FIAT has introduced its 500e Micro segment electric hatch in Australia, the ‘La Prima’ first edition variant a highly specified take on the Italian icon priced locally from $52,500 plus on-road costs.
Offered for now in a single three-door, four-seat hatch body style, the Turin-built 500e successfully blends new technology with retro Cinquecento design cues. It is an unmistakeable (and decidedly cute) take on the classic ‘500’ and is equipped with a zesty front-mounted electric motor delivering 87kW of power and 220Nm of torque.
Fiat says the 500e will accelerate from standstill to 100km/h in 9.0 seconds, which feels pessimistic from behind the wheel.
The Fiat 500e La Prima is powered by a 42kWh lithium-ion battery pack that claims to deliver a driving range of 311km – that, we found, is somewhat optimistic. Three driving ranges are available including Normal, Range and Sherpa.
Fiat says the chassis of the 500e is designed to ensure both driving comfort and controlled dynamics, the wider track (+56mm) and length (+61mm) of the vehicle also providing greater interior space.
The 500e’s flat floor, newly sculptured centre console and reprofiled door trims are said to yield increased cabin storage, the model also claiming a renewed focus on quality of fit and finish – likely to help justify the 500e’s premium pricing.
Fiat says owners will immediately recognise interior design cues including the classic dashboard insert familiar to early 500 models, the two-spoke steering wheel, and rounded 7.0-inch instrument cluster while enjoying the La Prima variant’s standard glass roof.
Infotainment duties fall to a 10.25-inch tablet-style screen which hosts six-speaker sound, DAB+ digital radio reception, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, among other high-tech features.
Standard equipment for the model includes gorgeous 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, daytime running lights and tail-lights, eco-leather upholstery in Ice Beige, 50:50 split-fold rear seats, six-way manually adjustable heated front seats, wireless device charging, keyless entry and start, privacy glass, USB-A and -C charging ports, self-dimming rear-view mirror, single-zone climate control, and automatic headlights and wipers.
The 500e also offers what is arguably the best standard safety suite to yet be offered on a new Fiat model.
Included as standard are autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, traffic sign recognition, lane support system, driver attention assist, blind spot monitor, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, tyre pressure monitoring, and adaptive cruise control with lane centring and traffic jam assist.
The 500e scored a four-star ANCAP safety rating when tested in late 2022.
Six exterior colours are available including Ice White, Onyx Black, Ocean Green, Mineral Grey, Rose Gold, and Celestial Blue. Metallic paint options attract a $700 premium while Tri-Coat hues ask $1600.
During the late 1950s, when American cars were growing larger, more powerful, and thirstier by the year, the European market was focused on economical and intelligent packaging, producing vehicles that were not only affordable, but practical – an ideal combination in the post war market.
Of the many models to enter that market was Italian manufacturer Fiat’s “Bambino”, the 500 named for its diminutive engine size – a mere 500 cubic centimetres – just a portion of the towering 327ci (5.3-litre) and 345ci (5.5-litre) V8 monsters on offer across the pond.
The 500 was an endearing and enduring icon of post war Italy, and one that is now recreated for the modern age as a pure electric offering.
It’s an all-new design; a smoother, and more rounded example of its kind. But one that still holds true to the style of its earliest predecessor – and that feels distinctly compact when viewed against the hordes of SUVs that dominate our roads.
The 500e (for electric) is recognisably Fiat inside and out, despite modern touches that include flush-mounted door handles, egg-shaped LED headlights, digital in-cabin screens, and of course an EV powertrain.
Built in Italy, the 500e packs a 42kWh lithium-ion battery and single 87kW/220Nm within its three-door body, offering a driving range of up to 311km and 0-80 per cent charge time of around 35 minutes. The real-world driving range of this compact city-slicker is around 260km, which feels appropriate given its inner-urban appeal.
We found Range and Sherpa mode worked to considerably stretch the remaining charge of the 500e without significantly dulling performance. The 500e remains a steady and sensible performer that works well in the hustle and bustle of the big city, and is a cinch to park, fitting easily into those tricky spots the family SUV cannot.
The steering is light but accurate, and the feel of the pedals quite natural – something not all electric vehicles succeed at.
That said, the driving position remains reminiscent of the outgoing model, with a high-set seating position we suspect will rule out many taller buyers, especially when there is only a material cover between one’s scalp and the glass roof.
It was also obvious that the rear-view mirror hindered the view when looking left. The 500e remains a car that you need to “move around” in to place accurately, which can detract from its ease of operation.
Also obvious is the model’s squeezy cabin. Fitting its size, the four-seat 500e is tight across the back seat and tricky to get into, the rear bench a better fit for kids than teens or adults. There also isn’t a lot of cargo space up back (185 litres), meaning weekend road trips won’t just be limited by the electric model’s range… at least the 50:50 split seats help.
On the road the 500e is rather taut, giving it a zippy, but at times uncomfortable ride. The larger 17-inch wheels and low-profile tyres feel at odds with the beefy spring rate needed to curtail body movement when traversing broken surfaces.
Despite its size the 500e is heavy little car, tipping the scale at 1290kg. As a means of comparison, a family sized VR-series Holden Commodore weighed 1362kg back in 1994, showing just how weighty modern cars have become.
The vehicle’s regenerative braking is more sensible than others we could name and is easily managed in step with the aforementioned driving modes. It was also nice to find a range of driving assistants that do just that – assist! More manufacturers should take a leaf from Fiat’s book here.
While we did enjoy our time with the Fiat 500e, we must concede that it simply isn’t the ideal urban EV.
Yes, it’s a great looking little car that is charming and easy to love, but its compromised packaging and considerable list price make it a hard purchase to justify when measured against its rivals. Make sure you test drive a BYD Dolphin (from $38,890), GWM Ora (from $39,990), or an MG 4 (from $38,990) before signing on the dotted line.
Your hip pocket will thank you.