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Be careful what you wish for – The all-electric FIAT 500e review

‘You can’t always get what you want’ is how the song goes, but it would appear that you can if you want a charismatic compact Italian hatch that’s quick off the mark and doesn’t come with any challenging transmission issues – introducing the FIAT 500e, an all-electric Bambina

Although the ‘500’ nameplate dates back to 1930’s, the cinquecento or 500 has been a mainstay of the Fiat brand since 1957. The model has grown in both popularity and size over the subsequent half century but has always remained a compact (cute) townie car that turns heads and (mainly) puts a smile on your face.

Now I say ‘mainly’, as for most of us, the 500 of late came with a non-conformist auto gearbox that was frustrating to use and had its occupants nodding to the oncoming traffic, but now thanks to the 500e’s all-electric powertrain, those nodding days are behind us.

Fiat 500e review NZ

Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way first. The 500e comes with a 42kWh (37.3kWh usable) battery that according to Fiat is good for around 320km of range. It has the ability to fast charge upto 80% in 35 minutes and a 5 minute charge will get you home if you live within 50km. More importantly, the battery powers the 500e’s electric motor which offers up 87kWs of power and 220Nm of torque which will get you up to 100/h in around about nine seconds (which is three whole seconds faster than its petrol version), and since there are no gear changes, all without any nods – accept ones of approval.

Fiat 500e review NZ

The 500e is visually a little different too, it’s more streamlined allowing it to slip through the air with ease. The headlights are LEDs with clamshell DRLs that venture onto the bonnet, and since there’s no need for a traditional grille, the closed off mouth sports a large 500 badge. Sleek indicators flank either side of the bonnet and there’s plenty of ventilation to keep the battery cool.  

Fiat New Zealand is bringing in two 500e specs, the pop and the icon, we had the top of the line icon and as it was dressed in ‘onyx black’ really showcased the additional chrome trim accents – although it’s a bugger to keep clean.

Fiat 500e review NZ

Dimensionally the 500e has grown slightly, but its 3.63 m length and 1.53 m height remains as cute and compact as they come. The door handles are recessed, the 17-inch feet have been made more aerodynamic and our model even came with a sunroof, although it can’t be opened – not sure why.

Fiat 500e review NZ

Around the back, there’s a roofline spoiler that extends out over the small rear windscreen, the lights and indicators are LED and the 500e badging uses the last 0 as an e – so I guess you could call it a Fiat 50e. The boot space is actually the same amount of size as the petrol model, so 185L, however, should you require more space (and not be trailing with 4), you can drop the rear seats to enjoy over 500L. 

Fiat 500e review NZ

Step inside and you discover that Fiat has really embraced its Eco and sustainability side, with the seats being ice beige ‘Ecotec’ (a sort of leatherette material). They may be environmentally friendly, but they’re easy on the eye too, with FIAT being cleverly integrated into the seat design. There is a certain amount of plastic in terms of the trim, but it’s all bio labelled, so probably made from recycled materials.  

Fiat 500e review NZ

The 500e is being made in Italy and to underline that fact, the compact eCar has a few easter eggs dotted around, like the 500 in the door cards and the Torino skyline under the  infotainment screen. 

The screen itself is 10.25 inch ‘cinerama’ that’s neatly integrated into the dash. It comes loaded with apps and is well laid out, however, it does have a few text overlays that probably need attention. It’s easy to navigate around but the important EV info happens when you click on a friendly looking Fiat 500e logo. Power flow, kW use, Driving history and Charging schedules are all there for you to geek out over. 

Fiat 500e review NZ

The instrument cluster is digital too, with a multitude of ‘essential’ information all there in front of you. Speed, range, battery use/charge, clear, succinct, and easy to read – even for my old eyes. 

Fiat 500e review NZ

Push button start wakes up the 500, silently (no engine sound – sigh) and the PRND buttons are laid out across the centre of the dash. A stamp on the accelerator and I was away.

 Being so low to the ground meant that the 0-100km/h felt even quicker than it was, the EV’s instant torque coming into its own. In fairness, that was the precursor to the rest of the drive. To be frank, the 500e is the bambina that I had hoped it would be. The low down battery weight aids the compact hatch’s cornering ability and the on/off way the throttle delivers the power is joyous. The ride is confident and more mature, and even taking to the highway, it felt ready to play with the bigger boys.

Fiat 500e review NZ

The cabin feels more together, less rattles and more refined. Of course there is no engine noise but the chassis and steering improvements make for a much smoother ride – even on our crappy, unkempt roads. 

Around town the 500e is still as manoeuvrable as ever, but now you don’t have to crane your neck to reverse as the infotainment screen comes with a camera view, and it now comes loaded with safety gear and ADAS. Lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control are all there at your fingertips, in fact Fiat say that the 500e is now ‘level 2 autonomous driving’ which is pretty impressive for a car of this small stature. 

Fiat 500e review NZ

There are three distinctive driving modes, Normal, Range and Sherpa. Normal is just that, a normal driving feel with limited braking regen. Range gives you that sort of one pedal driving feeling so I actually will bring you to a stop and hold it there (obviously increasing the 500e’s range) and Sherpa that actually limits your acceleration, has one pedal driving AND limits your top speed too – so not good for the SH1. 

Fiat 500e review NZ

The new Fiat 500e is the best 500 in virtually every way, bar its personality. It’s quicker, more confident, better in the corners, quieter and offers far more technology, however, I couldn’t help but feel that it lacked the impiness and annoying quirks of the older model. The temperamental gearbox, the engine note, the rattles – maybe the 500e is too good? I guess I should be careful what I wish for.

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