Compact electric SUV wades in with design flair, a useful range and reasonable pricing – and shuns the bloat of many modern family cars

The new Fiat 600e is an Italian car. Stellantis most certainly won’t let you forget it, and you can’t really blame it for wanting to push that point.

After all, this is the land that gave us da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Dante, ‘Nino’ Farina, Valentino Rossi, the Colosseum, central heating, those strappy gladiator-style sandals, tricolore salad, pizza, pasta, Valentino Rossi, Gucci, Versace, Ducati, Vespa, Ferrari, Maserati, Lancia, Lamborghini, Valentino Rossi and – obviously - Fiat. And Valentino Rossi. To name but a few of Italy’s resoundingly epic ‘things’.

The 600e doesn’t get the 500e’s electric door-release buttons, and that’s probably a good thing: the good, old-fashioned mechanical door handles are where you expect them to be, and open the door as you expect them to do.

This is nothing if not a colourful, charismatic and dramatic heritage to draw on, and Fiat is absolutely right to shout about it from the top of its historic Lingotto test track, while supping espresso, eating gelato and looking effortlessly fabulous.

So, in deference to that, there isn’t only an Italian flag embossed on the 600e’s rounded rear bumper, but there will also be no grey cars here. Fiat will not bow to the universal trend to paint every car in a variety of shades from the conservative end of the Farrow & Ball neutrals collection. Good on you, Fiat. I’d rather have my 600e in blue ‘Sky of Italy’ or orange ‘Sun of Italy’, or grey ‘Earth of…'. Hang on. No. Surely not. No, it is. That really is a grey Fiat, cunningly dubbed ‘sand – Earth of Italy.’

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Oh, well: Clearly, cunning marketing puff is also an Italian trait. Italy’s still very cool, and so is the Fiat 600e, in its own way. It's a larger, compact five-door crossover sibling to the Fiat 500 and there’s no missing the 500-inspired smooth surfacing and cheerful, round-eyed expression, which perhaps looks more proportionate than it does on the Fiat 500X, if (some might argue) a little feminine given that it appears to have a heavy-lidded gaze and dramatic eyeliner.

The upright body shape is a deliberate thing, too, as space and comfort are very much at the forefront of the 600e’s remit – a deliberate contrast to the blocky, 'almost-ruggedness' of the Jeep Avenger that shares the same e-CMP2 architecture and 51kWh (usable) battery. A hybrid version will also join the range in 2024 and, for a few years, both will be sold alongside the outgoing Fiat 500X that the 600e will, eventually, replace.

As with the Jeep Avenger, the Fiat 600e is refreshingly compact. At 4.17m long, it splits the difference between bigger rivals like the MG 4 and smaller alternatives like the Renault Zoe, striking a happy medium between parking smugness and big-mile maturity.

Welcome, then, to the Fiat 600e. The latest all-electric Fiat to join the fold, complete with a 154bhp electric motor driving the front wheels, and good for a WLTP range of up to 254 miles, DC charging speeds of up to 100kW, and a 0-62mph mooch of 9.0sec. A sports hatch, this is not.

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But then, we’ve sort of had enough of unnecessarily rapid electric cars gunning about the place, so the 600e’s unashamed focus on comfort, efficiency and style is fine by us. The interior dash fascia is ultimately the same as that in the Jeep Avenger, but that’s no bad thing.

The painted insert – a smart, matt, ivory colour in top-spec La Prima that matches the cream and electric blue leatherette upholstery very nicely – draws your eye but doesn’t look tacky, and all the major touch points feel pleasantly tactile. Sure, some of the plastics lower down feel cheap, and the magnetic, flip and fold cubby cover that’s reminiscent of an iPad case may not be to everyone’s tastes but we don’t mind it.

It all looks modern and not boring, and – praise be to the gods of ergonomics (pretty sure they’re German and not Italian) – there are physical air-con controls. The new 10.25in Uconnect touchscreen infotainment isn’t bad, either. The graphics are clear, it’s easy to hop between functions, and you get wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, even on the lower-rung 600e (RED) model.

