The happy feeling of gliding silently along the city streets with the roof down, you only get in the convertible version of the new Fiat 500 Electric. The only electric car that has a real cab roof. With the roof down, the smile also comes, also from fellow road users, who acknowledge the compact charm bomb with a pleasant nod.
You get more in touch with other road users when the roof is down, and the smell of lilac and charcoal grill teases the sense of smell, and brings fleeting bluffs from nature and sunshine chores into the small electric car’s open compartment.
All while gliding silently away, only with the soundtrack from the playlist on the mobile, streaming out of the system in the electric 500.
The new 500 Electric must not be compared to the 500e, which was a 500 where the piston engine was replaced with batteries and an electric motor. This is the new generation 500 that is built as an electric car from scratch, and is not a converted petrol car.
The shape is the same iconic as the 500 has had since the 50s, and in truth it is not so easy to see the difference between the new electric, and the previous generation from 2007, with a piston engine.
The previous one was a resounding success and sold well in many countries, and you can see both its predecessor and antique 500s thundering over the dilapidated cobblestones in Piazza Venezia, and vibrant Abarth editions set off at an unusually ambitious pace, along the A4 between Turin and Milan.
Sherpa helps you get home
The popularity of the 500 will hardly diminish with the electric 500 Electric. As unlike most small cars with electric motors, it actually has a range that extends to more than just city driving.
320 km says Fiat, as we know it is ambitious, but if you stick to the WLTP numbers, it is far more miles to get here than in a Honda E or Mini Cooper SE, which offers 22 and 23 miles.
If you do most city driving, you can choose the Sherpa mode which limits the power, top speed and air conditioning to save power, and which can increase the range to 460 km on a good day. Still according to the WLTP figures.
This is well done for a 42 kWt battery. Consumption can in theory be as low as 14 to 14.9 kWt, but I did not get below 17 kWt on any of the test cars I had available.
When the driving mode is in normal, you only get moderate regeneration, but you can choose the range for more regeneration and more efficient single-pedal driving, which also saves power and increases the range.
If you get a maximum charging speed of 85 kW, you can in theory get 50 km more range, with only a five minute charge. I got 260 km out of a fully charged car, on winter tires, in low spring temperatures, and both air conditioning and seat heating on. It’s definitely accepted.
By the way, the 500 is available with lower power and a smaller 23.8 kWt battery, which gives up to 185 km range.
But more on driving later. Let’s climb into the 3.6 meter long/short Fiat.
The 500 Electric is actually quite spacious inside. The two front ones have plenty of space in soft seats with good support. The ceiling height is formidable, but at the back it is of course narrower. Especially in height, but you can slip your feet under the front seats, and for children the rear seats are spacious enough. There and in the front passenger seat, you will find Isofix child seat mounts. The seats are upholstered in Seaquel, a material made from recycled plastic, and the dashboard is painted in the same color as the car.
The Fiat is available in four equipment versions. The simplest is called Active, followed by Passion, Icon and La Prima. The latter with seats in imitation leather, chrome moldings, 17″ alloy wheels and a logo on the fabric roof, if you choose the cab version, which is not delivered as Active.
Our two test cars had the Icon equipment package, which contains most of what you need.
When you have found yourself behind the wheel in artificial leather, you are looking at two screens. One screen directly in front of the driver, and if one has chosen Icon equipment package, a 10.25 inch touch screen in the middle of the dashboard. Cinerama Infotainment, Fiat calls it, and it is the name of what can best be described as a comprehensive package with navigation, 360 camera, DAB radio, Apple Carplay and Android Auto, programming of charging sequences, voice control (Alexa if you connect My Wifi in the car), and a setup menu for lights, locking and much more.
In the compartment below the screen, our test car had wireless mobile charging, and there are USB connectors both there and in the storage box in the center console.
