Style, decent electric range, easy-to-use tech
Cramped out back, a little unadventurous
What is it?
It looks like a Fiat 500 all right. But you won’t find any component in this car that is in the existing one. The new 500 is bigger and uses a new interior, chassis, body and platform. Most obvious and significant, the propulsion is new too. It’s electric only.
It’s a posh and style-led little electric hatch, like a Honda e. Unlike with a Mini Electric or DS 3 Crossback, there’s no combustion version. Because this all-new platform is EV-only. That said, Fiat will continue to sell the now 13-year-old, much cheaper and incredibly successful petrol-powered 500 alongside the new EV for the “foreseeable”.
There is one significant option which none of the 500’s competitors offer. A colossal fabric sunroof that opens waaaay back and even drops the rear window. Since your EV is good for city skies, why not enjoy some of that sky yourself? It’s either the Fiat or an electric Smart ForTwo when it comes to enjoying the fresh air on your head, but the latter barely squeaks 90 miles of official range.
With all this underskin change, and no bulky engine/gearbox to accommodate, Fiat could have made the new 500 any shape that it well pleased. Fiat Group’s studios worldwide got the chance to submit ideas for a complete design reinvention. After all that, in the end the company settled on familiarity: a retromodernised iteration of a 1957 shape.
What’s changed over the old car?
It’s 61mm longer, 56mm wider and 29mm taller than the petrol 500. The proportions are bolstered and the surfaces uncomplicated. Some of the detailing is plain terrific. It manages, we think, to steer clear of parodic cuteness. It’s a work of great confidence, and especially successful in brighter colours (from which there are many to choose).
But perhaps of lesser imagination. Can you think of another car that has retained the same rough outline while going through such transmogrification beneath: rear-engined to front-engined to electric? It argues against that old design rule that the look of an object should be honest to its inner story.
Why front-drive? Since Fiat was starting from scratch, it could have done a rear motor/RWD job like the Honda e. Or the original 500. But Fiat argues that FWD is what people are used to nowadays. For the same reason the electric motor’s accelerator calibration is much like a petrol, and the behaviour in bends is familiar too. Why’s the charge port on the right-rear wing? That’s where you put in petrol. The canvas roof is a broadly similar idea to the existing 500’s, stretched between metal side rails, to preserve chassis rigidity.
So, yeah, it’s a Fiat 500, just as the Mini Electric is a Mini. Whereas a Honda e is to an almost absurd extent not a Honda Jazz.
What about range?
With an electric car, no one asks “What’ll it do?”, but only “How far’ll it go?” The new 500 comes with either a 24 or 42kWh battery, both provided by Samsung and slung low in the chassis. The latter option holds comfortably more energy than what’s in the Mini or Honda e, if less than a Zoe or the electric 208/Corsa/DS 3 triplets. Still, it’s enough for up to 199 miles WLTP. The cheaper 24kWh car claims 118 miles' WLTP, which is fine if it’s a second car that never ventures too far from home.
What's the verdict?
The 500 is small, but if you don’t need space it could be your only car. That’s because it’ll go far enough on a charge to make motorway trips tenable. Whereas the Honda e or Mini electric would have to be second cars to anyone who ever drives beyond conurbations rather than just within them. It’s not as fun to drive as those are, mind. It’s trying harder to feel normal. With a stylish, recognisable design and a quality feel. So the recipe’s been re-cast for health and welfare, but it still looks and tastes like la cucina della nonna.