Company Car Today

The big test

The most comprehensive
new product test in fleet

The iconic little Fiat gets a proper 21st century update, going electric in its first major revamp since the nameplate was revived in 2007

The Big Test - 2021 - Fiat 500e - Gallery Image 6

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.

Test Notes

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 Big Test - 2021 - Fiat 500e - Gallery Image 5

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Context

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.

The Big Test - 2021 - Fiat 500e - In Context - The Original Fiat 500 was one of the icons of the 1960's

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

Iain Montgomery, director of fleet and remarketing, Fiat UK

Comparatively speaking

The Big Test - 2021 - Fiat 500e - Comparatively Speaking Chart

Need to know

The Big Test - 2021 - Fiat 500e - Need To Know Chart

Like/dislike

...and one we don't

The Big Test - 2021 - Fiat 500e - And One Thing We Don't Like - The seats aren’t the most comfortable on the posterior for longer journeys
X
The seats aren’t the most comfortable on the posterior for longer journeys

Verdict

Verdict

DRIVE  8/10

The 500 feels perky, given the modest power figures, and it also handles nicely. 

 

EFFICIENCY  9/10

A decent miles-per-kWh figure for the 500 means that although the range isn’t the best, cost to charge is better than its rivals’.

 

PRACTICALITY  6/10

There’s no escaping the fact that the 500 is a very small car, which is a benefit in urban traffic, but the pay-off is the tiny boot space and rear seats only of use for children

 

EQUIPMENT  8/10

The entry Action with the smaller battery is down on kit, as is reflected in the pricing, but cars with the larger battery get a decent amount as standard.

 

LOOKS  9/10

A good, if subtle, reinvention of the 500’s styling. The electric version is very clearly a 500, but is much more than a different powertrain under the same skin.

COMFORT AND REFINEMENT  8/10

The new model rides better than the 500 has before, although the short wheelbase can’t eliminate the bouncy feel completely. Road noise is kept to a minimum.

 

CABIN  8/10

The seats could be more supportive, and there are plenty of cheaper plastics, but it all looks neat enough and there are some little flair touches that are very Italian and suit the 500.

 

INFOTAINMENT  7/10

Nav system works well but the infotainment is a touch fiddly to use in general.

 

WHOLE-LIFE COSTS  8/10

All the EV running cost benefits, although SMR and insurance cost could be better.

 

CCT OPINION  9/10

A very likeable reinvention.

VERDICT 80%

A small car with a very decent range, neat styling, competitive pricing and the tax, NI and fueling advantages of EV.  Sal-sac in particular will be enticing.

Gallery