Ford's radical Ka has set, and continues to maintain, new compact supermini sector standards which demand fuel economy, low ownership costs, five-seat capacity, reliability, practicality and performance. A manufacturer who can combine those qualities with a sense of fun and a helping of chic is on to a winner.
Leading the A-segment is something to which Fiat has been accustomed since the introduction of the Fiat 600 in 1955, followed by the Fiat 500 in 1957, and then the 126, Panda and Cinquecento through the 70s, 80s and 90s. Until recently, five out of six European buyers looking for a micromini chose a Fiat.
Now, the Italian manufacturer is hoping to step up the city car pace with the diminutive Seicento, the replacement for the Cinquecento, of which 8,700 examples were sold in Britain during 1997. Three Seicentos are available here - S and SX with a 900cc 39bhp four-cylinder engine priced on-the-road at ú6,495.33 and ú6,794.95 respectively, and the Sporting powered by a 1.1-litre 54bhp FIRE unit, the subject of our test report. A semi-automatic transmission matched to the 0.9 will be offered later in the year.
Towards the end of its run, almost half UK Cinquecento sales were Sporting, and it is likely the story will be the same with the Seicento, the lion's share of user-choosers going for the larger-engined sporty-spec model, priced at ú7,495 on-the-road - and Fiat says women drivers head its target market list.