Can the electric 500 impress in ways other EV city cars don’t? We’re finding out

Why we’re running it: To find out if the reborn 500 in fully electric guise is just as charming to live with as it is to look at

Month 6 - Month 5 - Month 4 - Month 2 - Month 1 - Specs

Life with a Fiat 500 EV: Month 5

Our EV meets its potent, Abarth-badged petrol sibling. Is it a taste of what’s to come? - 4 May

It would be easy to assume the electric cars rapidly reshaping our definition of performance exist only at the upper end of the price spectrum: think Tesla Model S Plaid, Rimac Nevera or Lotus Evija. But it’s occurring in the city car segment too.

Where once you might have walked into an Abarth dealership, ticked a few options boxes and driven away in a 595 Competizione, now you can head to the other side of the office, spend a similar amount on an electric Fiat 500 and be comfortably beating ICE-engined cars at every set of traffic lights on your way home.

Does that sound like an easy decision? Perhaps, if you never leave the city limits. Both cars achieve 0-30mph in a little under 3.0sec and have not too dissimilar torque outputs (162lb ft in the 500 versus 184lb ft for the 595), despite the EV being about 300kg heavier and some 60bhp down on power.

But while the Fiat’s accelerative efforts then begin to drop off as its speedo needle continues to climb, the Abarth is still surging forward. Officially, it’s more than 2.0sec faster to 60mph, and is accompanied by a rorty four-pot soundtrack.

The thing is, I’ve found the 500 to be rather entertaining when shown a good bit of B-road, with stiff suspension that allows for very little roll through corners and a low centre of gravity, thanks to the placement of the battery.

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The light steering doesn’t give much in the way of road feel, and the regenerative braking in Normal mode is largely equivalent to engine braking in a petrol car. There may be a gulf between the two driving experiences, but it’s not a huge one.

The interior, on the other hand, shows a huge leap forward. Bucket seats and boost gauge aside, today’s 595 shows only a minor evolution from the original Abarth 500, introduced in 2008. The electric 500 is both minimal and modern, with what I consider one of the best infotainment systems that you will find in a small car right now.

A week of swapping between the 500 and 595 was an interesting experiment, and while I’m glad it was the 500 that stayed on my driveway, I can’t help imagining what an electric Abarth will be like – because of course there’s one on the horizon.

Fiat boss Olivier François recently said that an electric Abarth 500 is a “logical extension” of the new 500, and the firm has since teased what it will sound like – or at least its low- speed pedestrian warning noise.

A more aggressive bodykit and a set of sports seats are both a given. Sharpening the steering should be high on the priorities list, as should a synthesised engine note.

Preferably one that can be toggled on and off as you please, and isn’t trying too hard to replicate the sound of a combustion engine. I would also love some paddle shifters for direct control over the regenerative-braking strength, to give your hands something to do in the absence of a gearstick.

I don’t think Fiat’s engineers need to massively turn up the wick on the 500’s electric motor, but maintaining acceleration up to motorway speeds would give an Abarth EV its own distinct character.

One last thing: how about moving the motor from the front axle to the rear one? A man can dream...

Love it: engine sound

Its raucous exhaust makes the 595 a real giggle to rev out. The Abarth EV needs to get this right.

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Loathe it: tight pedal box

It’s cramped in the old 500, and Fiat didn’t really improve things for the new one, even with the drop to two pedals.

Mileage: 3105

Life with a Fiat 500 EV: Month 4

Charging cable takes up significant space - 20 April

Yes, the 500 is a very compact car, but it’s still a shame Fiat couldn’t find somewhere neat to store its charging cables. I’ve taken to stuffing our car’s three-pin domestic cable under the boot floor, where it (just about) fits around the puncture repair kit. The Type 2 cable has its own bag, but I rarely have the patience to neatly wrapitup–evenifitdoesgetinthe way of shopping bags. 

Mileage: 2981

Life with a Fiat 500 EV: Month 3

Have you tried turning it on and off again? - 30 March

I was greeted by the 500 one morning with an “SOS failure! Check SOS system” warning message on the dashboard. There wasn’t anything obvious buried in the on- screen settings menus, and the user manual suggests such an error is cause for a dealer visit. Thankfully, an off-and-on-again reboot made it go away, but it’s just the latest in a growing list of electrical gremlins.

