Fiat 500e

Styling

The Italian urban chic styling of the all-electric Fiat 500e stands apart from the geeky gizmo aesthetic of many small electric cars. The only visual clues that the electric 500 is different from the attractive gas versions of a small Fiat are a few design flourishes. When the 500e was first released, Brandon Faurote, head of Chrysler and Fiat brand design for North America, told PluginCars.com, “We didn’t want to shout electric.” So, you’ll see what he calls a “dot matrix aesthetic” in a grill that drops to the bottom of the front and rear fascias, a rear spoiler and the liberal use of 500e’s signature “electric orange” color in the interior. The model has not substantially changed since its introduction in 2013.

Faurote calls the electric’s design more "masculine and sinister"—but the car is too stylish and cute to be sinister. It’s cosmopolitan, fashionable, and perhaps even a little sporty, although some buyers will never warm up to its looks.

Since the 500e’s release, a number of minor upgrades have been made to the center console. In 2016, Fiat replaced the dash-mounted TomTom navigation system with Chrysler’s native UConnect navigation and infotainment system. Critics aren’t blown away by UConnect’s graphics interface or functionality, but aesthetically, it’s a step up from the awkwardness of the tacked-on TomTom system.

The dashboard is simple, well designed and highly functional. (Although, it does take a few minutes to get used to window buttons on the center stack, and seat levers in the middle, rather than positioned on the outside.)

Standard color options include a few variations of black, pearl white, a retro pale blue, and the electric orange.

Performance

Fiat 500e

The 500e’s smaller platform cuts the LEAF’s weight by 600 pounds—but Fiat uses a relatively powerful 111- horsepower motor. “You get more kilowatts per pound. It’s literally accelerating faster,” Brett Giem, the 500e’s chief engineer, told PluginCars.com. It's a blast tossing the small electric two-seater around crowded city streets.The motor is calibrated for some tire chirp on launch and a smooth ramp up to about 15 miles per hour. And then it lets loose with a surge of quiet electric power. “The car loves 45 miles per hour,” said Giem. “It just lives there—based on driving dynamics, the ability to accelerate, and how it beats other cars on the road.”

  • No eco modes.
  • No braking coaches or leaves for efficient braking.
  • Same amount of creep as in the gas 500.
  • No L or B gears (because engineers said the regen braking is already maxed out, even when not overly grabby.)

The small, lightweight format does bounce a bit over the road. Road noise is minimal. Highway driving is solid, but it’s a commuter car with only reasonably comfortable seats, rather than a cushy long-distance cruiser. Visibility is good, although rear and side mirrors are small.

Engineers did a great job guarding passengers against any motor whine. It’s whisper quiet, in part due to acoustic glass used in the windshield.

Efficiency/Range

The 500e’s low weight advantage—which gives it a zippy drive—also helps with efficiency and driving range. Its liquid-cooled 24 kilowatt-hour battery pack batteries will reliably deliver its EPA-estimated 84 miles on a single charge, or darn close. Official city mileage is 121 MPGe, and 103 MPGe on the highway.

While the 500e provides a guesstimate of remaining driving range, Fiat designers add either an arrow pointing up to indicate that you are likely, based on how you’re driving, to beat that guess—or an arrow pointing down to indicate that you probably won’t get the indicated remaining range in the battery.

In our drive of the Fiat 500e, we managed 43 miles of raucous mixed driving—speedy switchbacks through Topanga Canyon, along the Pacific Coast Highway, and through the streets of Venice—using 48 percent of the pack. The very simple dashboard cluster, designed to be as normal as the gas version of the Fiat 500, indicates percentage state of charge. That’s a very helpful feature—and in our time with the car—indicated that the estimated 84 miles of range are a good expectation for real-world range.

Charging

A full charge via the car's 6.6-kW charger takes about four hours. That rate has become the standard for EVs—and the Fiat 500e meets that bogey. You’ll want a 240-volt home charging station rated at 30 amps to take full advantage of the 500e’s charging capability, which adds about 20 to 25 miles of range in an hour of charging.

