Fiat 500e Review
Thirteen may be an unlucky number, but it's certainly been lucky for Fiat. Yes, it's already been thirteen (nearly fourteen) years since the Fiat 500 made its comeback. A modern take on an old 1950s design, it's been a big hit.
But now, the plucky Italian manufacturer is eyeing up the future. The replacement is the new 500e – and the ‘e’, of course, stands for electric. You heard right: no petrol, and no diesel. If you want the new Fiat 500, your choices are electric or nothing. That said, the old-shape Fiat 500 is still being sold in hybrid form. Confusing, we know.
Even though electric vehicles are becoming ever more mainstream, this is nevertheless a very bold move by Fiat. But has it paid off?
Select's rating score* - 4.4 / 5
The small size of the Fiat 500 has always been central to its character, but the new 500e is bigger. It's around six centimetres wider and longer than the outgoing model and four centimetres taller. But, while it does look like it's put on a bit of weight (haven't we all during lockdown?), it wears it well and has lost none of the adoring charm generated by its tininess.
It looks stylish, with new halo-style headlights, a cheese-grater grille and indicator lights popping out of the sides, bringing a more aggressive polish to what was already a beautiful car.
It somehow looks less modest and innocent than the original. But crucially, it retains its cutesy character while at the same time bringing a more modern look. It appears to have taken a bit of inspiration from the Abarth version of its predecessor and, if you liked the Abarth 500, you'd be hard-pressed not to like the new 500e, too (unless the engine note was key to your enjoyment, of course).
The importance of the 500e's looks can't be underestimated – this, of course, is at the heart of what the car is all about; otherwise, you'd buy or lease a Fiat Panda instead.
It’s available with 15 to 17-inch wheels, and LED headlights are provided on some models. What’s more, a rear spoiler, which overhangs the back window, adds a sporty touch while retaining its modesty.
The Fiat 500e comes with electric buttons (called e-Latch), which operate the door handles on both the outside and inside (yes, there is a backup old-fashioned door handle, so you don't need to worry about getting stuck in there if the electrics pack up).
Keyless go, rear parking sensors, a rear camera, and several autonomous driving features are on offer, including Lane Keep Assist (which keeps you in lane on dual carriageways and motorways), with an excellent infotainment system available, too.
A digital display, rather than physical dials, is offered on all models. There are three driving modes: Normal, Range and the interestingly named 'Sherpa' mode. Each provides different levels of power-saving to maximise the car's range, depending on the level of performance you want.
There are four trim levels: Action, Passion, Icon and La Prima. The entry-level Action comes with 15-inch wheels in addition to all the above. The Passion trim adds LED day-running lights and an infotainment system; Icon adds 16-inch alloys, and the infotainment system gets a bigger screen. La Prima tops the range, adding 17-inch alloys, a panoramic sunroof and a wider choice of paintwork colours and interior styling.
The 500e comes with two battery options – a 23.8 kwh and a 42 kwh battery. The smaller one has a range of 115 miles, while the larger one extends that to 199 miles, although real-world testing suggests the larger one will only manage about 150 miles in practice.
You can plug into the mains as you would any other electronic device at home. Or if you have off-street parking available, with a dedicated 7.4 kW charging point installed and a range of off-peak tariff options available, the battery can be fully charged in a number of hours.
A fast-charge cable can also be purchased, which will take the larger battery from flat to 80% in just 35 minutes, but it is an optional extra.
To find out more visit our dedicated charging guide here.
The 500e weighs in at 1300kg, which doesn’t sound too bad at first – until you remember it's a small car and you realise that this adds around 35% to the weight of the old Fiat 500.
Electric cars are still weighed down massively by their batteries, and it’s no exception in the Fiat. The added mass appears to have sacrificed some of the car’s agility – it feels less nimble than its predecessor.
However, the smallness and the short wheelbase means it has a low centre of gravity, so that means there's little roll in the corners. But let's not forget that this car is built to thread its way through city streets, not to tear around corners – its performance is meant to be more coffee-shop charm than crashing through a barn, so to judge it based on how it performs at high speed is missing the point.
