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First drive: Fiat 500 EV Convertible. Image by Simon Thompson.

First drive: Fiat 500 EV Convertible
Itís a bold move by Fiat to wholly electrify the big-selling 500, but itís also a brilliant one.

 



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Fiat 500e Convertible

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

It might look a lot like the Fiat 500 that has been in production for 13 years now, but it's not. This is an all-new Fiat 500, sitting on a brand-spanking platform and powered, solely, by electricity. And it's utterly excellent as a result.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Fiat 500e Convertible Icon
Pricing: 500e range from £19,995 including Government's £3,000 Plug-In Car Grant (PICG), 500e Icon from £24,995 including PICG
Electric system: 87kW permanent magnet synchronous electric motor plus 42kWh lithium-ion battery pack
Transmission: single-speed offset-gear transmission, front-wheel drive
Body style: two-door convertible EV city car
CO2 emissions: 0g/km (VED Band 0: no road tax to pay in perpetuity)
Range: 199 miles
Maximum charging capacity: 85kW; 35 minutes for 80 per cent battery charge on 85kW DC, 4.25 hours for 0-100 per cent charge on 11kW AC charging station, 15.25 hours for 0-100 per cent charge on 3kW AC domestic connection
Combined electrical consumption: 13.1kWh/62.5 miles
Charging method: CCS Combo 2 port, Type 2 charging cable standard, Type 3 charging cable optional
Top speed: 93mph
0-62mph: 9.0 seconds
Power: 118hp
Torque: 220Nm
Boot space: 185 litres

What's this?

The familiar form of a Fiat 500, only not quite so. Look at it more closely and you'll notice a smoother front end, complete with new 'FIAT' corporate badging and a set of headlights that make the tiny Italian city car look vaguely nonplussed. Step around the side and you'll see the lines are clean, although the two-bubble shape is comfortingly recognisable. And at the back, bigger lamp clusters, no visible exhausts and... hang on! What's happened to the second zero in the boot-mounted '500' badge? It looks like a lower-case 'e'.

And that's because it is. This is the all-new Fiat 500e (our own honorific to denote its zero-emissions goodness, rather than the marque's official name for this newcomer), built on an also-all-new electric-car platform from FCA and presaging the biggest change in the 500 story since the 'Nuova' first appeared back in 1957. From this point onwards, all new 500s will be electric only. The current model will continue in production for a few years yet with internal combustion engines (ICE), under the guise of the '500 Classic' (clever, Fiat; clever), and this shift to no-ICE rather raises some question marks about what happens to the very popular Abarth performance derivatives in the future. Those concerns aside, though, in essence this is a move which makes total sense.

You see, the 500 is a city car, at the end of the day, bought to be used within urban areas more often than not. And electric vehicles (EVs) make the most sense being driven in and around cities. Thus, the 500 and electric power are a perfect union, on paper. Better still, Fiat hasn't fallen into the trap of offering the car with a tiny one-charge range and then using the '30 miles a day commuting' defence which is becoming so popular. So, rather than being a sub-150-mile machine of the ilk of the Honda e, the MINI Electric or the Mazda MX-30, the 500e will go up to 199 miles on a single charge of its 42kWh battery.

The counterpoint of this is that a 42kWh battery, while not as large as those found in rivals like the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe and Peugeot e-208, results in a car which isn't massively heavy. Nor big. Although it is 61mm longer, 56mm wider, 29mm taller and possessed of a wheelbase which has been stretched by 22mm when all dimensions are compared to the old 500, this is still a compact machine which is only 3,632mm long and 1,683mm wide. That means it has a small road footprint and it also weighs a mere 1,290kg as the hatchback, or 1,330kg as the stylish 500 Convertible as tested here.