Fiat elected not to offer Quick Charge capability on the 500e. That shouldn’t be much of a setback for the vast majority of drivers. Yet, the 50 kW public chargers that can bring an EV from empty to about 80 percent full in 20 to 30 minutes is a no-go for the all-electric 500.

Fiat uses the filler-door location in the back right to situate the charging port. That could cause some problems with charging cord management, but the car is small enough that most charging spots should not be a problem. There’s no light in the port, but the inlet materials are bright orange, making them visible in low-light situations.

Passenger/Cargo Room

Fiat 500e

Obviously, the 500e is a very small car. It offers two doors, a minimal back seat, and merely adequate cargo space in the hatch. If you have a family or expect to put anybody except small children in the back for any length of time, you should pay special attention to leg room (or lack thereof) in the back seat. Visit a dealership, climb in back, and stay there for several minutes to experience it for yourself.

Unlike some other EVs, most notably the Ford Focus Electric, the Fiat 500e stores batteries beneath the cabin, where it eats up a minimal amount of passenger and cargo space. Fiat says the pack fits “low and aft” under the floor, starting at the front seats and extending a foot behind the rear axle, by raising the floor a half-inch and giving up a few inches of ground clearance. By virtue of the pack, the 500e is, according to the company, 20 percent stiffer (and 10 percent quieter than the gas 500).

Any way you look at it, the Fiat 500e has limited passenger and cargo space. The car is great for single, or even duo, urban commuters taking short daily trips.

Safety

The Fiat 500 got “Good” ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in all categories, except the recently unveiled small overlap front test. Good is IIHS’s highest score. Unfortunately, the IIHS gave the 500 a “Poor” score on the front overlap test, which tries to replicate what happens when the front corner of a car collides with another vehicle, or with an object like a tree, at 40 miles per hour.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the gas-powered Fiat 500 its top rating of five stars for side crash and four stars for both the frontal crash and rollover tests. The overall rating from NHTSA was four stars. The agency has not tested the 500e.

Price

The Fiat 500e has a base price of $32,995, not including a destination charge of $800. That effectively brings the price to about $34,000. But according to the Fiat website, buyers can get as much as $14,000 in incentives and credits, bringing the price down below $20,000 including federal and local rebates. At the dealership level, there are even better discounts to be had. In early 2018, Fiat is offering a 2017 500e lease for $180 per month, for 36 months, with $2,149 due at signing. That's an attractive deal, especially considering California's $2,500 tax rebate that more than eliminates the signing cost. It's hard to drive for less than $200 a month.

Fiat is a very motivated seller. So motivated, in fact, that CEO Sergio Marchionne recently complained that his company is willing to lose $14,000 on each 500e it sells just to keep up with the EV sales mandates. Marchionne doesn’t believe that electric vehicles can be profitable, so in order to appease regulators, Fiat is building a high-cost, low-volume EV and offering it to you for a fraction of the production cost.

Options like the $500 Electric Orange paint, and the $500 eSport package can send the price back up by $1,000 or more. The 500e comes in just one trim level that includes a navigation system, automatic climate control, and reverse parking sensors. Options are few and include a $795 sunroof and the $495 eSport package, which adds tinted headlight bezels, black and orange 15-inch wheels, and orange accents to the exterior mirrors and body sides.

Fiat 500e

Purchase Process

The Fiat 500e is only available in California and Oregon. Fiat’s dedicated 500e website provides a wealth of tools to build and price a desired model—and locate a suitable dealership. Specific inventory is listed on the site. There is also a price quote tool.

Fiat 500e specifications

Availability: Now
Base MSRP: $33000
Est. tax credit: $7500
Technology: Electric Vehicle
Body type: Coupe
Seats: 4
EPA Range: 84 miles pure electric
Battery size: 24 kWh
Charging rate: 6.6 kW

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