Tuesday 16 January 2018

My new mate, Matt

RATING 81/100

Say hello to Matt Black, something of a curiosity for you this week. Most cars you and I know have a shiny finish, at least when we wash and buy them. This has a matt finish. Yes, just like the subdued end product on a wall when you paint it.

It is a strange one alright, but it was far from subdued. Indeed, my Fiat 500 test car had two elements of real innovation.

One was the matt paint finish. The other was the peppiest two-cylinder, (yes, two-cylinder!), engine you are likely to come across for a long time. It is called a TwinAir engine and it weighs a mere 85kg.

I am as aware as anyone that Fiat hasn't carried the greatest name for reliability (though I do know of a Tipo that cannot be put down). I'm also aware that not many people want a small car that appears to cost a disproportionate amount considering what a good-size family car can be bought for these days.

So, I'll be frank. I took this expecting it to be more of an inconvenience than anything else. Yet another piece of form over substance for which the Italian maker, back the years, had something of a reputation.

When I started it up I thought. . . Well, I thought, lawnmower -- it put-putted merrily. So off I drove, muttering negatives to myself about mini engines and all this talk about it being the cleanest mass-production powerplant in the world.

An hour later I was enjoying it, and quickly forgetting all those terrible things people have been saying about Fiats. I had fun with this. By golly, it bubbled along.

Have no worries about this not being powerful enough, either. Three grown men, one an inter-county GAA player of towering stature, took one trip deep into the heart of the Garden county and speed/power was never an issue.

Sitting room was though, for the poor devil in the back, because this really is a tiny car. The front two seats are grand but I felt sorry for the fit young man sprawled and stretched across the entire rear area.

But here's the thing. Most people loved it when they saw it parked. Especially the ladies. They all thought Matt was dead cute. Everywhere I looked there were warnings not to wash it, that it needed special treatment because of its particular paint.

They are only going to make 200 of these in right hand drive, and a mere handful are on sale here.

I think the price is a bit stiff but there is no doubt the technology and the paint make it one of the most interesting and innovative little cars on roads -- and fun.

What: Fiat 500 Matt Black city car (85bhp, 0-100kmh in 11sec), 5spd gearbox, front-wheel-drive, 4.1l/100km, CO2 of 95g/km; VRT is 14pc. €104 annual road tax.

Cost: From €16,445. Test model €19,235. Delivery, related charges extra

Target Market: Trendy singles, second car.

Plus: Clever package of style (paint finish) and serious technology.

Minus: Truly niche, price, room.

Standard Equipment: Air con, Start & Stop technology, sport seats/ suspension, 16in alloys, hillholder, leather steering wheel, seven airbags. Test car had climate control, parking sensors, xenon headlamps, fully integrated Blue&Me TomTom system.

Others to consider: Ford Ka, Toyota Aygo, Peugeot 107, Citroen C1, VW Fox, Renault Twingo.

Star Rating - 81 / 100

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