2023 Fiat 500e first drive review: A European preview

2023 Fiat 500e first drive review: A European preview

TURIN, Italy — America’s relationship with the Fiat 500 has been one of the best.

Skimping on the original, pre-war model, the second-generation 500 (with a rear-mounted engine) was sold briefly here with funky headlights that jutted out from the front end like bug eyes. Small and underpowered, though a lot of fun to drive in its own way, it didn’t catch on and was out of our market after only a few years.

The third-generation 500 led Fiat’s return to the United States when it landed here in 2012. It sold as well as you might expect a European-flavored subcompact hatchback in the Ford F-150 bastion to sell and bow out in 2019, though it’s still sold across the pond with its intended successor. This will be the fourth generation 500, unveiled in 2020, which kept the retro design but went electric only.

Sales in the United States are scheduled to begin in early 2024, meaning the cheeky hatchback will be nearly four years old by the time it turns a wheel on an American pavement. Is it worth the wait? I traveled to Fiat’s hometown of Turin in northern Italy to find out what all this fun-sized EV buzz is all about.

There’s one point I need to address first: What you see in our gallery isn’t exactly what you’ll find when new 500s roll into American showrooms with an “e” at the end of their names. Fiat hasn’t yet detailed the US-market model, but it’s fair to assume that most of the changes will be found in the specification sheet and list of standard and optional equipment. Fiat can’t take a European-market car and ship it here unchanged, but I’m not expecting significant updates to the exterior or interior design—nothing suggests it’s turning into an outlandish four-door crossover. Will change.

Speaking of design, this has been the 500’s main selling point since the last generation model debuted in 2007, so Fiat’s edits were fairly mild. I think someone who isn’t up to date with what’s happening on the car planet probably won’t realize they’re looking at a new 500, and that’s intentional. Still unabashedly retro, the model stands out from its predecessor with a facelifted front end featuring two-piece LED headlights and a larger “500” emblem, brighter beltline trim and a more chiseled hatch. Its proportions haven’t changed, but it’s a bit bigger than before: it’s 143 inches long, 66.3 inches wide and 60.1 inches tall, which makes it about 3 inches longer, 2 inches wider and 2 inches taller than the previous 500 Is. sold here. It is offered as a two or three (!) Door hatchback and as a semi-convertible. I drove the two-door hatchback, and it’s too soon to tell which version will come to the United States.

Big changes are scattered throughout the interior: the new 500e looks much better than the previous generation model, both in terms of fit and finish, and equipment (there’s also power door handles, Maserati-style). It also benefits from the same fun approach to design that permeates most of the recent additions to the Stellantis portfolio. “FIAT” is stitched into the upholstery, the outline of the vintage 500 appears in the inner door pulls next to the phrase “Made in Torino” and the Turin skyline is etched into the wireless charging pad mat. The driver is faced with a two-spoke steering wheel and a refreshingly simple digital instrument cluster, while a 10.25-inch touchscreen dominates the dashboard.

The similarities between the previous generation 500 and the new model are superficial only; Both the cars share nothing under the sheet metal. Built on a new platform, the 500e ships with a single, front-mounted electric motor that draws power from a 28.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, which churns out 95 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels. Gives , This version tips the scales at 2,601 pounds, and my crystal ball tells me we’re unlikely to see it in the United States. What we’re likely to get (although keep in mind this is pure speculation) is the drivetrain that European motorists will have to pay extra for. It’s still built around a front-mounted electric motor, but the battery pack size increases to 42 kWh and horsepower to 118, though torque remains flat. In this configuration, the 2,843-pound 500e takes 9 seconds to reach 62 mph from a stop versus 9.5 seconds for the base model.

Driving range depends on where you drive and who you ask. Fiat quotes figures of 118 miles and 205 miles for the small and large battery packs, respectively, but notes that city driving exclusively unlocks 257 miles and 291 miles, respectively. These numbers were obtained using Europe’s notoriously optimistic WLTP test cycle, and the EPA’s figures will be lower (assuming we get either battery pack).

