Fiat’s diminutive Cinquecento has been one the world’s most recognisable automotive icons for more than 66 years – now there’s a new electric version, and it’s even cooler.
Unsurprisingly, it’s called the Fiat 500e. Although it’s designed, engineered, and built on a bespoke electric car platform in Italy, to the casual observer it’s probably going to look like every other Fiat 500 in the range.
Despite its slightly larger proportions and heavier reading on the scales, the electric 500 gets smoother bodywork, cleaner lines, and a retro design that should pop for anyone lusting after la dolce vita.
The old circular headlights have been switched for a more stylistic treatment featuring two semi-circular lights; the top half comprising daylight running lights shining through a curved hole in the bonnet, and the bottom half housing the main beam lamps.
I can’t help but think of a Lamborghini Miura, given the startled eyebrow appearance on those headlights. The closed-off grille is another sure-fire sign of an electric car, as is the lack of an exhaust outlet at the rear of the car.
Finally, to add some tasteful texture to those curves, chrome strips and highlights are used sparingly around the 500e.
The new 500e launches here in just one trim, known as La Prima (The First), and is in stark contrast to the largely bare-bones look and feel inside its internal-combustion counterparts.
It’s got all the mod-cons covered with big new screens, smartphone mirroring, and eco-leather fabrics on show in what is a much more upmarket cockpit.
The Fiat 500e is priced from $52,500 before on-road costs and is available at launch in just one trim, dubbed La Prima.
Options are minimal and amount to just premium paint ($700) and tri-coat paint ($1600).
It goes up against the likes of the Mini Electric S Mini Yours ($64,975 before on-roads), the Nissan Leaf e+ ($61,490 before on-roads), BYD Dolphin ($38,890 before on-roads) MG 4 (up to $55,990 before on-roads), and GWM Ora (up to $55,050 before on-roads).
Launching with just one trim pretty much guarantees Fiat is throwing everything including the kitchen sink at its first ever electric Cinquecento.
While it’s not exactly cheap given its pocket-sized dimensions, the interior design and tech are light years ahead of the creaky cabin of its petrol-powered counterparts.
Instead of that boringly familiar circular cluster ahead of the driver there’s a brand-new 7.0-inch digital instrument display giving you a lot more information and configurability.
There’s also a new two-spoke steering wheel; leather wrapped, and thick-rimmed with a flat bottom. The design itself gives the driver an unencumbered view of the cluster as well as plenty of shortcut buttons to scroll through the menus.
There’s a voice assistant too, which seemed to work well enough with the climate control settings while on the move.
Front and centre is a 10.25-inch touchscreen (it looks huge in the petite 500e), centrally mounted on the dash featuring wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as the usual infotainment functionality.
The graphics aren’t as crisp as those in some rival models but response rates are decent, the menus are intuitive, and it’s a big step up on the ancient petrol 500.
Thankfully not everything is screen-based. You still have physical controls for the HVAC system in a row of buttons said to be inspired by the keyboard on a piano. Below is another row of switches for gear selection.
There’s also secondary cluster of scroll wheels for volume and media together with the electronic parking brake. It’s refreshingly simple and intuitive, with some interesting materials used to make this space a more interesting place to spend time in.
The Rose Gold paint pairs nicely with the Ice Beige eco-leather complete with FIAT monogram throughout both seat rows. The man-made leather extends to the front door cards and feels relatively premium to the touch.
Nevertheless, we think there should be more side bolster support in both seat rows – even though the second row has been designed to carry two passengers rather than three.
Its key dimensions might be tiny but inside the Fiat 500e feels more spacious than you’d expect. Not only is there plenty of headroom, the fixed glass roof is huge and makes it feel airier than most cars this size do.
Storage pockets up front are plentiful and well designed for what is a confined space. Apart from the wireless phone-charging cradle with a non-slip rubber floor, there’s USB-C and A ports, and a good size centre-console bin with roller cover. Also, the centre armrest slides forward and aft.
Rear legroom will be fine for younger kids but unless you’re a gymnast or a pilates tragic, don’t even bother trying to get comfortable back there. What’s more, there’s little if any storage and zero charging ports for rear-seat passengers.
Boot space is small at 185 litres, but it’s capable of lugging home the weekly grocery shop for a family of four, or two soft overnight bags for a weekend away.
And while the rear seats fold in a 50:50 split that fees up 550 litres of load space, they don’t fold flat, which is likely to make it difficult to cart longer cargo.
The Fiat 500e La Prima is powered by a single, front-mounted electric motor producing 87kW of power and 220Nm of torque. This is mated with a 42kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
Fiat claims the 500e can do the 0-100km/h sprint in 9.0 seconds. Left in the Normal drive mode, the 60km/h launch feels rapid enough.
In Europe the Fiat 500e La Prima has a claimed range of 311km. The Australian-specification model is expected to have the same amount of range.
The 500e can charge at a maximum rate of 85kW when plugged into a DC fast charger. Fiat claims a charge from 0-80 per cent will take 35 minutes.
There’s a delightful greeting each time the car hits 20km/h for the first time after it’s restarted. It’s from the song Amarcord by Nino Rota from the famous 1973 Italian film of the same title.