If you look closer, you notice a fun detail. The silhouette of Turin, where the car is built, is embossed on the edge of the small room where you put your mobile phone. Elsewhere, there is also a small detail, which greets the past. At the bottom of the door handles on the inside, there is a sketch of the original 500, and it says Made in Turin. Playful.
Six generic speakers and app control
There is no choice between sound systems on a 500 Electric. At this level you get six speakers, two at the back, two at the front of the doors, and treble in the A-pillars. This is not quite the same level as at the Harman Kardon system in Cooper SE, but apart from the fact that the system in the Fiat is somewhat bland in the bass, it still fills the small car with highly acceptable sound quality. Where the midrange is clear enough that you can easily sing along to your favorite song, and the bass is alive enough for you to easily follow the rhythm of the song.
500 Icon has Level 2 self-driving – Fiat CoDriver is what it is called here, with adaptive cruise control and emergency brake. It also has blind spot warning, sign recognition and roadside assistance. It worked fine during the test period, but occasionally the car cut some turns a little too sharp when it “drove itself”, but as long as you have a hand on the steering wheel, there is no problem.
There is an app of course – Uconnect for 500, where you can program the air conditioning and charging, but also see the car’s health status, battery capacity, and here you can enter alerts where a specified speed is exceeded. You can also activate notification if the car moves outside a specified area, or at a specified time, and there is a valet setting that notifies the owner if the vehicle leaves a specified radius.
Flexible and easy to drive
The charming Fiat is not completely silent. When you sit down and press the start button, you are greeted by a welcome sound. The same thing happens when you stop and turn off the power, but then the sound is more minor.
The seats have good side support and are far more spacious than usual in a small car. You sit high, almost like in a small SUV, and the 500’s large doors make access a breeze. Out on the road you notice that it does not tear in the front wheels like a Cooper SE, but then the electric 500 is also not a race car. Nine seconds to 100 km/h is fairly moderate, but it still nimble at the traffic lights, and kickdown (presses the pedal all the way in), gives immediate effect and pushes the compact car from 50 to 80 km/h.
There is some wheel noise from the rear wheels, but otherwise the car is quiet and comfortable. Tram rails and cobblestones are easily handled, but it feels a bit blunt on bad roads, of course due to the short wheelbase it has in common with most small cars.
The steering is light and precise enough, and together with the rear view camera and sensors 360 degrees around, the car is very easy to park, even in tight spaces.
While we are talking about cramped. The luggage compartment’s modest volume of 180 liters does not have room for all the luggage in the world. A couple of weekend bags or one large suitcase goes well, though. The rear seats can be folded down 50/50, if more space is needed, and the passenger compartment version’s tailgate provides good access to the luggage compartment. The convertible version does not have a hatch, but a smaller hatch that provides far more limited access to the luggage compartment. Which is otherwise as big as in the cabin version.
There is no frunk in the front, and the 500 can neither pull a trailer, nor be loaded on the roof.
The fabric roof on the cab version is electric and one push pulls the roof backwards like a large sunroof. One more push sends the roof all the way to the back and then the rear window is also laid down and the opening becomes even larger. Even without a windscreen behind the front seats, there is not much turbulence in the cabin, but if you pull the roof all the way back and down, you get a rear cover that you ruffle well in the hair.
With or without a roof, it does not matter for driving characteristics or range, but it is of course more festive with an open 500 when the weather allows it. By the way, the passenger compartment version can be delivered with a panoramic glass roof, if you want a lighter and airier passenger compartment, without taking the step up in price for the cab version.
The small 500 Electric is a pleasure both to look at and to drive. It has better range than most in the same class, but with the exception of the BMW i3, and is the only electric car that can be delivered as a convertible. But no matter which version you choose, you get an excellent city car with agile driving characteristics, which also has enough range for a longer weekend trip, and which can bring a smile to both driver and passenger, especially when you have a little wind in the hair. Prices are competitive when compared to the Honda E and Mini Cooper SE, which have a far poorer range.