There’s a lot to like about the 500e from the driver’s seat. It’s more spacious than you’d expect given its dimensions, the front seats are reasonably comfortable, and the digital instrument cluster is refreshingly simple. It’s basic, which is a nice change from some of the IMAX-like displays companies are increasingly stuffing into their cars. And, in a way, it’s retro too: The old 500 also had a very simple instrument cluster. Materials on the dashboard feel good considering the segment this car competes in, although you don’t have to look around for too long to find rock-hard plastics, and the gear selector buttons save space but are of use. are clunky to do. Back out… well, it’s a 500, a model that has never been praised enough. It’s tight, and the trunk is small, but expecting to fit NBA players in the back seats and a cooler Chevrolet Tahoe in the trunk is to zig-zag in mid Rome.

Fiat will make some changes to the 500e before launching it in the United States, as noted above, but I’d say the interior is good to go as… with one exception. The lone, tiny cupholder jutting out from the bottom of the center console isn’t going to cut it in the Big Gulpuccino.

One of the more interesting and unexpected takeaways from my time behind the wheel is that the 500e drives a lot like its gasoline-burning predecessor. It’s snappy thanks to the instant torque of the electric motor, and it’s noticeably quieter, but it doesn’t like to be bothered (which is why the Abarth-branded model is apparently). While the battery pack is integrated into the chassis and directly under the seats, its relatively small size prevents the 500e from feeling as planted and bottom-heavy as other EVs.

Where this car really shines is in the city. It moves effortlessly and silently from light to light and darts into gaps in traffic. It’s also easy to park, thanks to a relatively tight turning radius and a light steering system. It’s at home on country roads and even on the highway, although the steering is equal parts quick and fuzzy and the suspension is surprisingly stiff. I imagine that’s one of the changes Fiat plans to make before allowing the 500e to travel to the United States; Global market cars often come with a firmer suspension in Europe than in the United States due to different buyer preferences.

One of the infotainment system’s menus shows power flow, which is not uncommon in a modern car regardless of powertrain type. What’s cool here is that in addition to the real-time power consumption of the motor, it displays how much juice the climate control system is drawing. Driving an EV takes too long to estimate – if your range is free-falling, it might help you figure out why. In my case, I lost more range than I gained distance. It was quite cold at the foot of the Italian Alps, so I had the heater on for most of the drive (my tester didn’t have heated seats). Your mileage may really vary.

Fiat programmed three driving modes namely Normal, Range and Sherpa respectively. The first mode is self-explanatory, but an important detail is that there is no perceptible brake-energy regeneration. Lift the accelerator pedal and the 500e coasts without any resistance. Feels a lot like Range Normal but it brings out a stronger amount of regen; You can come to a complete stop by taking your foot off the accelerator. Last and, in this case, not least, the Sherpa limits top speed to about 50 mph and deactivates the air conditioning system as well as heated seats (if equipped) to save as much range as possible. gives. In a questionable way, it’s another retro touch: With Sherpa mode on, you’ll be hot as hell in the summer and never quite reach freeway speeds, like the 1957 500 with the air-cooled, 13-horsepower two-cylinder engine. Together .

The one-pedal driving mode is a real boon in city driving, and it adds a bit of range to the battery pack every time you take your foot off the accelerator pedal, but if I could go back and intervene in the design process Yes, I would add an intermediate mode. As it stands, it’s all or nothing, and the boost you get in range mode is relatively aggressive. The 500e would benefit from a range-lite mode.

There are two ways to look at the 500e. On the one hand, it’s a lot less useful and a lot more expensive than its gasoline-powered predecessor. The limited driving range will relegate it to second car status for most families and, while pricing for the US market hasn’t been released, it won’t come cheap. Pricing starts at €29,950 for the 95-hp model and €33,150 for the 118-hp version in Italy, figures that represent $31,800 and $35,200 respectively, although conversion is never as simple as Google makes it out to be . On the other hand, there is a subset of the population that would welcome the 500e as the perfect car. It also commands attention in its home country, has one of the best interiors in Europe’s crowded city-car segment, and is tuned for big city life. It will be interesting to see how this translates in the United States.

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