Just for a moment you feel like you’re meandering along the narrow roads of the Amalfi coast, or at least heading to your favourite Gelato bar.
The driving position is good; plenty of vision all round but with sensors and an excellent rear camera on guard should you need assistance parking this little bundle of cuteness.
The steering is also light and effortless, making tight mid-city manoeuvres and underground parking a breeze. And never mind those U-turns, because the 500e has a turning circle less than 10 metres (9.7m) – no more pressure-laden three-point turns.
The eco leather-wrapped seats, though nice and comfortable to sit in, could do with a tad more side bolster. Not for an all-out assault on those local roundabouts, but just for comfort’s sake during general cornering.
There are three drive modes, Normal, Range and Sherpa. Range is the one you want, as long as you don’t mind the regenerative braking motion that effectively allows for one-pedal driving in the 500e.
Not only does it use the electric motor to recharge the batteries under braking, it also maximises the range. Normal mode ratchets down this effect quiet noticeably, though you can still feel some braking as you come off the throttle.
Think of Sherpa as more like an emergency mode when serious range anxiety is at play, because it limits the top speed to 80km/h (down from 150km/h) and switches off the air-con as you head towards the nearest charging solution.
It goes alright, too. Never mind the 9.0-second sprint time from standstill to 100km/h. The 500e (like most electric cars) leaps off the line and will leave most of the traffic in its wake, at least up to 60km/h.
That’s the benefit of unleashing all 220Nm of torque from the instant you the stand on the throttle.
It’s understandably zippy around town and genuinely fun to drive thanks to its instant torque availability. Cornering is decent too, thanks to a new suspension system, though it still uses a torsion beam solution on the rear axle.
The downside is it also carries the extra weight of the batteries, adding more than 400kg to the scales over Fiat 500 petrol versions. That means the suspension has to deal with that additional heft in the corners and is tuned to minimise body roll (and it does that commendably), but it’s quite stiff as a result.
It’s fine over shattered road surfaces but tends to be less compliant on sharp edges and those nasty metal speed bumps.
Our 500e tester rode on quality Continental 17-inch tyres measuring 205/45 so traction is good for a front-wheel drive car, but you wouldn’t want to go any bigger in the wheel department if comfort is a priority.
And while there are benefits to its light steering, there’s also not a lot of feel transmitted through the wheel, which takes a bit of the fun away when conditions permit a bit of corner carving – even if that amounts to stringing a few roundabouts together.
The 2023 Fiat 500e La Prima comes standard with the following features:
- Mode 3 charging cable (11kW)
- 17-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels
- Automatic LED headlights
- Auto high-beam
- LED daytime running lights
- LED tail lights
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Chrome exterior highlights
- Privacy glass
- 7.0-inch TFT digital instrument cluster
- 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- DAB+ digital radio
- Six-speaker sound system
- Climate control
- Keyless entry and push-button start
- Centre armrest and closed centre console
- Bi-colour steering wheel
- Premium woven dashboard finisher
- Ice beige eco-leather upholstery
- Six-way manual adjusting front seats
- Heated front seats
- Branded floor mats
The 2023 Fiat 500e La Prima is available in the following exterior paint colours:
- Ice White
- Onyx Black
- Ocean Green
- Mineral Grey
- Rose Gold
- Celestial Blue
All colours besides Ice White cost an additional $700, save for Celestial Blue which costs an additional $1600.
The Fiat 500e earned a four-star ANCAP safety rating based on testing conducted by Euro NCAP in 2021.
It scored 78 per cent for adult occupant protection, 79 per cent for child occupant protection, 67 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and 67 per cent for safety assist.
The 2023 Fiat 500e La Prima comes standard with the following safety features:
- Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Lane-keep assist
- Lane centring
- Intelligent speed assist
- Traffic sign recognition
- Attention Assist
- Adaptive cruise control
- Traffic jam assist
- Reversing camera
- Front and rear parking sensors
- Tyre pressure monitoring
Stellantis covers the Fiat 500e with a three-year warranty, while the high-voltage battery is covered for eight years or 160,000km (whichever comes first).
Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000 kilometres. There’s also capped-price scheduled servicing for eight years at the cost of $250 per visit.
From any angle the Fiat 500e upholds the nameplate’s style icon status, and as such is one of the coolest electric cars on the market with genuine retro-chic looks.
It larger dimensions make it a more liveable and practical proposition than its petrol-powered siblings, while its wider track and extra length offer agile handling and relative ride comfort on most surfaces.
The new interior featuring all the mod-cons and the technology is where it needs to be to compete with a growing number of battery electric rivals.
It’s not the most expensive in its segment, but it costs more than anything comparable out of China, including the recently launched MG 4 – which gets a significantly larger battery and far greater range, even at the entry level.
However, Fiat 500e buyers are unlikely to be doing a lot of cross-shopping because nothing says dolce vita like a Fiat 500e in such challenging environmental times.
If you subscribe to style, it would be blasphemous not to test drive the all-electric Cinquecento. As always, if you’re a purely rational buyer you’d be better served elsewhere.
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