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The Top Gear car review: Fiat 500
For:Style, decent electric range, easy-to-use tech
Against: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 was in the old 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.
You do get one significant option which none of those cars 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?
With all this underskin change, and no bulky engine/gearbox to accommodate, they could have made the new 500 any shape they darned well pleased. Fiat Group’s studios worldwide got the chance to submit ideas for a complete design reinvention. After all that, in the end Fiat settled on familiarity: a retromodernised iteration of a 1957 shape.
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.
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 they were starting from scratch, they could have done a rear-motor/RWD job like the Honda e. But Fiat argues that FWD is what people are used to. 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.
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.
With an electric car, no-one asks ‘What’ll it do?’, but only ‘How far’ll it go?’ The new 500’s battery holds 42kWh, 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 199 miles WLTP.