And Fiat's been extra canny in offering the 500 with two battery sizes, so you can choose if you want the short-range City spec or the long-range, er, Long Range variant. The former comes with a 24kWh battery and a 70kW (95hp) electric motor, allowing for a 115-mile range, a 0-62mph time of 9.5 seconds and a top speed of 84mph. The 42kWh, as driven here, ups the motor output to 87kW (118hp), trimming half-a-second from the 0-62mph run, raising the top speed to 93mph (steady, now) and increasing the range to 199 miles. There are also differences with the charging times and maximum charging speeds, as you can hook the Long Range 500e up to an 85kW DC fast charger whereas the City 500e will peak at 50kW. Whichever you pick, either car takes about half-an-hour on such a connection to replenish the battery from 0-80 per cent of its capacity.

Fiat UK has confirmed there will be four trim specifications to go at with the 500e, starting at £19,995 for the Action with the City electrical system; this model is only available as a hatchback. Once you add £3,500 for the next grade up, Passion (from £23,495), the bigger battery and more powerful motor are both equipped with no option of switching for the 24kWh/70kW set-up, while the Convertible is also made available as an alternative body style. Another £1,500 again gets you in a high-spec Icon, which is what we drove, from £24,995. And then a final £2,000 step lifts the spec to La Prima, which is a limited-time, bells-and-whistles grade from £26,995. All of these prices listed, by the way, including the Government's £3,000 PICG.

So the 500e is reasonably affordable, it looks great and it has decent options when it comes to cruising range. And then there's the interior. The slightly swollen bodywork results in more space in the cabin, to the extent that you could almost imagine some adults sitting in the rear seats for a short space of time, if necessary. Nevertheless, the front two seats are further apart and the interior does feel generally bigger than its forebear's - as well as being a significant step up in quality. All cars gain 15-inch alloys, LED taillights, a seven-inch TFT cluster in the binnacle, manual air-conditioning, rear parking sensors, keyless go and a host of advanced driver assist safety systems that allow Fiat to claim the 500e is Level 2 autonomous, but at Icon the kit list includes luxuries like cruise control, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 16-inch alloy wheels, 50:50 split-folding rear seats, climate control, a dashboard painted the same colour as the exterior bodywork and then, the crowning glory, a 10.25-inch touchscreen for the Uconnect 5 infotainment. This is a big improvement from Fiat's older systems and it looks magnificent on the widescreen display, all pin-sharp graphics and tidy layout.

There's more to the Fiat's appeal than this, however, as everything feels marvellous and operates in a slick, pleasing fashion. And there are some lovely little touches, like the sight of the Turin skyline being embossed into the wireless smartphone charging pad in the centre of the dash; this is because production of the 500e is returning to the Mirafiori plant in the Italian city. There are also little 'Nuova 500' car graphics in the door pulls and even 'E-Latch' electric release buttons inside and out for the doors themselves - with a mechanical override as back-up, in case you're wondering or ready to sneer about electrical issues. Safe to say, the 500e looks fabulous inside and out, even more so than it ever has done before, and that's going to be comfortably half the job done by Fiat in the eyes of potential EV city car buyers. As long as it drives sweetly, all should be OK...

How does it drive?

By gum, this thing eradicates all memories of the lacklustre Hybrid model of the outgoing 500, which Fiat bunted out only this year. This 500e is terrific. It is fantastic. It prioritises all the things you need from a zero-emissions commuter car, and sacrifices precious little elsewhere to deliver a driving experience that is, in the main, exceptional.

And this is where it seems dropping ICE has done the 500e a world of favours. While the aforementioned Abarths and maybe a few of the TwinAir models had charismatic engines, in truth the modern-day 500 has never been known for its thrilling drivetrains and scintillating underpinnings. And, on the latter score, it still won't be highly regarded for that - for once the 500e's EV chassis runs out of grip, it runs out of ideas and the body wobbles unconvincingly on its platform while the car attempts to regain its composure.

But allow us to be frank: to get the 500e to behave like this requires driving it like an utter plonker. In reality, no one needs a sharp, track-day-biased chassis on a car like this and, for the vast, vast majority of the time, the Fiat's handling is perfectly adept and capable. Yet that's not why we love the way it drives. Rather, we're totally enamoured by its majestic levels of refinement. Stripping out the vibrating, noisy ICE ramps up the smoothness of the 500e no end, but Fiat has also mercifully judged the suspension to the point of perfection. At low speeds around town, it glides across even the most unholy of road surfaces in a serene fashion, the springs and dampers quiet in operation, the ride comfort exceptional in its steadfast refusal to be flustered by anything you throw at it. The steering on the car is light and lacking feel, but it's also quick and hugely consistent, so placing the car on the road feels like a natural, organic experience.