Life with a Fiat 500 EV: Month 2

Chargers, colleagues and a ghost in the machine can’t keep a good car down - 2 March

What does an electric supermini have in common with a 620bhp V6, carbonfibre-tubbed supercar? Our recent UK drive of the new Maserati MC20 revealed that it shares its infotainment system with the 500. Based on my experience of it in the Fiat, that can only be a good thing: the interface is easy to navigate, responds quickly to inputs and doesn’t overdo it on the icons.

Although... what’s that adage about Italian cars and electrics? The 500 has twice now reset its units of measurement, defaulting to kilometres instead of miles, and enabled the function that sounds the horn whenever you lock the doors.

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Thankfully, that’s as antisocial as my morning commute gets: my neighbours almost certainly prefer a silent-running city car to the booming V8 of the McLaren GT that I borrowed recently. I’ve yet to work out why the system loses my preferences, and although it’s easy to change the settings back with a few taps, the point is that I shouldn’t have to.

More irritating was the failed charge at Autocar’s Twickenham office, which was only noticed as I headed home for the weekend. It was user error instead of the car’s fault (the person who borrowed it didn’t check the wallbox he plugged into was actually working), but it meant I had fewer than 40 miles of range.

The easiest thing to do would have been to swap into the Sherpa driving mode – which dulls acceleration, limits top speed and disables the climate controls – and try my luck with a rapid charger nearer home. Instead, I stopped at a Source London roadside charger for a 30-minute pit stop along the way, which took £50 from my debit card before a single electron began flowing and only refunded me (minus what I had used) an hour or so after I had moved on.

The Charge Online points I tried at RHS Wisley recently were equally frustrating, being activated through a website but refusing to create new user accounts on a Sunday. Non- account-holders can specify an exact kWh figure, but even then it shut off after an hour, so I got less than a fifth of the power I had paid for.

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Public chargers may now be required to let anyone plug in their vehicle, whether they’re a member of the service or not, but not all of them make it a pleasant process. 

Love it: Low-speed efficiency

A 10-mile commute at mostly 30mph speeds typically consumes around 10-15 miles of charge, even in the recent cold weather.

Loathe it: Dim headlights

Only top-spec models get LED headlights as standard. Our car’s halogens aren’t overly luminous, so I think it’s worth the extra £850.

Fiat's £545 wallbox a tempting buy - 16 February 

I plugged the 500 into a domestic three-pin socket last week, more out of curiosity than necessity. The cable comes as standard and might be handy at a pinch, but how long can you expect to wait? The dashboard estimated 17 hours to get from 40% to full. Fiat’s 7kW wallbox, currently a £545 option, will do the same in less than three hours.

Mileage: 2286

A very 'multi-function' steering wheel - 2 February

The buttons mounted on the back of the 500’s steering wheel are handy for controlling music playback and volume without being in your line of sight. It’s a shame they can’t perform other functions, though. They would be ideal for quickly adjusting the level of brake regen;as it is, you must reach for the centre console to change driving modes.

Mileage: 2005

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First long-haul trip serves as a warning against complacency - 26 January

When your daily trip to work and back is a little over 20 miles and ‘the new normal’ means going in only a few times a week, it’s easy to see an EV with a giant battery as overkill. One of only 42kWh has so far proven more than sufficient for our little Fiat 500, often letting me go multiple weeks between charges when used purely as a commuter car.

That’s despite the fact that its estimated range still refuses to climb higher than 160 miles on a full charge – a significant 20% down on the 199 promised by WLTP testing. Temperatures have been dropping steadily since the 500 arrived, so that perhaps shouldn’t have comeas a big surprise.

It’s not like I’m treating the battery with kid gloves, either. I refuse to dial back the climate control just to add a few miles, so the cabin is always toasty and the heated seats are constantly engaged. A heated steering wheel would have been the icing on the cake, but sadly that’s not even an option on top-ranking La Prima trim. The 500 may feel like a premium car in many ways, but in others it falls short of high- end rivals like the Mini Electric.

I also like to keep the driving mode set to Normal, where the regenerative braking is kept to a minimum and the throttle is permitted to be a lot more responsive. One-pedal driving in Range mode is admittedly very relaxing, but I just can’t get used to how the brakes get overly grabby at slow speeds. Pulling up short at junctions isn’t as big a problem as it was initially, but I’ve yet to manage a reverse park that doesn’t look like a learner driver bunnyhopping unless I swap back into Normal mode.

Short trips are only part of the story, of course. What about longer journeys? My first experience of one, on a recent trip from Surrey to Bristol, wasn’t especially smooth. With two passengers on board and a significant portion of the M4 restricted to 60mph, I was confident of reaching my destination, albeit in Range mode and with plans to top up at the Gridserve chargers that Google Maps assured me had recently been installed at Leigh Delamere services.

