What is it?
In an era when you can get illuminated belt buckles on a car (take a bow, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class), the new Fiat 500 Electric does without a radio.
Let that sink in for a moment. In Action trim, admittedly the base level, you have to plug in your phone to listen to any music. Fiat isn’t the first to tap into this, but for a car so focused on style and youthful appeal, it says something of where we might be heading in the future.
And do you know what? It works brilliantly.
This is the entry level new 500, with a 94bhp electric motor powering the front wheels. In the Action version, there's a floor-mounted 23.8kWh battery, giving a total range of 118 miles, 0-62mph in 9.5sec and a top speed of 84mph.
Charging times are from as little as 30 minutes if you hook up to a 50kW DC charger, while a 7kW home-charger will do it in six hours.
There are three driving modes to choose from, all operated by a simple toggle switch. Normal does what it implies, as does Range, while Sherpa is a get-you-home-at-all-costs mode, trimming top speed to eke out the maximum range.
There's also a 42kWh battery available, giving a total range of 199 miles and punchier acceleration figures. But that makes the 500 up to 150kg heavier, so there’s something appealing about the purity of the Action.
For the time being, the electric 500 has a unique platform, but you get the feeling that it won’t be long before Stellantis looks to get it working across more cars under its corporate umbrella. Fiat itself acknowledges that it’s a flexible platform whose wheelbase can be extended, increasing its cross-functionality.
Interestingly, the petrol 500, which was recently updated with mild-hybrid engines, will continue to be sold. Fiat hasn’t put an end date on that car yet, although the suspicion is that it will be quietly allowed to die as more people jump into the electric version.
The electric 500 is slightly longer, wider and taller than the old 500, but it’s still a small car that’s easy to thread through a city. And despite the growth, rear-seat space is still at a premium. Adults will fit back there, but they won’t thank you over a long journey.
The rest of the interior is a lesson in simplicity, especially in Action trim. The single rounded dial keeps information to a bare minimum (speed, energy flow and range) and the radio/sat-nav is your phone sitting in a dashboard-mounted cradle.
Fortunately, there are still physical buttons. The radio volume is a rotary knob down by your knee and the air-con controls all lie mid-way up the dash. It goes to show that switches don’t necessarily create a messy interior.
In a very Fiat sign-off, there are some nice design touches on the interior, like the Turin skyline silhouetted on the dash cubby and the old 500 outline sketch within the door handles.