The iconic little Fiat gets a proper 21st century update, going electric in its first major revamp since the nameplate was revived in 2007
On the road
Replacing the car that has been the brand’s most important for the past decade and a half is a big job, but doing it in the middle of the biggest shift in powertrains since the internal combustion engine replaced the horse makes the new Fiat 500’s move to electric power an even bigger deal.
It probably appears an obvious decision with the advantage of a 2021 view of the marketplace, but taking its biggest seller and flagship city car down an electric-only route will have seemed a bolder decision several years ago, when the plans were originally put in place.
The previous 500, which has remained relatively unchanged since its 2007 launch, will stay on sale alongside the new 500e for the foreseeable future, with the electric version expected to account for 30-40% of UK sales according to early Fiat estimates, although that figure will rise as EV sales continue to grow.
Corporate buyers will constitute up to 40% of 500e sales, with Fiat counting on the huge tax benefits of electric company cars or those on salary sacrifice schemes negating the traditional low volume of small city cars on end-user fleets.
There are two distinct 500e alternatives. The lower-range low-spec City Range model is designed to give the car an attractive price entry point. Then there’s the more usable Long Range version that comes with a choice of higher-specification trim levels as well as more power and a larger battery.
The City Range model has a 95hp electric motor and a 24kWh battery that offers an official 115 miles of range. However, the Long Range version has 118hp and can offer a range of up to 199 miles from its 42kWh battery, making it the much more usable and practical of the two for anyone regularly doing anywhere near 100 miles per day. This long-range powertrain is also available in a convertible bodystyle for those with a love of the open air.
There’s a £5000 price jump from the entry car, which comes only in a very basic Action spec that doesn’t even include a touchscreen system, alloy wheels or automatic wipers, while the Long Range powertrain is available in either Icon or La Prima specs. There was briefly a lower Passion trim level, but Fiat said the majority of customers were choosing La Prima or especially Icon, so the range has already been streamlined post-launch.
The 500e has three drive modes of Normal, Range and Sherpa. The only difference between the first two is the big hike in brake-energy regeneration with Range, making it possible to almost universally drive the car using just the accelerator, and the car slowing when the pedal is lifted. The extra energy recouped helps the range figure, although for maximum efficiency, the amusingly named Sherpa mode saves energy through a range of measures including limiting the speed, acceleration and air conditioning.
The new 500e is 61mm longer, 56mm wider and has a wheelbase 22mm longer than the petrol 500 it now sits alongside, although the two share a 185-litre boot space that’s pretty compact for a week’s shopping. For bigger loads, folding down the 50:50 split rear seats liberates a total of 550 litres. That said, the boot space isn’t prohibitive for what probably won’t be a main car for most, and the rear seats will take children of a reasonable size.
1. As might be expected, the 500e’s turning circle is brilliant at just 9.7 metres, while the rear-mounted charging point is preferable for drivers who favour reversing into a parking/charging space.
2. Our test car wasn’t without electronic glitch, randomly reverting the infotainment system to Italian at one point, while also dropping the wireless Apple CarPlay.
3. Electric buttons to open the doors are amusing but also effective to use.
The cabin has a few neat little stowage spots, including a mobile phone slot that acts as a wireless charger on the top trim level; this also features the Turin skyline embossed into the rubber shelf. Along with the original 500 and Made in Torino inscription in the bottom of the door handle, it’s a neat little piece of design flair.
The cabin is accessed via an electronic button in the door handle, and exited by a round button on the door, although there is a manual release lower down to satisfy safety regulators.
The cabin looks chic and neat, but there is plenty of lower-quality plastic on show, while the seats could be more supportive for longer journeys.
The 10.25-inch touchscreen protrudes from the dashboard rather than being integrated into it, and is a decent wide display, but isn’t easy to use on the move because the individual buttons are a bit small and the screen isn’t sensitive enough for the driver to be sure their press has registered first time.
