FIAT 500e Open electric review

PROS:

  • Great retro meets modern looks
  • Perky acceleration and quick charging
  • Acceptable range for a tiny EV

CONS:

  • Open top version is a little noisy
  • Rear seats are cramped
  • Steering is a little light

EDITOR’S QUOTE:

The very huggable 500 is built essentially for town use, so it has a tight turning circle and is a treat to navigate narrow streets or dart away from traffic lights.

It’s been some 65 years since Fiat first debuted the legendary original nuova 500. From the late 1950s through the 1960s, it was a city car that delivered accessible driving to the masses with loads of practicality and a special design flair that only the Italians could offer. It was tiny, affordable, cleverly made and more than anything, it was groundbreaking in its conceptualization.

In 2007, the 50th anniversary 500 was launched boasting a delicious mix of retro nods to the original model but with a dash of modern design nuances to give it a 21st century flavor. And in 2017, Fiat celebrated in 60th anniversary with an update and an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. This design icon has sold over 6 million units since it first appeared in 1957, and now it’s going electric.

The 500e is the cutest EV on sale today

In the early 2020s, if the Audi e-tron GT is commonly referred to as the best looking electric car on the planet today, then the Fiat 500e, the brand’s first-ever pure battery-powered car must be the cutest EV on sale right now.

And that’s saying a lot. Why? Because over the last year, the market has literally been flooded with new EVs. So the Fiat has a lot of competition. Over the last 2 years for example, we’ve seen the Ford Mustang Mach-E, BMW iX and i4, Mercedes Benz EQA, EQB and EQS, Audi e-tron GT, Honda e, Mazda MX-30, Toyota bZ4X, Subaru Solterra, Nissan Ariya, Lexus RZ, Ford F-150 Lightning, Volvo C40 Recharge, Porsche Taycan, Polestar 3, Volkswagen ID.4, Peugeot 208 and 2008, Citroen E-C4 and Hyundai Ioniq 5. Even the upcoming Lucid Air, Rivian R1T and Fisker Ocean have some innovative design traits, but nothing can come close to the 500e for cuteness.

Now the car you see here might look like the Fiat 500 that’s been around for a few years, but this one is no mere facelift. It’s an all-new car and its only available with an electric powertrain. The key differences in the design department are that the new EV version does not have a conventional grille, but a thick wide bumper with a larger ‘500’ logo and a small vent to cool the batteries. The headlight design has been split in two, with the main LED headlight looking like an eye located on each side of the front bumper while the daytime running light, which has the effect of an ‘eyebrow’ situated above the eye, sits on the edge of the hood. A separate daytime running light located below the headlight, sort of looks like some blusher on its cheeks. Very chic.

The retractable roof offers a unique convertible experience

The new 500e is 3 inches longer, 1.5 inches taller and 3 inches wider than its predecessor, giving it slightly more road presence. But what really sets this ‘Open’ spec off is its power-operated roof. When you push the roof switch on the dashboard the vinyl roof section retracts automatically all the way to half way down the rear window, giving a unique convertible experience. It’s not a convertible, and it’s not a targa top is the conventional sense. Think of it as the roof portion folding back and disappearing into the upper trunk. For my money, this ‘Open’ spec model offers the highest fun factor of the new 500e lineup, by a country mile. Whether closed or open, this chic topless version made me want to drive the car with its top down more than just about any convertible I’ve ever driven.

All models however get a stylish chrome strip down the side, a chrome badge and chrome surrounds around the windows. Although 15-inches is offered on the base grade, our flagship model wore 17-inch wheels and looked better for it. Meanwhile at the rear, the 500e has a new LED tail light design and I like the way designers have added a strategic ‘500’ logo that hides inside the brake light assembly and a sporty roof spoiler, which is really just for show, having no real aerodynamic qualities. The rear bumper is substantial in size, making the car look a little bigger than it is from the rear. And obviously you won’t find an exhaust pipe because it’s an EV.


Designers went to town inside the car

But it’s on the inside where the 500’s had a real overhaul, with an all-new infotainment system and a big style upgrade with nods to its Turin plant on the center console and door cards. Designers really went to town in here and you can see it. The large 10.25-inch touch-screened infotainment system is a real surprise because it looks good, is easy to use, has excellent graphics and comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. As for tech, it doesn’t disappoint. Even the mid-range Passion models get a rear view parking camera, lane assist, blind spot warning and adaptive cruise control.

Basically everything in here is either chic or cute with a unique Italian flair. Boasting a two spoke design the steering wheel offers tilt and telescopic functions, with manually operates seat adjusters to find your ideal driving position. The dashboard is totally redesigned and offers a choice of coverings including a synthetic ‘techno-wood’ selection.

Our test car was the luxury ‘Open’ spec model with cream colored leather seats, a combination that makes it feels light and airy. At least it does up front as you get loads of head and legroom. The back seats however are cramped and really only for ankle-biters. The boot too is small too, though the 185 liter volume is still greater than a Honda e, which just happens to be one of its main rival in this class. I also like the way designers retained plenty of physical buttons, like the air-conditioning and drive modes switches— including ones which open the door, strangely. This is in direct contrast to th every digitally oriented Honda e with its full dashboard-width TV screens.