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Unfortunately, Google had jumped the gun: the charger was literally being lifted off a lorry as I pulled up, having used considerably more range than anticipated to get there. The Fiat is reasonably efficient at town and city speeds, but anything over 50mph uses a lot more juice. 

The safest move would have been to double back and use the eastbound charger (an 18-mile detour), but with time to spare and a choice of multiple 50kW Geniepoint units a little closer to our destination, I decided to chance it. The first one wasn’t working, of course, despite multiple apps suggesting otherwise, and my remaining range had sunk to just 20 miles. That meant it was time for Sherpa mode, which blunts acceleration even more than Range mode and limits your top speed but ensures the maximum range from what little juice you have remaining.

Miraculously, the second charger was both working and unoccupied, affording us a complete charge in around an hour. I learned my lesson for the return leg, stopping at a little over two-thirds distance in an area well served by multiple fast chargers. It served as a reminder that not only is range anxiety very real but that EVs are only as good as the infrastructure that supports them.

Love it: Convenient climate

The heater controls are on physical buttons that are within easy reach, so there’s no excuse for a cold cabin.

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Loathe it: Grabby brakes

I’ve given up trying to reverse park in Range mode, as the overly keen regenerative braking prevents smooth manoeuvres at low speeds.

Mileage: 1872

Life with a Fiat 500 EV: Month 1

Frosty reception - 12 January 2022

Cold weather hasn’t been kind to the Fiat’s range estimate, which is now hovering around 155 miles on a full charge. On the plus side, not having a massive battery means not having to wait an age to charge it, even on a 7kW connection. I accrued around 25 miles of range on a recent 20-minute shopping trip – far better than the paltry single-digit gains that I’ve seen from larger EVs.

Mileage: 1260

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Welcoming the 500 to the fleet - 5 January 2022

It’s rare that my wife’s reaction to learning what my next long-term test car will be is anything other than indifference, but she was genuinely excited to hear that I would be running an electric Fiat 500 for the next few months.

The fact that we own a petrol-powered Fiat 500 ourselves probably helped. The idea of trying something ‘familiar but different’ is much less intimidating for a non-car person than some of the large SUVs I’ve brought home previously.

Her reaction also speaks volumes about the wide-ranging appeal of Fiat’s retro-chic city car, which is fast approaching its first year on sale in all-electric form. Fiat 500 owners are a diverse bunch, you see. They’re not limited to a single age group or gender, and there’s a great many of them, with the model making regular appearances on best-seller lists across Europe. Given that Fiat hasn’t dramatically mixed up the formula for the all-electric version, that success looks set to continue.

The new 500 sits on an all-new platform that can better accommodate batteries, but it’s only marginally larger than the combustion-engined version. The line-up remains varied, with your choice of hard-top or landaulet, and the styling is definitely more evolution than revolution – albeit with a few modern twists to help the car compete with the growing number of style-led superminis. Size-wise, it rivals the Honda E and Mini Electric, but it can be configured with a big enough battery to challenge larger models, including the Peugeot e-208 and Renault Zoe.

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Our car comes with the larger, 42kWh battery option, which means it should be better suited to longer-distance driving – or at the very least require fewer trips to a plug socket – and an electric motor that delivers 118bhp. That’s almost twice the horsepower of the 1.2-litre petrol unit that propels our own 500.

It arrived with us in mid-range Icon trim, which comes fairly well equipped as standard. Premium touches such as the electronic buttons in place of manual door handles and the pebble-like, soft- touch keyfob remote give a great first impression. The interior also feels like a major improvement over that of the old car, with nicer materials and great attention to detail, like the ‘Made in Torino’ graphical Easter- eggs hiding in the door pockets.

The digital instrument cluster is minimal yet informative, and the accompanying 10.5in infotainment touchscreen gets sharp graphics and fast input responses that are unmatched in the city car class. Happily, the simplified dashboard isn’t completely devoid of physical buttons and makes good use of space to maximise oddments storage. That’s handy, because boot space is just as limited as it is in the petrol-powered 500, and now it has to accommodate both the three-pin and Type 2 charging cables.

Options? Very few. Discounting the Glacier Blue paint (£600) and 17in alloy wheels (£500), the only noteworthy additions are the £450 Winter Pack, which brings a heated windscreen and heated front seats, and £130 wireless smartphone charging function – for once a genuinely useful inclusion, thanks to the presence of wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. There are plenty of larger (and far more expensive) cars that have yet to catch up in this area.

