All-Electric Cool Little Hatchback
“And comin’ off the line when the light turns green
Well she blows ’em outta the water like you never seen
I get pushed out of shape and it’s hard to steer
When I get rubber in all four gears”1
In the summer of 1963 the Beach Boys had the hit Little Deuce Coupe about a hot rod 1932 Ford Coupe. Fast forward 54 years and some of the same emotions can be found in a 2017 Fiat 500e. This all-electric version of Fiat’s 500 (or Cinquecento) burns rubber (only one gear though!), the front wheel drive torque steer can be a handful (making it hard to steer) and it easily beats most cars off the line. That though, pretty much ends the similarities. So while the 500e may not outperform a Deuce Coupe, rest assured it is a blast to drive.
The 500e joined its gasoline-powered siblings in 2013. Sold only in California and Oregon, the rest of the country unfortunately is really missing out on a good thing. Even with acceptable limitations versus its competitors (not having the have longest all-electric driving range, the fastest charging or largest interior), the 500e is designed as a city car to be zippy and fun to drive. It does this carrying two adults comfortably (the whole time I had the car the rear seat was in the folded-flat position) and carry a reasonable amount of your stuff as you tool around town running errands.
Smooth, Quiet and Zippy
Turning the key awakens the dash gauges to a series of flashing lights, telling you the car is ready to drive. This array of electronics is no little thing and is not just for show. Without any engine noise or vibration, the dash readouts are your only indication the motor was good-to-go, and you can get on with it. And get on with it you will, probably more aggressively than you would in a gasoline-powered car. There is just something about an EV that begs, no, more like teases you to blast off the line.
The 83 Kilowatt (kW) electric motor puts out 111 horsepower and 147 pounds-feet of torque. The beauty of that torque is its availability at any speed, any time. With the single-speed
automatic transmission, there are no gear shifts to interrupt the power reaching the front wheels. The acceleration is smooth, quiet and zippy—and quite addictive. Sort of like not being able to eat just one potato chip, the 500e lures you into its seamless power and puts you into a place where needing that acceleration rush can’t be quenched by merely tooling around town driving sensibly slow.
The 500e was fun to drive, and maybe even could be considered a form of automotive entertainment. Around town, as a city car, it is completely in its element. The rack and pinion with electric power steering made handling in-and-out of parking spaces and navigating the tightest of alleys a breeze.
Surprisingly, out on the open road, even with the short 90.6-inch wheelbase, the 500e was smooth and was unaffected by 18-wheelers whizzing by. The 500e felt confident, is well-balanced with responsive steering when taking corners hard or finding a few curves to test the 185/55R Firestone Firehawk GT tires. The end result is that pointing the 500e where you wanted it to go resulted in ending up in that desired spot.
The regenerative braking system, with vented front and solid rear rotors, worked very well under all conditions. Regenerative braking converts energy into the battery when applying the brakes or coasting. Steady pedal pressure delivered a desired brake force through the four-wheel, power-assist, anti-lock brakes.
Charging the lithium-ion battery (Li-Ion for short) packs the power for the 500e. Charging is accomplished through a single plug-in port offering two charging speeds:
- 120V (Level 1) 24 hours From discharged to a full charge
- 240V (Level 2) 4 hours From discharged to a full charge
Back to the Future Design
The Fiat 500 line-up is all about being retro, having unmistakable Italian design and fun. Based on the iconic (first launched in 1957 and sold in various forms in the United States through 1983), the new 500 was introduced in 2012, followed by the all-electric 500e in 2013. Offered in two trim levels, with the eSport adding exterior color accents and different
wheels, the 500e has a fun face with large, round Halogen projector headlights and a mustache trim piece above the mouth-like grill openings. The 500e has an upright design with sides that slope inward towards the roof. A raked front windshield leads over the roof to the rear glass on the hatch, which has a sharp angle sloping forward. Chrome pieces are at a minimum and used properly as accents.
You can quickly differentiate the 500e from its gasoline-powered siblings by the holes in the front and rear lower fascia where the fog lamps reside. The very subtle 500e badging cleanly lets the world know you are not burning any fossil fuel. Smarticd’s 500e had the $500 optional two-toned Electric Orange and White, tri-coat pearl exterior paint. This very eye-catching paint scheme was reminiscent of the tasty Creamsicle ice cream treat. Yummy!
All-in-all, it’s a completely unique design from anything else you will see on the road and pure Italian all the way.
The 2017 Fiat 500e interior comes well-equipped, with gauges and controls conveniently located. The cabin seems small, but in reality, for the driver and passenger, it really isn’t. The
heated seats, with manual adjustments, are comfortable and headroom is ample even for six-footers. There is a tight fit between the doors and seat edges, meaning you should not even attempt to find anything you dropped until getting out of the car.
Be forewarned, the rear seat is not meant for grown humans as it must have been designed for hauling around people no larger than about four-feet tall. The best bet with the 500 is to lay
the 50/50 split rear seats flat and enjoy zipping around with enough storage space for in-town errands.
The 500e dash is clean, basic and everything is well within reach of the driver. Redesigned in 2016, the dash has a unique European look with a push button gear selector and a five–inch color display. Our 500e had the six speaker Fiat Premium Audio System with UConnect and GPS navigation. The AM/FM/CD/MP3, SiriusXM (one-year subscription included), all of which can be managed by the leather-wrapped steering wheel-mounted controls, is augmented by a media hub with USB, AUX and audio input jacks.
Convenience features include power windows with one-touch down, power door locks, power and heated foldaway exterior mirrors, A/C with automatic climate control, floor mats, remote start, keyless entry, 12V and USB power outlets, multiple cup holders, auto-dimming rear view mirror, rear window wiper/washer, security alarm and a tire service kit in lieu of a spare tire. Our test 500e came with the $795 optional power sunroof with sliding sunshade.
Safety and Convenience Features
The 2017 Fiat 500e has not been rated by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Standard safety features include seven airbags, electronic stability control, traction control, rear park assist, remote keyless entry, engine immobilizer, tire pressure monitoring system, brake assist, hill start assist and cruise control.
Pricing and Warranties
The 2017 Fiat 500e has a base MSRP of $32,995, excluding the $995 destination charge. Option packages will add to these prices. A note about pricing: As of June 2017 when this review was written, Fiat was offering substantial discounts and leasing opportunities for the 500e. So don’t look too closely at the MSRP, but check what you will actually pay monthly and your lease residual. Keen negotiation could get you a very sweet deal.
All 2017 Fiat 500e models come with these warranties:
Basic Four years/50,000 miles
Powertrain Four years/50,000 miles
Battery Eight years
Corrosion Twelve years/unlimited miles
Roadside Assistance Four years/unlimited miles
Observations: 2017 Fiat 500e
Mentioned earlier is the acceptable limitation of not having the most all-electric driving range. Acceptable, of course, is a relative term, and has a different importance for shoppers looking to get into an electric vehicle. The acceptable part of the 84-mile driving range is that you know this range going in and will not be surprised, though other EVs may have driving ranges in excess of two hundred miles. What also makes this driving range acceptable is that you can get into a 2017 500e for an amazingly low commitment, as noted above.
The upside for the Fiat 500e is that it is fun to drive, easy to park and handles great. The design is unique compared to anything else you will see on the road. If you do not need a car that can haul around four adults, then the 500e could be an ideal second car. So, if you spend the majority of your time negotiating the craziness of city and short-haul highway driving, the 500e might be right for you.
Treat yourself to a test drive of this fun car. You just may drive home in something you never thought possible would be in your garage.
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!
1Written by Roger Christian, Brian Wilson • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group
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Long Term Road Test: Fiat 500e
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