On the plus side, the steering is incredibly light and, despite the added kilograms, it still accelerates well, so you’re in good hands in stop-start traffic around town.
The entry-level electric motor is a 70kw unit producing 93hp, while all the others are 87kw units producing 118hp. 0-60 times are around 9 to 10 seconds, depending on which one you go for. That's not particularly quick, but then around town, it's unlikely to be a problem – it still feels fast enough when accelerating.
The faster you go, though, the more you’ll notice things like the bumpiness on uneven surfaces, especially with bigger wheels. It’s not spine-crushing, but it’s not relaxing either. There is quite a lot of road noise, too, especially on the cabriolet soft-top version, which we’d avoid for that very reason. That said, road noise is always so much more noticeable when there’s no engine note accompaniment. So, for slow speed cruising, you might want to consider the cabriolet for those warm summer days.
With no fossil fuels to contend with, you’re on to a winner straight away.
The three driving modes previously mentioned – Normal, Range and Sherpa – can help to maximise the car’s range on a single charge.
You can also choose from five settings, depending on how quickly you want the car to charge.
So, if you’re running low on juice and need to top up on electrons you do have options. You might know somewhere free or cheap to charge up in public or be able to visit a local rapid charging point. But if available to you, opting for a cheap, off-peak tariff, charging overnight on a low rate dedicated charger at home is typically an ideal strategy.
Fiat has overhauled the interior – and boy, what an excellent job the automaker has done.
Italy, the country of designer suits, shoes and much more, is a nation that needs no lessons when it comes to style.
The interior is a satisfying place to be. The dashboard design is very classy, and the buttons are laid out in such a way that you’d forget you were buying a Fiat. It really does look like you’re in luxury car territory.
Being an electric car, there’s no gear stick, but the options of Park, Reverse, Neutral, and Drive are provided by buttons.There are digital dials, giving you access to features such as the trip computer, information about eco-driving, the battery, music selection and navigation directions.
Some interior bits feel a bit cheap, and the entire centre console moves about if you push or pull on it too hard, but this is splitting hairs. Overall, it's such an attractive design that we can forgive the odd fault – it has personality in spades. The car comes with plenty of tech. The infotainment system – called UConnect 5 – is available on all but the entry-level trim and has a seven-inch screen, although higher models upgrade that to a 10.25-inch screen, which makes all the difference.
It’s very well presented, colourful and the picture is sharp. There’s hardly any lag when using the touchscreen – it feels responsive and intuitive – like a premium product. This is a significant step up from what you’d expect in a Fiat.
It’s simple to use, integrates Android Auto or Apple Car Play, and controls the radio, music, air conditioning, navigation and charging settings, as well as displaying power flow information. Pairing your phone to the system is seamless, and you can even add widgets on the home screen to customise your display with the information you want.
What’s more, the navigation screen shows a map of nearby charging points – and can show you the ones that are within the car’s remaining range. So, unless you’re playing games to see how close you can come to stranding yourself, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve always got a way of ensuring you never run out a juice.
The Fiat comes with a 185-litre boot, expanding to 550-litres with the rear seats down. Yes, it’s on the small side, but that’s to be expected.
It’s bigger than the Honda E, which has 171-litres, although the Honda’s capacity increases to 861-litres with the seats down. The Mini E, on the other hand, has 211-litres expanding to 731-litres.
Let’s be honest, though, nobody buys a small car for its plentiful boot space, and unless you’re trying to fill several American-style fridge-freezers in one go, you should still fit the contents of the supermarket shopping in there.
In the front, headroom is not a problem despite the car’s small size – even taller drivers will be pleasantly surprised by the amount of space.
This is quickly countered when getting in the back, though. For all the attractiveness and features of the front, the back is simply nothingness.