The 500e will come up against a growing number of small electric rivals including the Honda e, Mini Electric, Smart EQ Fortwo, Peugeot e-208 and the Renault Zoe. To help it compete, the 500e is available with a relatively long official range of up to 199 miles, but in the real world, expect that to drop to around 160 miles depending on traffic conditions, weather conditions and of course the way you drive. Yes, you will have to study a new style a driving to get good range. When it’s cold or very hot, your battery life will suffer more than when the temperature is mild. And range is also very dependent on how much air-conditioner you use.


It’s 42kWh battery generates up to 199 miles of range

In top-spec ‘Icon’ or ‘Open’ trim, the 500 electric hatchback looks like a winner on paper. With the larger 42kWh battery, you can achieve a WLTP-rated 199 miles on a single charge and thanks to 85kW charging capability, the carmaker claims this 500 electric can recharge using a 50kWh quick charger from 0 to 80 per cent in 35 minutes. What makes this range possible? The gutsier battery of course. While a smaller 24kWh 115-mile base grade is available, our top-spec Open test model gets the 42kWh battery and a 117-hp motor with 220Nm of torque that generates perky acceleration and jumps from zero to 60-mph in under 8.0 seconds. Throttle response is instant so it feels quicker than it is.

The very huggable 500 is built essentially for town use, so it has a tight turning circle and is a treat to navigate narrow streets or dart away from traffic lights. With its center of gravity located deep down in the chassis thanks to the low mounted battery pack and electric motor, the car resists the urge to lean in the corners while boasting plenty of grip.

On the move the new 500’s light steering and small wheelbase make for an excellent city car. While it’s light and easily maneuverable in town, the light steering settles down at higher speeds with more feedback. As you’d expect from an electric car, there’s instantaneous torque available too – and with 220Nm, there’s plenty of it.


Drivers need to get used to the three drive modes

To help drivers perfect their electric car driving skills and generate the longest possible range, Fiat has fitted three drive modes: Range, Sherpa and Normal. Fairly aggressive brake-regeneration means one-pedal driving is an option in ‘Range’ mode, although flip it into ‘Normal’ and the 500 coasts a bit further – probably the most familiar option for recent converts to pure-electric driving. Properly regulate the throttle pedal and the car will come to a complete stop. But it much be said that one-pedal driving does take some getting used to, and may not be for everyone. Why? Because you have to change your style of driving completely by just using the foot-on acceleration and foot-off deceleration functions of the throttle.

In ‘Sherpa’ (which originates from the Nepalese mountain guides who boast expert mountaineering skills) mode, the car extracts as much battery range as possible and limits top speed to 50mph. Unfortunately you can only switch modes when completely stopped, which we found awkward.


With the extra weight of the battery and sitting on optional 17-inch wheels, the ride is a little choppy at low speeds with potholes, expansive joints and bumps sometimes upsetting the otherwise decent refinement. At highway speeds the ride does settle down further, giving the 500 an ability to soak up longer journeys. However, as expected, the fabric-roofed ‘Open’ version has its good side and its ‘could-be-better’ side. First, the good side is that when in open roof mode, the wind is not as intrusive as other convertibles and targa tops, thanks in part to an ‘air cap’ at the top of the windscreen which diverts airs over occupants’ heads. What could be lessened however, is the wind and road noise penetrating the car when its roof is closed.

Even though the 500e has a few foibles and will take some getting used to, is is a blast to drive. It’s gutsy enough to enjoy on any road, and it’s small enough to park anywhere which means you will save time parking it. In a way, it’s kind of like a cute, perfectly groomed pedigree poodle that draws people towards it, wanting to pet it. In the same way, the tiny Fiat has the ability to draw people in, wanting to ask what it is. They think it’s a 500, but because of the new headlights, grille revision, wheels and other strategic updates, they were not sure. Either way, when several ladies heard that the 500e is purely electric and had a retractable roof, they let out the same ‘awww’ they’d saw when petting that cute poodle!


Prices and Options

Prices for the base grade entry-level model with a 115-mile 24kWh battery, start at around £14,000. But we’d highly recommend the 42kWh model with up to 199-miles of range as the more usable alternative for around £30,000. The car does come in a selection of body colors which can add between £450 to £1700 to the cost. They include Ice White, Onyx Black, Red by Red, Mineral Grey, Glacier Blue (£600), Rose Gold (£600), and Ocean Green and Celestial Blue for £1700.

Over the last year, the 500e has come up against a growing number of small electric rivals including the Honda e, Mini Electric, Smart EQ Fortwo, Peugeot e-208 and the Renault Zoe to name a few. While all of these competitors offer some great packaging, handling and charging protocols, in terms of cuteness, chicness and drivability, we’d have to lean towards either the 500e as offering the best, and most entertaining package of the bunch. The only down side, apart from its barely acceptable real world range, would have to be the cost starting from around 4.85 million yen in Japan, or £30,132 in the U.K. But is you’re looking for a second car, or a city runabout and you want to switch to electric, this 500e in my book at least, is the most satisfying choice out there.












Peter Lyon

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