Magazine Rewind: CAR, May 1992 – Will There Ever Be A Better Mini Than The Mini?

We can no longer read LJK Setright on a monthly basis as we used to, but a bit of internet browsing can unearth gems of his thoughts and wisdom, as we see here. A compare and contrast between he Mini and the new for 1992 Fiat Cinquecento.

I hope the Mini needs little introduction, other than to confirm that this one is quite special. 621AOK is actually a Morris mini-Minor, the naming format that predate the model name “Mini” and is normally identified as being the first production Mini. CAR and Setright did well to talk the custodians of this piece of heritage into using it for a photo shoot, part of which would show how little the Mini had changed in 32 years to BL’s commercial disadvantage.

The Cinquecento, named as such officially, was a sub supermini, sold as a city car, albeit with out-of-town capability. Its closest rival was probably the similarly conceived Renault Twingo, and it could trace its roots back to design studies conducted by FSM, Fiat’s Polish partner, in the 1980s. From 1973, the FSM factory had produced the Fiat 126, in parallel with Italian production, as the smallest car produced in Europe. It was in fact closely related to the original Nuova 500, but even with the a back story of that age, it still over 3 million..

The Cinquecento was a much more modern design, with a transverse four cylinder engine and end on five speed gearbox clothed in a fully contemporary of rather anonymous three door hatchback body. Power came from 704, 900 or 1100cc engines; the smallest was for Poland only, the largest for the top of the range Sporting variant. The majority were 903cc, the engine from the standard setting 1971 Fiat 127 and even the 1964 Fiat 850. All 1.16 million examples of the Cinquecento were built in Poland.

Size wise, the Fiat was just 7 inches longer than the Mini in length and in wheelbase, around 4 inches wider and 200lbs heavier, the consequence of increased safety equipment and a stronger structure. Over the years, Setright regularly noted that the width of a car, rather than its length, was critical to its ability to work through traffic.

Did it do everything a Mini could? On paper and in theory, it probably did, and with increased practicality through the hatchback, the fifth gear, better seats and seating position and so on. But for the driver who loved his or her Mini because it was a Mini? Maybe – Setright seems to suggest it could do, though perhaps not with the character of the Mini.

The Cinquecento was reskinned as the Seicento in 1997 and served until 2010, although sales dropped markedly once the 2003 Panda was available. Its place in the Fiat range has therefore effectively been taken by the Panda, which of course begat the current 500 in 2007.