and squeaks and the knowledge that there shouldn’t be any unpleasant surprises when it goes into the workshop.

The Uno that’s just arrived back on the scene is built not in Rosslyn, as the earlier versions were, but in Brazil, where it’s called the Fiat Mille. There are three models in the car line-up—three- and five-door hatches and, curiously, a raised-body, five-door version called the Fiat Uno Way.

There’s also, apparently, a van, but we’ve yet to see one of those. All are propelled by the same 1 242cc four-cylinder engine that produces 50kW and 111Nm. On paper, that’s pretty uninspiring, but during the launch the little car felt livelier than the mere numbers would imply. 

I don’t think we’re going to see many exciting traffic-light Grands Prix performances from this mob, but acceleration is, I’d say, reasonable for a budget 1,2 litre offering.

For the R5 000 extra price tag of the Uno Way, you get the raised suspension, side decals, some rather cheap-looking plastic wheel-arch mouldings and wider tyres. If I habitually travelled on dirt roads, I’d consider the money well spent.

The latest Fiat Uno sells at between R69 900 for the three-door and R74 900 for the Way, with the ordinary four-door and the van slotting in between.

For the price, you get more interior and boot space than most other entry-level cars can offer, but in what is obviously a dated design that’s been spruced up over the years. You get very little in the way of frills—there’s no radio, aircon, electric windows, power steering, central locking or rear-window demister, for instance, never mind airbags and ABS brakes—and the interior trim is, as with the older Uno, rather cheap and nasty in appearance and feel.

The Fiat Uno is an honest little car that doesn’t pretend to be anything that it isn’t and Fiat South Africa should easily sell the 100 or so that they’ve been allocated each month.

Optional extras include aircon, front electric windows, central locking and a rear window demister, but be warned—the aircon, at R 9000, is expensive and for many people it’s essential.

Add that to the price of the standard Uno and suddenly the pricing doesn’t look that attractive.

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