First drive: Fiat 500e
The electric version of the 500 is superb. But you can't have one...
Is that what I think it is?
Depends. If you think it's the new battery-powered FIAT 500e, then you're absolutely right.
What's so special about it?
The 500e might not look that different on the outside - indeed, they only changed three panels in the floor to make the e version - but on the inside and under what used to be the boot, there's loads of changes. First obvious swap is instead of the petrol engine there's a 83kW (111bhp equivalent) electric motor. Instead of the petrol tank there's a 24kWh battery. The gearlever has been deleted in favour of some push buttons and the central dials are now like something from the USS Enterprise.
How far can it go on a charge - and I mean really go, not what the brochure says?
Good question. FIAT reckons it'll do 140 kilometers on a single charge, but that doesn't factor in the amount of energy the car can recover while braking. On the test route we drove the range went up and down depending on the road speed and geography - the car calculates range based on current and recent past driving patterns. But by the time we had finished the hilly 80-kilometres there was still around half of the charge left. So say nearer 160.
And how long does it take to charge?
Four hours with a level 2 charger; almost 24 hours with a regular US 110-volt supply. That translates to 16 kilometers of range per 30 mins using the L2 charger and 16 kilometers every three hours using the normal supply.
That's enough of the technical stuff, what's it like to drive?
Excellent. Other than the Abarth models, this has to be the pick of the 500 pack. It might weigh 272kg more than a standard petrol 500, but FIAT has distributed the weight so well, you don't notice it much. The 500e is now 57:43 front/rear instead of the petrol cars' 64:36, and it feels like it. Combined with the 200Nm available from 0 (zero) revs and no gears to bother with, this is one of the all-time best city cars ever made.
Really? It's that good?
Yep. There's just nothing to worry about other than having fun. And maybe where the next charge is coming from. Even the brakes feel like regular brakes, even though, above 12kph, it's all done by regeneration, not using the discs.
Anything else I should know?
Rear seat space is reduced a couple of inches thanks to the batteries and charger, but since when did anyone expect any human to ride in the back of a 500? So that's not a problem. On the plus side, a detachable navigation unit programmed to show you the nearest charging stations and available range comes as standard. As does free membership to a Enterprise rentacar scheme that gets you 12 days of hire car action for every year you own the car.
OK, I want one
Great. But unless you live in California, you won't be able to. There are plans to look at other markets outside of the Sunshine State and the US, but until the company can justify the price against a credit elsewhere, it's unlikely you'll be seeing one anytime soon. Plus, Californians are already going crazy for them, so it'll be a while before that demand is met.
FWD, 83kW (111bhp), 200Nm, 45.9kpl, CO2 0g/km, 0-100kph 9secs, 85mph, 1355kg