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Icon-spec cars get only parking sensors as standard, instead of cameras, but I don’t expect to feel hard done by: even though the EV has grown a little, it remains a very compact car with excellent all-round visibility. You still sit very high but the driving position isn’t any worse than the petrol 500’s, which is impressive, given that you’re now perched atop a skateboard stuffed with battery cells.

First impressions have been overwhelmingly positive. The 500’s rapid 0-30mph acceleration lets you nip away from traffic lights almost immediately, and it doesn’t feel out of its depth once you reach the motorway – although I’ve yet to see what impact a 70mph cruise will have on range. The seats are comfortable, with just enough leg room for a six-footer, and while overall ride quality seems pretty firm, it’s proving to be an excellent commuter. We will see how it fares over longer distances later: I have a few trips planned that will require a mid-journey charge.

The biggest challenge so far has been learning to judge the regenerative braking, which is minimal in the Normal driving mode but quite forceful in the Range and Sherpa settings. It’s strong enough to turn the 500 into a one-pedal car, but because it gets a lot more sensitiveat slower speeds, I’ve been finding it brings me to a halt just before a junction, rather than at it. This is especially true in reverse, where I would prefer a little more rollback. It can make parking a jerky experience.

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Only a week after I took delivery, the car was called into action for a full road-test review. The fact that I missed it while it was gone certainly bodes well for the next few months.

Second Opinion

Having driven a 500 with the little battery, I think Tom will be grateful for the range of his car. The 24kWh option really is good only for city work, especially in the winter. But what a joyous thing it was when I drove one around Cambridge. It’s hard not to be seduced by the 500’s charm.

Piers Ward

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Fiat 500 42kWh Icon specification

Specs: Price New £28,495 Price as tested £30,175 Options Glacier Blue paint £600, 17in alloy wheels £500, Winter Pack £450, wireless mobile charging £130

Test Data: Engine asynchronous electric motor Battery 42kWh Power 118bhp Torque 162lb ft Kerb weight 1365kg Top speed 93mph 0-62mph 9.0sec Range 199 miles CO2 0g/km Faults None Expenses None

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Comments
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Jimbob997 25 April 2022

As a second car i find the 500e ideal epecially for minor roads in Cornwall. Its miles/kwh, range and performance shame many similar cars costing more. Overall i am very pleased with the car but like the reviewer I am experiencing the reseting of many functions and it is becoming a real issue - affecting charge settings, displays, miles to kms, headlamp sensitivity etc etc. If you look at Fiat forums this is a fairly common problem which effects some more than others. It appears to be weather dependent with bright sunshine affecting the sensors. At present Fiat have no solution and cannot give a date for a software update to correct these issues. Fortunately the resetting has not in anyway affected the ability to drive the car. Regarding range i get about 165 miles when warm and 140 miles when cold which like all EVs falls short of claimed mileage. As for the 5th gear test - who tests CITY cars around a race track? Plus a number of the figures they gave were wrong. Do they test supercars in a city?

gavsmit 9 January 2022

A lot of car magazines raved about the Fiat 500e when launched but I suspected it was a case of style over substance if you concentrate on what really matters and the price of what you're actually getting.

And that suspicion appears to have been correct as a recent 5th Gear Recharged episode rated it as one of the worst small EVs on test when taking into consideration driving experience, practicality, range, performance and value for money.

And rear windows that don't wind down in a £30k car is unforgivable. 

si73 19 January 2022
I don't disagree re overpriced cars in general, but the standard range car is cheaper than its style lead Mini and honda e equivalents with a similar range and no one buys a city car expecting masses of space and practicality, for example a petrol Mini is more expensive than a bigger fiesta and far less practical, and as for the no winding rear windows, I can't think of any 3 door cars with windy rear windows, including 2+2 coupes, I may be wrong but I think a lot of more expensive 2+2 or 2 door coupes have fixed rear windows, Minis are available for more than £30k and without winding rear windows.
shiftright 18 May 2022

There will always be dissenters of course, but generally the reviews have been quite posiive, even in comparos. Also, name a 3 door hatchback or coupe for that matter made in the last decade that has roll down rear windows? That's th weirdest complaint I've heard about a car in a long time.

jason_recliner 18 May 2022

What do you think a reasonable price for a high quality, desirable, electric city car would be?

Stockholm Calling 8 January 2022

Don't want to sound like a stuck record, and I know that prices have gone up a lot, but the monthly pcp payment is far more important a figure than the list price these days. Nobody is going into a Fiat dealer and plonking down 30k cash on a new 500e.