Model: 2022 FIAT 500e L Prima
Price: €24,995 incl €5,000 EV grant in Ireland €32,495 as tested
Engine: 37.3kW battery with 87kW electric motor, 220Nm, single-speed auto driving front wheels
Performance: 0-100km in 9.0 seconds, 150km top speed
Verdict: Chic city electric car with 312km claimed range. Brilliant design festooned with delectable details. Tiny boot and miserly rear seat room. Firm damping serves up a giddy ride. Overall one of the best city EVs that’s dripping with charm.
The original 1957 FIAT 500 that succeeded the glorious 500 Topolino “Little Mouse” was the teensiest of small cars. It was just 4.4 feet wide and so small it only stretched to under 10 feet in length. None of this was a sop to cutesy 1950’s nonsense, it was small so it could navigate the exceptionally tight streets of Italian villages. Back in the late 1950’s promotional photos showed a family of four happily driving about – at quite a squeeze – through picturesque Italian cities. The decision by FIAT to bring the 500 back in 2007 to the car we are familiar with today was a genius move and massive hit for FIAT. Fifteen years later FIAT has again launched a new 500 and we’re testing what is probably the most important 500 model since the 1957 original – the 500e fully-electric with a claimed range of 312km. With the bold new design, new electric drivetrain and updated chic image we’ll assess how well has FIAT come to the success of the late fifties original. Let’s find out.
The 500e, even today, is a tiny car and you’ll instantly see the familiarity of the 500 design though nicely transitioned into a more upscale car. The new 500 is littered with dashing design elements that are worthy of a mention in themselves. The new 500’s front headlights are surrounded by two dissected LED lights which in turn have a smaller oval LEDs next to the colour coded grille. I spent some time marveling at the considerable thought that went into this city EV car. Walk around the car and several marvellous fripperies appear from the indicators on the front wings that are in themselves a work of art to the door handles that look bereft of ugly levers or key slots. This exterior attention to detail makes the new 500e standout as my favourite small EV based on its looks and design flair alone. That alone can only be a great starting point.
Not to be outdone the 500e’s charm offensive continues into the cabin. Fully updated the dashboard is dominated by a seven-inch driver’s binnacle that displays all key information crisply on a digital screen. To the left is the main central touchscreen with actual buttons for air conditioning and underneath is a small tray with wireless charging for your phone. Instead of a cumbersome gearlever FIAT has installed piano buttons in a P-R-D-L line for selecting gears. Peer at the splendid design of the alloy wheels on this test car’s La Prima spec with their starburst arrangement and you’d agree they are worthy of the finest ever bolted onto a car as exclusive as a Maserati. Taken as a whole this is, yet again, one of the best small car interiors on sale. No car at this price comes even close. My highest praise is left for the last – the quality of the cabin is excellent and it almost justifies the high €32,495 price on this high-spec 500e test car.
FIAT says the 500e is capable of a 312km electric driving range. I tested the car on suburban roads and motorway driving – where every EV’s notional range falls off a cliff – and overall the 312km range dropped closer to 260km at best. Granted the 500e is a city car and should be charged at home every second night but a figure of 260km is the stark reality in how this and all small electric cars range seriously lags a similarly priced city car fitted with a petrol or diesel engine. The Sherpa mode will maximize the battery’s charge and limit the top speed to 80km/h and curtails the acceleration. This is where the appeal of a fully electric car comes unstuck for me at this actual point in time. Apart from the silence when driving the swift acceleration of an electric car is its biggest appeal. To take that sense of fun away forcing the driver to stressfully eke out the smallest battery range seems to defeat an electric car’s purchase in the first place.
I was expecting the 500e to have a cushier ride and the stiffness of the suspension meant it was fun to steer into corners as the battery’s location was low in the floor. Lacking roll in corners the 500e was giddy to drive and it proves a playful car to punt around the city. I was slightly disappointing in how that giddy ride was and it never fully settled down on this test. Obviously this is due the mix of stiff dampers and the car’s very small wheelbase. Though not a deal breaker, FIAT should consider softening the final damping when the inevitable facelift arrives to get the perfect set up.
As said, FIAT has reworked the cabin’s design and it’s a big step up. The digital readouts from the driver’s binnacle and central touchscreen is excellent and quickly move from function menus after a few hesitations during this test. FIAT’s investment here is successful – it’s one of the finest systems fitted into any small city car. Clearly the tiny wheelbase will restrict owners hoping to pack four adults into the cabin. The rear seats are strictly limited to children.
Still the FIAT 500e is a small joy and the only question marks surround the actual range versus what’s claimed on the WLTP mpg figures. The suspension’s damping is too firm and rear seat accommodation very restricted. But if you accept those limitations the 500e is a great electric city car. For FIAT to imbue it with a contemporary revamped design and charming design flourishes it makes up for all the foibles. It’s a winner then? Absolutely. As if it were ever in question to begin with.