The electric supermini segment is getting increasingly competitive, so where does the new Fiat 500 fit in?
The new Fiat 500 is a huge car for the Turin car maker. Not in physical terms of course – at barely 3.6 metres long it’s still one of the smallest new cars on the road – but it does represent a commitment from Fiat towards electrification. The fact the new third generation model will be EV-only means this little city car is under more pressure than ever to succeed.
It’s not as if the pure-electric Fiat 500 has the segment to itself either. Other retro-styled electric superminis include the recently facelifted MINI Electric and striking Honda e, and this is before you get to the Renault Zoe and Peugeot e-208.
In top-spec trim, the 500 electric hatchback looks like a winner on paper. With the larger 42kWh battery, you can achieve a WLTP-rated 320km on a single charge and thanks to 85kW charging capability, this 500 electric can recharge from 0 to 80 per cent in 35 minutes.
The increase in battery size (plus an impressive bump in equipment levels) over the 24kWh base model helps push the price of the range-topping Icon model to almost $50,0000 in Europe.
Step inside and you’ll find a redesigned cabin with nods to its Turin plant in the centre console and door cards. There’s a bit too much hard black plastic, but other than that it feels light and airy. At least it does up front – the back seats are very cramped. The boot is small too, though the 185 litre volume is still greater than a Honda e. There’s still plenty of physical buttons – including ones which open the door, strangely. The extra room up front over the old model also translates into an lofty driving position with impressive visibility.
On the move the new 500’s light steering and small wheelbase make for an excellent city car. As you’d expect from an electric car, there’s instantaneous torque available too – and with 220Nm, there’s plenty of it. Fairly aggressive brake-regeneration means one-pedal driving is an option in ‘Range’ mode, although flip it into ‘Normal’ and the 500 coasts a bit further – probably the most familiar option for recent converts to pure-electric driving.
With the extra weight of the battery and sitting on optional 17-inch wheels, the ride is slightly busy at low speeds with potholes and bumps sometimes upsetting the otherwise decent refinement. At motorway speeds the ride does settle down further, giving the 500 an ability to soak up longer journeys. Only the light steering remains a slight annoyance at speed with a small deadzone in the centre and inputs having to be made more often than we’d like.
Even with the extra range the larger 42kWh battery offers, charging rates are decent. Find an 85kw charger and the 500 will be able to charge for 0-80 per cent in 35 minutes. The 24kWh battery has a maximum charge rate of 50kWh but it still manages to fill 0-80 per cent in 30 minutes.
Despite being a small city car there’s an abundance of technology. Top-spec models get a 10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation and hands-free entry. Even the mid-range Passion models get a rear view parking camera, lane assist, blind spot warning and adaptive cruise control. Base-spec models make-do with a 7-inch infotainment screen but they’re still compatible with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Fiat might have been a little late to the electric supermini genre with plenty of competent rivals now to contend with, but the characterful and keenly priced 500 Electric is proving it was worth the wait.
Since the first generation of the ‘Nuova 500’ was launched in 2007, Fiat’s 500 city car has been a massive success for the Italian brand. The switch to pure-electric power for the third generation model shows that the 500 can move with the times and with plenty of range on offer, it’s up there with the best in its class.