Both in its original 1957 version and the “modern” 2000 version, the Fiat 500 has always been something of a “cute” novelty car. Recently Fiat took the radical step of dispensing with the internal combustion engine in its best-selling car and taking it down the all electric route. In doing this they have retained the 500 style, but put it on an all new dedicated electric platform, while packing it with a combination of innovative technology and retro styling cues. So does the electric model keep the 500 in something of a minority niche camp, or has Fiat created an urban car with much broader appeal?
- Chic, retro styling
- Low running costs
- Low-range acceleration ideal for city streets
- Fun to drive
- Doesn't quite have the range of some of the larger-batteried electric SUVs
At first glance the 500e looks similar to the now defunct petrol version. However, get up close and you realise that what Fiat has done is much more than just a face lift. Yes, it retains the iconic 500 shape, but this is a bigger, bolder car with plenty of clever styling features that are subtle but pleasing on the eye. Because it does not need a grille, the front end is smoother and features an interesting split LED headlight feature. There are also LED side arrows and redesigned electric door handles with an e-latch. A panoramic sun roof gives a light and airy feel and for those who want even more natural light a Convertible version is also on offer. Overall, this is a good looking small car with plenty of character to satisfy both existing 500 fans and new buyers in this market sector.
The 500e is basically a city car so your expectations of interior space will not be vast. However, inside the new Fiat does actually feel quite big. This is because it is longer, taller and wider than its petrol predecessor, albeit, by just a few centimetres. This translates into a roomier feel, with more leg and elbow room for the driver and front passenger. The rear could accommodate a couple of six footers at a push, but owners are likely to only need this option on an occasional basis.
The interior design combines style and technology to make it a nice place to be, with a feeling of quality throughout. The infotainment system is graphically very good and easy to operate and there is all the connectivity required of a modern city car. The driver benefits from a sharp TFT instrument display and there are some neat retro styling features throughout that pay homage to the iconic 1957 model.
The 500 comes with two power options, the lower cost 24KW version with more basic trim and the 42KW version in 3 trims levels. These motors produce 95HP and 118 HP respectively. This may sound modest, but in a car of this size it is more than enough to provide enough zippy acceleration and open road speed to satisfy any driver. Officially it takes 9 seconds to reach 100km/h, but its low range acceleration is ideal for city streets and it has more than enough power for motorway cruising.
With regard to range and charging, at 180km in the lower cost version and 320km on other models, the range of the 500e on a full charge appears a little on the low side. However, this does need to be viewed in the context of its intended use. This is very much a city run-around so does not often need the capacity to tackle a 500km road trip. The car features an energy saving ‘Sherpa Mode’, a one pedal driving experience so that when the driver lifts their right foot from the pedal the car slows down then converts and recovers kinetic energy to generate electric power and recharge the battery.
Charging the 500e is in line with other small electric city cars. Fiat say for example 500 la Prima Hatchback can be fast-charged at 85 kW, with an 80% charge in 35 minutes or a 50km charge in 5 minutes.
Despite casting off most of its reliability issues many decades ago and making some very good cars since, older drivers still tend to be wary of Fiat’s. In fact the Fiat 500 (2000-2020) performed relatively well in the reliability stakes with most owners finding it very dependable. The 500e is of course based on very different technology and it is too early to say if it will be a trouble-free long term driving experience. What you can say is that build wise this is a very solid car and seems to have all the right characteristics to be a reliable means of urban transportation.
One of the attractions of the 500 electric will be its low running costs. It is a low maintenance, low tax model that will provide a comfortable, personal and economical way to get from A to B. The car comes with a normal three-year/unlimited-mileage Fiat warranty and eight year/100,000 mile warranty on the battery.
The term “fun to drive” is much over used in this segment of the car market, but truly does apply to the 500e. What the Fiat designers have done is take a short wheel base, light vehicle and make it feel very solid and smooth on the road, without losing that sense of driver enjoyment. Unlike some electric models it is very comfortable at low speed and the combination of chassis and drivetrain make it an exhilarating driving experience. It is also incredibly quiet inside, something that you could never say about its 1960s predecessor. To be ultra critical you could say steering is on the light side and on the limit handling is less refined, but overall this is a great little car to drive in any setting.
The crash testing organisation Euro NCAP recently tested the 500e and gave it a strong 4 out of 5 rating, something which is very commendable for a car of this size and weight and well ahead of many of its other competitors. Also it has a very impressive array of Advanced Driver Assistance technology including; lane keeping assist, park assist, traffic sign recognition, intelligent speed assistant and autonomous emergency braking.
- Running Costs
The previous version of the Fiat 500 had many fans, but was perhaps not a car with more general appeal. With the 500e, Fiat has taken the best elements of the older 500 and put them into a very refined, environmentally friendly, urban driving package. The point about the environment is very justified, as bigger electric SUVs may have zero tailpipe emissions, but their weight and construction footprint does cloud their green credentials.
Drive the 500e and you can’t help but like it. It is “fun”, it is comfortable and well specified and it is a little different. With prices from €24,995 up to €34,995, if you are looking for an electric city car, then this is indeed a very strong contender, even if you were not a previous 500 fan.