The 500e, the first EV here from Fiat, has finally arrived three years after it went on sale in Europe.
And it brings moonshot pricing, which is to say $52,500 plus on-road costs for a tiny EV with a real-world range under 300 kilometres.
That would be enough to kill it stone cold, if it wasn’t so cute and frankly, if it wasn’t so much fun to drive. The 500e is a piece of fine Italian styling, inside and out, and it’s hard not to smile back at the many people who smile at it.
The other thing to love is that it is a genuinely small car, something rarer and rarer, no matter what the power source. Its 3632 mm overall length makes it 743 mm shorter than a Toyota Corolla hatch, for example.
At the moment, there is just the La Prima version, at the above-mentioned price, making it twice as dear as the top-spec petrol Fiat 500. There’s an even dearer 500e sports EV, badged as an Abarth and starting at $58,900 plus on-road costs.
When the model is established here and supply is plentiful, one hopes a less expensive 500e turns up. It would be lovely to have the roll-back roof version that is available in Europe too.
One thing to note is that the 500 EV is not an adapted version of the familiar Polish-built, petrol-powered 500. It’s manufactured in Italy on an all-new platform and Fiat claims 96 per cent of the parts are different.
It still pays visual homage to the 1957 original, of course, but compared with today’s petrol 500 it is marginally longer, taller and wider. The 17-inch wheels make the car appear shorter than it is but the more compact EV drivetrain and marginally stretched wheelbase (2322 mm versus 2300 mm) create a roomier interior. There’s far more adjustment available too, enabling me to find the comfortable driving position that was always elusive in previous 500s.
The front seating position is high, giving a good view of all around. As for the second row of seats well, an adult can get in there, but wouldn’t want to make a habit of it.
A single electric motor drives the front wheels. It develops a maximum of 87 kW and 220 Nm, and is linked to a 42 kWh battery pack for a modest WLTP-measured 311 km range. Acceleration is nine seconds to 100 km/h, which is nothing special yet the Fiat feels delightfully zippy. The take-off is instant and the handling hot-hatchy.
The three driving modes are Normal, Range and Sherpa. The first is self-explanatory, the second increases regen to increase the number of kilometres between charges, the third is not for mountain climbing. It’s a restricted speed, low-energy setting designed to get you home when the indicated range is marginal.
The brakes offer good pedal feel; there are discs up front and drums at the rear, with retardation aided by electric motor regeneration. In the city you don’t need to use the brakes much anyway, a lift of the accelerator slows the car enough to allow mainly one-pedal driving.
The Fiat 500e is well-equipped with such niceties as LED headlights, a glass roof, parking sensors front and rear, lane-keeping, adaptive cruise, blind- spot monitoring and wireless phone mirroring. The software works well, and there are sufficient physical switches to save you scrolling through endless screen menus.
The interior is a cream-and-black combo (there’s no choice at this stage in Australia), and the “vegan leather” has the name Fiat stitched into it on repeat. It looks great, though the “hide” feels more plastic than bovine.
The ride is a little harsh, which is common with EVs on steel springs, due to the weight of the battery pack. This battery pack is small, sure, but as an overall percentage it is substantial and makes the EV 40 per cent heavier (1290 kg vs 920 kg for the petrol).
The battery recharges at 85 kW maximum, reaching 80 per cent in about 35 minutes. The audible alert, which is the external noise emitted to warn pedestrians of your approach is – wait for it – from a Fellini soundtrack. It’s an adaptation of Verdi used in the 1973 film Amarcord. Love it!
In the real world 300 km or so will be sufficient for most people (the average driver covers 30-40 km per day), so why waste energy carrying around a bigger battery than you need? Then again, why pay for a bigger battery than you receive? That seems to be the case here and the purchase price, combined with a miserly three-year warranty, renders the 500e a heart choice rather than a head one.
Still, I can still see quite a few hearts being swayed.
- Price | $52,500 (excluding on-road costs); $53,200 as tested
- Engine | Single electric motor with 42 kWh battery pack
- Power/torque | 87 kW/220 Nm
- Consumption | 14.4 kWh/100 km (WLTP combined test cycle)
- Range | 311 km (WLTP)
- C0₂ | Zero local emissions
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