City cars are both perfectly suited to going EV, and completely unsuitable at the same time. You see on the one hand they often do lots of short trips and spend a lot of time in dense urban areas where EV’s are cleaner and much more efficient, but on the other their diminutive stature makes it hard to fit the batteries in and makes it really hard to hide the cost of the battery. In other words they are expensive and don’t go very far.
So can FIAT, the king of the city car, solve this riddle. Well the electric 500 is a lot more expensive than the petrol model, so at first glance it isn’t looking great. But….. despite looking a lot like a FIAT 500 this is actually a completely different car to the petrol models. Designed from the ground up as a bespoke EV platform it shares nothing in common, so direct price comparison don’t make a lot of sense. Thankfully FIAT has retained the tiny footprint with a length of 3.6 metres and a width of 1.68 metres it stays true to the 500 concept.
Turning the 500 into an electric car has made a massive difference, and it is all positive. The entry level models get a 24 kWh battery which is good for an urban friendly official range of 115 mile, although if you do stay within city limits the official range on the city test is a very respectable 160 miles. This keeps the price down, but FIAT expect the vast majority of cars to leave the factory with the larger 42 kWh battery which delivers a very good 199 miles on the official tests and can reach 285 miles on the city test.
If you are on a budget the entry level 24 kWh spec forgoes a radio and infotainment screen (both optional) and replaces them with a smartphone cradle. Other than that the specification is good, including 50 kW Rapid charge capability which in combination with the small battery capacity allows an 80% charge in 30 minutes. The larger 42 kWh battery can handle 85 kW providing even faster charging times. The result is that both will get you back on the road quickly if you do need to make a longer journey. AC charging is handled by an on-board 11 kW charger.
The opportunity to re-imagine the 500 as an EV has also solved our biggest gripes with the petrol variant. Placing the batteries in the floor enables a significantly lower centre of gravity and provides a much better weight distribution. This translates into a much better driving experience. Despite a very respectable 1290 kg kerb weight it also feels much better engineered, and as a result starts to justify the higher price tag. The new interior builds on the feel good factor, it looks good, but also feels significantly more up market. It also features physical buttons for key functions such as ventilation, which is something that we think all manufacturers should be doing, without detracting for the stylish design.
On the road, FIAT has wisely prioritised comfort, and the combination of pot hole friendly tyres and a compliant suspension set up does a great job. The only issue is that as the speed rises it does lack vertical body control and can get bouncy. Best to dial the speed back and enjoy the view and tranquility. Further evidence of the laid back approach can be found in the 3 drive modes – Normal, Range, Sherpa – are on offer, Sport is not an option. That makes a lot of sense to us particularly with the smaller battery.
The electric 500 does go along way to solving the city car conundrum. By offering the two battery packs it gives you the choice of a cheaper entry price if you know you are going to be doing short trips, or if you do need a car that will handle regular longer journeys too the 42 kWh pack does deliver both range and 85 kW Rapid charging, making it entirely feasible. Best of all it has a real feel good factor and does feel like a premium offering which goes some way to justifying the price tag.
Estimated real world range: 70 – 115 miles
Official range: 115 miles
Official electricity consumption: 130 Wh/km
Battery pack: 23.8 kWh (net) lithium ion; 8 year / 100,000 mile warranty
Recharge time: 7 kW charge approx 4 hours; 11 kW charge approx 3 hours; Rapid CCS 50 kW approx 30 minutes (0 – 80%)
Please note that CO2 emissions quoted for electric cars are not directly comparable to diesel and petrol cars. This is because CO2 emissions quoted are calculated by Green Car Guide and include the emissions created at the power station turning fuel (e.g. gas etc) into electricity and in transmitting and distributing the electricity to an end user. They do not include the actual production of the fuel (e.g. gas extraction and refinery emissions). Petrol and diesel emissions are supplied by car manufacturers and are based solely on the fuel burnt in the engine (tailpipe emissions) and do not include the production of the fuel or distribution to a fuel station. In practice this means that electric car emissions are over-estimated relative to petrol and diesel. For instance if an electric car, a petrol car, and a diesel car are all reported to emit 100 g/km CO2, the electric car actually has lower emissions.