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It's a decently practical small family car too. Not as spacious as the Cupra Born or VW ID 3, or even the MG 4 and Nissan Leaf, but not far off those last two at all, and it’s a bit more compact and – at 1520kg – not too hefty by the standards of family EVs.

You’ll still get an average-sized adult sat comfortably behind a tall driver, or two chunky car seats will slot in just fine. The 360-litre boot will also serve the purpose for light family motoring and/or medium-sized dog duties, although it’s annoying that the variable boot floor isn’t standard on the base 600e. This feature lifts the boot floor to be flush with the load lip and the 60/40 split rear seat backs when they’re folded, and it creates some useful underfloor cable storage.

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Anyway, despite the humdrum 0-62mph, the 600e has plenty of vim around town and right up to country road speeds. It can feel a bit wheezy if you ask for an overtake and when you’re already up to a decent speed. Also, if you’re in Eco mode, the performance and accelerator pedal response are really quite strangled. But in Normal or Sports mode, and in any kind of everyday driving, it’s got more than adequate performance for a satisfying ebb and flow. Brake regeneration is mild in the default setting and there’s a heavier alternative via the B drive mode, which is not quite a one-pedal mode but does make for easy and efficient about-town pottering. There’s no adaptive brake regen on the Fiat 600e.

It’s confident on the motorway too, both in terms of maintaining speed and in delivering decent directional stability, so it all feels grown-up enough to be a decent commuter or higher-mileage family slogger, if that’s what you’re after.

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Ride comfort is cushy and controlled, even on the 18in wheels of the Fiat 600e La Prima that we drove around Turin – where the launch was held, even though (whisper it) the 600e is actually made in Poland…

Coarse surfaces and high-frequency undulations are transmitted more through suspension noise than actual movement in the cabin, but there’s not too much shiver through the body. Bigger bumps are noticeable but don’t have the car lurching or jarring even over mid-corner intrusions. It’s only with larger, sharp-edged potholes that you get a heavy thunk.  

The steering is very light, but it’s quick enough and gains a predictable, reassuring heft as you steer through faster bends, so while it’s not feelsome or engaging, it is satisfying enough on a good road, and pleasantly wieldy elsewhere.

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Pricing and equipment are good enough. The 600e (RED) is a tempting buy at £32,995, especially as it gets the basics like rear parking sensors, auto LED lights, climate control, cruise control and that touchscreen infotainment system. However, most buyers will go for La Prima, despite the £4000 price jump, because you get heated seats, adaptive cruise control, keyless entry, in-built TomTom nav, and all the comfort and tech stuff that most people want.

Notably, you also get a heat pump as standard, which should help to deliver decent winter range, and is a pricey option on plenty of the Fiat’s rivals, including the VW ID 3. Certainly, our summer drive over a combination of delightfully tortuous medieval Italian town roads and faster mountain routes returned a figure of 4.3mpkWh – good for 220 miles. We’d estimate that you could eke that up to 240 miles in the summer without getting out the EV geek’s ‘how to hyper-mile’ guide, and we’d expect that to drop to around 180 miles or so in winter running.

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Overall, the Fiat 600e is an endearingly rounded package, both literally and metaphorically. But the MG 4 continues to make all electric cars in this crowded £30,000-£35,000-ish sector look overpriced, of course, while the Jeep Avenger – though pricier – has rather more muscle to its appearance and is a bit more engaging to drive.

The Fiat, then, fits into the portfolio as the good-value, comfy option in the Stellantis constellation of family EVs. It does feel a little like it’s lacking a USP, which is worrying in such a competitive market, and the feverishness with which Fiat's people are pushing the Italian style and heritage message suggests that they know it. But if you like the looks, then the usability, range and value that the 600e offers are all hard to knock.