Firstly, it’s only a four-seater, so bear that in mind if you have two point four children. Secondly, if you’ve got two point nought children, they’ll manage. But, if they watch tablets to entertain themselves on the journey, they’ll be flat by the time you get where you’re going as the only charging points are in the front. Thirdly, if you’re an adult, there’s not enough headroom, so expect to have a sore neck.
Bizarrely, babies might be a problem, too. Not them specifically, but their car seats. When we tested it, the rear seats are so small that a taller driver will need to pull his or her seat forward to fit the baby’s car seat in. So, all in all, you’re better off adopting children at the age of about three or four, rather than producing your own kids!
If you’re an adult and plan on sitting in the back, you’ll be wishing you’d stuck to the home-video yoga classes during lockdown, as you’ll need to figure out where to put your legs.
Dangling them out of the rear window is a non-starter, too, as they don’t open. At all.
On the plus side, there's quite a lot of storage space inside and a decent-sized glovebox, given the car's small stature.
Beware of blind spots, though, as the natural shape of the car gives it big pillars, especially either side of the rear windscreen.
The Fiat 500e includes a reversing camera to help with parking if you want to ensure there’s no excuse for backing into things anymore.
And you won't be able to drive into the car in front either – radar-guided cruise control keeps you a safe distance from the vehicle ahead. At the same time, automatic emergency braking will ensure you stop before hitting it when the cruise control's not active.
The car even has a Lane Keep Assist system, which can turn the wheel for you to keep you in lane when driving along roads like dual carriageways and motorways.
Some of these features, though, don't come as standard on lower-trim models.
There's currently no NCAP safety rating for the 500e. However, given it's similarly shaped, bigger, and has more safety tech, there's every reason to think it won't struggle to better the score of its predecessor, which earned a three-star rating, scoring 66% for adult occupants and 49% for children.
It generally follows that, the smaller a car is, the lower an NCAP safety score it seems to get, which does make sense if you think about it.
Nevertheless, Minis generally score four stars, so we’d hope all the gizmos fitted to the new 500e will bump up the score above its predecessor’s rating.
Fiat deserves a lot of credit, as very few optional extras are available to buy, mainly because so much is included as standard.
Nevertheless, the higher up the range you choose, the more you get, so it’s certainly worth researching the features you want before you hand over any money.
The infotainment system is an optional extra on the entry-level 500e or you can add the Winter Pack, which includes a heated front windscreen and heated front seats.
The autonomous driving system with the radar-guided cruise control and lane assist is an added extra even on the range-topping La Prima model, while the electric sunroof is another.
If you want to complete the look, though, you can choose matte paint as an optional extra. Expensive? Yes. But it does look the part.
But on the other hand, we'll forgive this because you do get an awful lot of kit for the basic sticker price. Maybe considering it as a bit of a trade-off might make you feel better about handing over a little bit of extra money.
Both are arguably better cars, but the Mini's look is getting a bit boring after all these years. The Honda looks like a Mk1 Volkswagen Golf made in the year 2060 that has travelled back in time. It's outlandish, but that may make it too futuristic-looking for some.
The Fiat may not win the road test competition, but, in our opinion, it's top of the range for looks. And, as we said earlier, the looks are the whole point of buying or leasing a Fiat 500 over a Fiat Panda.
You can also have a 500e from higher up the range for less money than some rivals’ entry-level models, so that’s worth bearing in mind, too.
Overall, the Fiat makes a compelling case.
Its two main purposes are good looks and city driving, and it delivers that in abundance.
Many of its shortcomings will only apply if you’re going to take it further than the town centre and, if you’re after a car with charm, personality and a fantastic interior, we can’t think why you’d look elsewhere.
Fiat’s offering of an awful lot of kit without turning you upside down by your ankles and shaking every last penny out of your pockets is refreshingly generous and, all things considered, the 500e should be seen as a serious contender.
The electric vehicle market may still be relatively small, but the 500e has to be considered one of the best so far.
Where to next?
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the CAR
**Correct as of 08/06/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 36 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £1818.99 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.