We could have given the small car award to the Fiat 500 simply by virtue of it being small. It may sound like a low bar, but so many makers of supposedly small cars forget about that. As subsequent generations
of cars get bigger and wider, and hatchbacks get replaced with equivalent but slightly larger SUVs, it’s heartening to see that Fiat still values compact vehicles.
Our roads aren’t getting any wider, and the 500’s dimensions are as useful on Turin’s streets as they are down an English country lane. As the world goes electric, an SUV more conveniently hides a bulky battery pack, but the new 500 shows it doesn’t have to be that way.
The 500 shows the direction for small electric cars (and therefore small cars in general). A bespoke platform means there’s room for a decent-size battery, giving a usable real-world range of 140 miles (even if that’s some way short of its official 199 miles), and the base Action model is one of the most affordable EVs on the market.
Where the 500 truly differentiates itself is that it is genuinely joyful, to look at and to drive. The old petrol- powered 500, which is still available as a mild hybrid, was a sales success, not because it was an especially good car but because its design was a brilliant reinterpretation of the old classic.
The new one does the same for the electric age: it’s recognisable, it’s retro yet modern, it’s cute and it’s distinctive. It earned Klaus Busse, Fiat’s vice-president of design at the time, the Design Hero prize in last year’s Autocar Awards.
Unlike the old 500, the new one is great to drive, too. It’s a competitive electric car, and its small dimensions and good visibility make it extremely manoeuvrable in the city. It exceeds expectations on the open road as well. The motorway is not its natural habitat yet the 500 still copes admirably, but what is remarkable is that the 500 is also an absolute hoot to drive on a twisty road.
The battery in the floor has banished any top-heaviness, and the stiff suspension, pointy steering and impressive lateral grip give the responses a keen driver wants.
A little more power, some sporty seats, some steering feel and a more playful balance would turn it into a very convincing warm hatch. Clearly Fiat is now being run by people who like cars, because brand boss Olivier François confirmed they’re working on an Abarth version. Might we see an electric affordable driver’s car in a few years? It’d be about time.