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Rather than take its pension, Fiat’s 65-year-old star car heads into the electric age

Fiat has become a car maker a critic might compare to one of those greying musical acts that keeps touring but hasn’t come up with any new material worth listening to in yonks, and is simply milking its back catalogue for all it’s worth.

The Mazda MX-5-based 124 Spider was a likeable but ultimately forgettable cover album; the Fiat Tipo – which is still on sale – was an old name for an old-fashioned car, even when it was new; and the Fiat 500X and Fiat 500L are unimaginative and somewhat cynical reinterpretations of old material. Meanwhile, endless new variations on the 500 city car – and, to a lesser extent, the Fiat Panda – have kept the fans entertained.

Contrary to what the badge suggests, it’s not called a 500e, or even a 50e. Just 500, please; 500 Electric if you must. The old petrol model remains in production as the 500 Hybrid, even though it’s only a mild hybrid.

But at long last, Fiat may just have a worthy comeback album on its hands. Sure, the all-new, all-electric 500 has a familiar name and (from a distance) looks familiar, but don’t let that fool you: the material here is truly fresh and original, and very current indeed.

Let’s be clear about the name first: this new car is simply called the Fiat 500. The second zero of the badge has a dash in it to make it look like an ‘e’, but Fiat never actually calls the car the ‘500e’. It does sometimes call it the ‘New 500’ or ‘500 Electric’ to avoid confusion – but nowhere does it say ‘electric’ on the car. Meanwhile, the petrol-powered 500 remains in production, but that is now called the 500 Hybrid, even though it’s only the mildest of hybrids.

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Now that’s cleared up, let’s find out if the electric 500 is the comeback album that Fiat so sorely needs.

The Fiat 500 range at a glance

The new 500 offers a choice of two battery capacities, the smaller pack coming with a weaker electric motor. The 500C, with its retractable fabric roof, is only available with the bigger battery.

There is a choice of four trim levels. Action is quite basic and always comes with the smaller battery. Red is a slight step up and offers a choice of the two batteries. Icon comes with the 42kWh pack only and has a reasonable amount of standard equipment. La Prima is similar to a fully loaded Icon.

Fiat 500 Electric First drives