Then there's the instant hit of the torque. All 220Nm of it has no trouble shifting 1.3 tonnes of city car about the place and the 500e's brutal 0-30mph pace will undoubtedly upset all manner of drivers in bigger, supposedly grander machinery when they get unceremoniously dropped off the lights by convertible Fiat. Conversely, the powertrain doesn't become lost out on open roads and motorways, as the 500e feels strong enough and insistent enough to 70mph to make a mockery of its mere 118hp peak output. Better yet, the 500e, even as this fabric-roofed model, limits wind and tyre noise to minimal levels, so it's a real pleasure to travel in it. Especially with said folding roof slid back, a 25-second process which you can do on the move at speeds of up to 62mph.

Fiat hasn't just judged the steering, power delivery and suspension superbly, but also the braking. And this is an area not all EVs, or hybrids for that matter, succeed in. There are three driving modes to go at, which are called Normal, Range and Sherpa - and no, the last of these doesn't immediately transform the 500e into a rusty old Freight Rover commercial. Normal sees the Fiat drive as much like an ICE model as possible, so when you lift off the throttle (should we be calling this the accelerator now, given there isn't a throttle in a car without an engine?) there is a trace amount of regenerative braking but, otherwise, the car will simply coast to a halt over a fair old distance of tarmac. In order to stop it, you'll need to depress the brake pedal itself, whereupon you will find beautiful bite and progression that are facets which are arguably sector-leading when it comes to EVs of all shapes and sizes.

Step it up into Range and the regen effect becomes far more noticeable, bringing the car to a halt quickly and smoothly and leading to some mighty effective one-pedal driving manners. There's a slight 'smoothing' of the throttle (sorry, accelerator) response in this mode but not to any degree that makes the pedal feel fuzzy nor the electric motor slow to respond, and the 500e will still run its fastest 0-62mph time and go to its 93mph maximum in Range. Sherpa is a 'get me home' last resort, which limits the car to 50mph, significantly slackens off the... whatever we're calling the right-hand pedal these days and immediately deactivates any non-essential electrical drains in the car, such as the heated seats or the climate control. All of these settings are brilliantly calibrated and worthwhile, rather much like the whole car is, and as a result the 500e feels like the vehicle the Fiat always should have been, ever since it was revived in 2007.

Verdict

Having driven the old Fiat 500 Hybrid in Italy earlier this year, and then revisited the part-electric machine for a week in the UK about a month before the all-new 500e arrived, we have to say our hopes were not high for the Italian marque's first full EV. But our fears have been allayed by a performance which places the 500e right at the very forefront of the city car electric game. This is a keenly priced, well-equipped, supremely comfortable and thoroughly likeable little vehicle, with all of the traditional 500 attributes only enhanced by the addition of its forward-thinking drivetrain. There's very little to fault and much to praise here, so it's a storming first effort from Fiat that augurs well for any future products to launch off this same platform.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Passenger Space

3 3 3 3 3 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 2 Dec 2020









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2020 Fiat 500e Convertible Icon. Image by Simon Thompson.2020 Fiat 500e Convertible Icon. Image by Simon Thompson.2020 Fiat 500e Convertible Icon. Image by Simon Thompson.2020 Fiat 500e Convertible Icon. Image by Simon Thompson.2020 Fiat 500e Convertible Icon. Image by Simon Thompson.

2020 Fiat 500e Convertible Icon. Image by Simon Thompson.2020 Fiat 500e Convertible Icon. Image by Simon Thompson.2020 Fiat 500e Convertible Icon. Image by Simon Thompson.2020 Fiat 500e Convertible Icon. Image by Simon Thompson.2020 Fiat 500e Convertible Icon. Image by Simon Thompson.








 

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