The door bins are short but wide, and only the top-spec car gets a sliding central armrest.
On the road, the 500e has a degree more ride composure than the previous 500, losing a good amount, (although obviously not all) of the hoppity nature of a car with such a short wheelbase. There’s a nice initial punch of acceleration, although it quickly runs out of puff, which isn’t surprising given the modest power figure, and there’s enough feel to the steering to make for a car that can entertain in confined environments.
And when it’s time to park, the tiny turning circle, which at 9.7 metres is a full metre less than the Mini Electric’s (although still behind the ridiculously manoeuvrable Honda e), combines with good all-round visibility to make for a car that’s extremely easy to position in small spaces. It’s a pity that parking sensors and reversing camera are only standard on the top-spec La Prima though.
The powertrain also appears to be efficient, and on a long run we managed to significantly improve on the official figure of 5.3 miles per kWh. The 500e will also take a charge at a maximum rate that’s higher than its fashion-focused small EV rivals, the Honda e and Mini Electric, and the Long Range model offers over a third more range than either of its equivalently priced baby EV competitors. That said, overall 10-80% charging speed is similar for all, which means a minimum of 35 minutes for the Fiat.
Other competition for the 500e centres upon larger but less stylish and iconic models such as the Peugeot e-208, Renault Zoe and Vauxhall Corsa-e, all of which are a little more expensive, a bit larger, have a five-door bodystyle and offer a slightly longer range. But not the cutesy looks of the 500, which have been retained well in the move to the new powertrain. It’s beefier than an ‘old’ petrol 500, but still very much of the same ilk.
Reinventing the 500 will have been a nervy task for Fiat, given the car’s importance to the brand, but the 500e represents a very successful shift into the EV world for the much-loved little car. The charm, fun and appeal of the 500 have been retained in the switch to a futureproofed powertrain that’s efficient, performs well and doesn’t impose any major packaging restrictions.
There are other good alternatives at the cheaper end of the electric car scale, but the 500e has a great range figure that won’t enforce the sacrifices that cars with less than 150 miles will inflict from time to time. All in all, it’s everything Fiat 500 fans like about the car, in an up-to-date package.
The original Fiat 500 entered production in 1957, in time to become one of the icons of the 1960s. The four-seat rear-engined city car (pictured) produced 13hp from its 479cc engine, and Fiat built almost 3.9m examples across the hatchback and, later, station wagon bodystyles in a lifespan that ran through to 1975 before the car was killed off in favour of the Fiat 126.
The nameplate was revived in 2007 as a two-door hatchback and convertible, following on from the 2004 Fiat Trepiuno concept car that previewed the design. Indeed, it remains in production, with very little change over the past 14 years, alongside the new electric 500.
Trepiuno is a contraction of the Italian words tre, piu and uno, because the concept was designed to accommodate three adults and one child, thanks to the design creating additional space on the passenger side to allow one adult to fit behind another, and a child behind the driver. More than four million 500s have found homes since the resurrection of the nameplate.
In 2013, Fiat developed an electric version of the 500, which was targeted at areas with advanced zero-emission mandates. However, that version of the car was never made available in Europe.
What they said
“In the fast-changing fleet market, the all-electric Fiat 500 is the perfect car to deliver for changing company car demands. It features a raft of best-in-class features including a range of up to 199 miles, fast-charging capabilities, and level 2 autonomous driving technology.”
“With a range of trims featuring generous specification, a starting P11D price of £23,440, and a 1% BIK for 2021/2022, the
new 500 delivers practicality, style and attractive financials for both company car drivers and fleet managers across all of the fleet channels.”
Iain Montgomery, director of fleet and remarketing, Fiat UK
Need to know
Three things we like...
The 500 feels perky, given the modest power figures, and it also handles nicely.
COMFORT AND REFINEMENT 8/10
WHOLE-LIFE COSTS 8/10
CCT OPINION 9/10