Fiat’s 500 hatchback has developed a cult following over the years, but the Italian maker is testing buyer loyalty with an electric version that comes with a big price tag.
Here are five things you need to know about the Fiat 500e.
STYLING IS A STRONG POINT
This little bambino is so cute you’ll want to pinch its cheeks.
It’s one of the smallest cars on the market and the electric Fiat 500e blends retro charm with modern technology.
Its ultra compact proportions include a very short bonnet, wheels pushed to the edges of the car and a gently tapered rear end.
Its doe-eyed headlights give off a long-lashed vibe and a range of cheerful colours such as celestial blue or rose gold that featured on our test car add to the fun.
Inside there are some handsome design cues such as the two spoke flat-bottomed steering wheel and textured dashboard trim that is constructed from woven recycled ocean plastic.
Other adorable features include a burst of opera through the speakers on the first drive of every day.
IT’S FUN TO DRIVE
Power comes from a single electric motor that makes 87kW and 220Nm delivered to the front wheels. That combination allows the little hatch to 100km/h from a standstill in just nine seconds.
Those numbers aren’t groundbreaking, but they and are similar to petrol-powered small hatchbacks such as the Volkswagen Polo.
The difference is the electric car delivers its torque instantly, making for zippy acceleration off the mark that petrol cars just can’t match.
It’s also relatively light – by electric car standards – at 1290kg, which means it can make the most of its modest outputs.
Steering is light, quick and direct, making driving in tight urban environments a cinch. A tiny turning circle makes light work of U-turns in inner city streets and underground carpark manoeuvres.
Suspension is on the softer side, which means you are well cushioned against bumps and road imperfections, but there is noticeable body roll when tackling corners at speed.
THE PRICE IS STEEP
At more than $55,000 drive-away, the pint-sized 500e will be a hard sell even to long-time fans of the brand. It’s close to $25,000 more than the petrol-powered Fiat 500 and about $15,000 more than the cheapest EVs on the market, the BYD Dolphin and MG4.
Stretch a few thousand further and you can buy the bigger and much more capable Cupra Born.
The 500e comes with a range of goodies including faux-leather seat upholstery and heated front seats.
A 10.25-inch central screen is compatible with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, there are several USB charging ports and a wireless device charging pad.
There is a small digital readout for the driver’s instruments that matches most of the competition.
SAFETY ISN’T TOP NOTCH
The 500e scored four stars in independent crash tests.
It scored poorly in adult protection and child occupant protection wasn’t much better. It was also marked down for missing some active driver aids such as rear cross-traffic alert, which sounds an alarm when a car is approaching from the side as you reverse.
Six airbags, auto emergency braking, lane-keep assist and blind-spot warning are all standard, though.
THERE ARE PLENTY OF COMPROMISES
A small 42kWh battery delivers a driving range of up to 311km, which is trumped by cheaper rivals that are closer to the 350km mark.
Charging speed is limited to a maximum 85kW, which is well below the benchmark charging speed offered by other brands.
When hooked up to a DC fast charger it can refill the battery from zero to 80 per cent, adding about 250km of driving range in 35 minutes.
It only has four seats and the rear pew is only suitable for small children.
Fiat also short-changes buyers with a three-year/150,000km warranty.
Servicing is cheap, though, at $1250 for five years.