The new 500e is a solid improvement over its predecessor.
Since it was unveiled last year, I have been very interested in the new electric 500. There has been a 500e compliance car in a number of markets since 2015, but this new one is the first ever ground-up EV made by FCA. With that comes added expectations. This should feel like it was meant to be a proper EV, and drive like one too.
As stated the new 500e is a completely different model from the internal combustion engined 500 that was launched in 2007 and facelifted in 2015.
The exterior is well designed: in the front there is no grille and the big 500 logo has taken the place of the Fiat one. Some versions do have full-LED headlights but in all models some parts of the daytime running lights and the crystal-effect side indicators are integrated in the iconic clamshell bonnet, which resembles the original 1957 500.
The one I drove is the is a 3-door hatchback so the front doors are really long and heavy and the side windows are also large; the electronic door handles are flush with the body panels and keyless entry is an option. The back end is bulky but not bulbous, sort of muscular, wider in the lower part, with full-LED tail lights.
I’m a tall guy, more than 190 centimetres, but I have to say that the front space in this car is really good. I do wish the manual seats could go a little lower but apart from that there’s really nothing else to complain about.
Visibility is generally good, the A pillars are quite fat in the lower end and the car is very short so the view at the back is fine even though the rear window isn’t huge.
The space in the back seats is what’s to be expected from a 500: there are only two seats with the windows fixed and the roof is quite low. This rear space is mostly for small children and would be seriously uncomfortable for adults, however it may be adequate for short journeys.
The boot is very small, there is no extra storage for the charging gear and there is no front boot.
Overall the interior quality is average for this lower spec car. For the most expensive model it is quite unacceptable, the plastics are cheap and nasty everywhere. The door handles feel very cheap (even though the release mechanism is electronic and controlled by a button) and the main part of the dashboard is a hard plastic fascia painted the same colour as the exterior.
The steering wheel has a two spoke design, like the one in the Honda E, which is futuristic and nice to see. That said, the buttons are piano black so they easily catch dust.
There is an optional center armrest and the lack of a traditional gear selector, replaced by four buttons, frees up a lot of space between the front seats.
With regards to the infotainment, I didn’t have the chance to navigate through all the menus but there is wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. An optional induction charging pad also features. The screen itself is big at 10.25” on the higher spec model and the system is generally responsive and easy to use.
The cluster is fully digital, easy to read and well organised, it always displays the SoC and estimated range, alongside other vehicle information.
The car was driven mainly in town and on interurban roads, so not on the motorway, and I could test its handling and have an idea about its range.
The ride is firm but not uncomfortable, it smooths out almost every bump and it doesn’t roll much in the corners. However, in Normal Mode, when coming to a full stop using the friction brakes there is a slight jolt due to the mass (1500kg) and it can feel a bit jerky.
In Range Mode the one-pedal feeling is just awesome: the car comes to a full stop unseemingly well and it takes just a few hundred meters to get used to.
Speed and range
The performance is more than adequate: given that the combustion 500 had 70hp, the 500e with 118hp is very nippy and the instant 220Nm that goes to the front wheels is more than enough, a joy to drive. The 0-100kph (62 mph)is covered in 9 seconds, 0-50 kph (31 mph) in 3.1s, and the max speed is limited to 150kph (93 mph).
The ADAS system is very good, although I found it difficult to engage, I guess it takes some time to get used to. The Adaptive Cruise Control works fine, as do the Lane Centering and the Blind Spot Monitoring features.
When it comes to range, to be honest I didn’t pay much attention to how far nor how efficiently I drove it but based on my estimates a full battery, 42 kWh, would be capable of at least 250 km, or 155 miles, in mixed driving conditions. Expect less on the motorway and more if driven carefully in the city (maybe even 350 km / 217 miles in the summer).
The maximum charging rate on AC is 11kW and on DC it is 85kW: Fiat states 80% in 35 minutes at this rate, not bad for such a small car.
The entry-level version is not good value for money, in my opinion, given it has a smaller battery, a less powerful motor and lacks some important features. A mid-range model is a good balance between EV specs, features, quality and price, a solid choice for this class.
What are the alternatives?
The game is between this and the Honda E, which is more expensive and has less range but 4 doors, rear-wheel drive and some unique features. There is also the Mini Electric, but it’s dated looks and mediocre stats wouldn’t make me pick it over either of the above. Finally, for those of you after something with less style but more substance there is also the new entry-level ID.3 Pure – which costs around the same as the 500e but has a 217 mile (349km) WLTP range.
What are your thoughts on the 500e, based off the above? Would you consider one over the numerous alternatives? Let us know your thoughts in the replies section below.