Introduced in 1991, the Cinquecento represented a golden opportunity for Fiat to offer a seriously light and nimble hot hatch that had almost no competition on the European market due to its diminutive size. Performance hatchbacks were still massively popular in Europe, so the car maker’s top brass wasted no time in approving the development of a hot-rodded model dubbed Sporting.
Fiat made no major modifications to the Cinquecento’s Giugiaro-designed body, but it painted the bumpers and the door mirrors in the same color as the body in a bid to mask the Sporting’s econobox roots. A set of 13-inch alloy wheels came standard and, emblems aside, that’s about as far as the exterior modifications went. Inside, the Cinquecento Sporting was offered with extra equipment such as a tachometer, bucket seats, and a leather-wrapped two-spoke steering wheel. Although it was positioned at the top of the Cinequencento range, in some markets the Sporting did not come standard with ABS, airbags, or even a radio throughout most of its production run.
A 1.1-liter non-interference four-cylinder FIRE engine borrowed from the Fiat parts bin was mounted transversally in the Cinquecento’s tiny engine bay. Linked to a five-speed close-ratio manual transmission, the fuel-injected mill sent 55 horsepower and 63 lb-ft. of torque to the front wheels. Thanks in part to a low weight of 1,620 pounds (735 kilograms), the hatchback managed to hit 62 mph (100 km/h) from a stop in 13.5 seconds and reached a top speed of 93 mph (150 km/h). Beefier brakes on all four corners and a sport-tuned suspension setup that included a front sway bar helped keep the extra power in check.
In 1996, the Cinquecento Sporting started at 49,900 francs, 10,000 more than a base-model Cinquecento. That same year, a three-door Volkswagen Golf carried a base price of 73,900 francs.
The Cinquecento Sporting was phased out in 1999, and it was replaced that same year by the Seicento Sporting. Slightly larger and more powerful, the Seicento wound up passing the hot hatch torch to the 500 Abarth that is sold all around the world today.