26.5.2021Fiat 500 first drive
There are few truly iconic models in the automotive industry, but it’s safe to say that the Fiat 500 is one of them. Not only did the original 1957 Cinquecento play a big part in mobilising Italy, it also spawned the modernised and hugely popular model, launched 50 years after the first version. Now, after various facelifts and changes, we’re onto the latest and perhaps trickiest of relaunches, as the Fiat 500 goes electric.
Review by Chris Lilly
FIAT 500: PERFORMANCE
Available with a choice of two powertrains - City and Long Range - the key differences come in battery capacity, and therefore range. However, the electric motors fitted have a small difference in power, with the 500 City featuring a 70 kW (95 hp) motor, and the Long Range an 87 kW (118 hp) motor. Because the latter has a battery almost twice the capacity and weighs around 100 kg more, the performance times are almost identical. The 0-62 mph times are 9.5 seconds for the lower powered model, and only half a second quicker for the beefier motor.
It is the Long Range model that we tested at the car’s UK launch in and around Cambridge, and there can be no complaints about the performance available. As you might expect from a compact electric car, throttle response is excellent, with smooth but eager acceleration available when called upon. It’s superbly weighted around town, and the 500 does a good job on the motorway as well, as good as you would expect from any city car. Performance is more than ample, and the 500 benefits rather than suffers from being an electric-only model.
Because of a large battery placed into the floor of the car, the little Fiat is weighty for its class. It’s still relatively light for an EV, and the extremely low centre of gravity, allied to the wheels being pushed out to the corners, and a legacy of being a superb city car to uphold means the 500 remains an agile and responsive car to drive.
In town, the 500 is ideally suited, and even on 17-inch wheels, the ride isn’t overly harsh; stiff yes, but not uncomfortable. The same is true on more open and faster roads, and the 500 can almost be compared with the Mini in terms of ‘fun-to-drive’ ability. It’s not got the ultra-tight turning circle of a Honda e, but other than that, it excels in its brief. The steering is extremely light, which makes urban driving and car park work a doddle, and the wheel is a good size to spin about as you pretend you’re buzzing around your favourite crowded Italian city.
The design of the new model is clearly ‘a 500’, but it’s also got enough about it to look new - we’re not just talking about a refresh here. The key elements are all in place, including the return to a central feature where a grille might be, harking back to the ’57 original. Now, instead of the Fiat logo, there’s a 500 logo, which cleverly houses the car’s radar and other systems required for driver assistance features. Sharper lights designs, and more of a clamshell bonnet aid in creating a more grown-up aesthetic too.
The 500 remains available as either hatch or Convertible, the latter the only pure-EV four-seater convertible on sale in the UK - though those in the rear seats might disagree. The 500 remains a four-seater, but the rear pews don’t have a lot of leg space as before, and the roof runs into the roof not far from where a tall person’s head is positioned. Stick to kids or occasional use, and the 500’s interior proportions will cause no problems. Boot and rear space are acceptable for the class, though more practical propositions are available.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Inside, the 500 has undergone a bit of a revolution. New recycled fabrics and materials have been extensively used, and the design is both futuristic and a little retro at the same time. Entry level models get no infotainment screen, instead relying on an integrated smartphone holder, though mid- and top-level trims shift to a decent sized or large screen respectively - modern.
The front seats benefit from no need for a gear stick, and instead the centre console sits level with the seats, creating the effect of a front bench - retro. Switchgear falls easily to hand, and the drive controls are housed on the dashboard, beneath a phoneholder/wireless charger. Drive mode select is on the panel next to the seats, as is the parking brake and media volume control. Otherwise, discreet ventilation controls are the only buttons on the dash fascia, with a selection of functions on the steering wheel, or set behind it close to the door. It’s a clean but interesting interior, and one of the best in its class.
FIAT 500: RANGE & RUNNING COSTS
The City spec 500 has an official range of 118 miles on a charge, from the 24 kWh (21 kWh net) battery. The model tested, however, has a 42 kWh pack (37 kWh net) with an official range of up to 199 miles; the 500 La Prima hatch tested officially has 194 miles available. We didn’t have the chance on the test route to seriously challenge the official range, but the trip did take in city, A/B roads, and motorway work, so it should provide a reasonable figure. Most drivers will stick to urban driving more than we did I suspect, with greater opportunity for brake energy recuperation.
Despite that, the 500 scores reasonably well, with a displayed range of 108 miles on 75% charge (144 miles at 100%) when climbing aboard. After driving around 30 miles, the charge remaining was at 55%, using 20%, and a calculated 150 miles available on a full charge. As I say, most will get closer to the official figure thanks to fewer faster roads encountered on typical trips. It’s still a respectable score from the battery size, with other Stellantis Group models - Peugeot, Vauxhall et al - returning similar driving ranges, despite having 50 kWh to play with (granted, in the supermini class). We shall properly test the range at a future date, but it’s promising.
The Fiat 500 has a good charging set-up, with a CCS inlet situated on the rear offside 3/4, where a fuel filler flap would normally be found. All models can be charged at up to 11 kW AC, which makes for a recharging time of just 2h 30m hours for the shorter range model, or 4h 15m for the larger battery when plugged in to an 11 kW point or faster. Charging on rapid units is possible at 50 kW for the 24 kWh 500, and up to 85 kW for the 42 kWh version. This sees charging times as low as 30 minutes for the former and 35 minutes for the latter, when plugged into the right points - rapid charging times from 0-85%.
Other features include Normal driving mode for gentle brake energy recuperation when lifting off the throttle, Range mode for ‘one-pedal’ driving regen, and Sherpa mode for strong regen and reduced performance. Remote controls via the app allow for charging, charge, and pre-conditioning features, as well as navigation and Alexa functions.
There are three core trim levels, plus a launch edition for most of the 500 range, with the hatchback kicking off at Action - 24kWh battery only - before going on to Passion and Icon trims, with La Prima available at launch. The 500 Convertible starts at Passion and shares the rest of the structure. Standard kit includes driving modes and charging systems, 15-inch wheels, air conditioning, rear parking sensors, keyless go, 7-inch digital instrument cluster, smartphone cradle, and driver assistance systems.
Passion adds 15-inch bi-colour wheels, a 7-inch infotainment screen with wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Connect services, Dab radio, cruise control, and 50:50 split rear folding seats. Icon includes 16-inch alloys, an eco-leather steering wheel, 10.25-inch infotainment system with navigation, keyless entry, and automatic wipers. La Prima adds just about every option going, including 17-inch alloys, eco-leather upholstery, LED headlights, electric front seats, panoramic sunroof (hatchback) or Fiat monogram canvas roof (Convertible) wireless phone charging, 360-degree parking sensors, rear camera, and Fiat Co-Driver (comprehensive driver assistance suite). The Convertible models cost £2,650 more than the equivalent hatch.
FIAT 500: MODEL SUMMARY
Fiat has performed wonders with this new Fiat 500. Built on a new EV-specific platform - at the original 500’s Mirafiore plant - the switch to electric has been seamless. It improves the package, and suits the Fiat 500 perfectly. It remains agile and is even more responsive, making this one of the best ways to drive around town you can find.
Model tested: Fiat 500 La Prima hatchback
Body-style: City car
Engine / CO2: 87 kW electric motor / 0 g/km
Trim grades: Action, Passion, Icon, and La Prima
On-road price: Range from £20,495 (City) or £23,995 (Long Range). Price as tested: £27,495
Warranty: Three Years / unlimited mileage
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.5 Stars