by Roger Biermann
The Fiat 500e is Fiat’s all-electric 500 subcompact hatchback variant. Many refer to the 500e as Fiat’s compliance vehicle, only existing due to the zero-emission vehicle requirements set out by the states of California and Oregon, requiring automakers of a certain size to have at least a small portion of their sales volume come from zero-emission vehicles. The late Sergio Marchionne famously said FCA makes a loss on every 500e sold, and Fiat has hardly given the 500e much time of day from an evolvement perspective. By virtue of this, the 500e lags far behind its many emerging rivals, most notably so in its limited drive range. It does, however, still present its many advantages as a city-centric minicar with its maneuverability around traffic and into tight parking bays, only now with zero emissions. It comes suited with a liquid-regulated battery-electric motor that produces 111 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque channeled to the front wheels through a single-speed automatic transmission, rivaling the ultra-compact Smart ForTwo Electric.
The 500e last benefitted from updates in 2016, which means that the 2018 500e is completely unchanged from the model it replaces. When it debuted in 2013, the 500e boasted a reasonably impressive range of 87 miles. However, six years later, and according to EPA test calculations, that range has dropped slightly to 84 miles for the 2018 model year.
Like the regular Fiat 500, the 500e boasts an iconic retro-Italian design that has been merged with aerodynamic styling. The electrified supermini rides on 15-inch aluminum wheels which can had in a black and orange design, and is set up with daytime running lamps, bi-function halogen projector headlamps, front fog lamps, body-color, power heated side mirrors, and an eco-spoiler.
With a total length of 142.4-inches and a total width of 64.1-in along with a height of 60.1-in, the 500e is one of the smallest all-electric vehicles available on the market but grows in length compared to a standard 500. It maintains the regular 500’s short wheelbase of 90.6-in and presents a curb weight of 2,980 pounds, making it nearly 600 lbs heavier than a conventionally powered 500.
There are six color options available on the 500e palette, these include Vesuvio Black, Granito Gray, Colosseo Gray clear-coat, Pompei Silver, and Luminosa Orange, while Perla White Tri-coat can be selected at an additional cost of $500. The 500e is best suited in the Luminosa Orange which fits its retro-futuristic styling.
Powered by an 83-kilowatt electric motor the 500e front-wheel-drivetrain receives 111 horsepower and 147 pound-feet of torque through a single-speed automatic transmission. This is the only powertrain setup available for the 500e. With the instant torque the electric motor produces, the 500e exhibits energetic acceleration from a standstill. As a result, the 500e manages a 0-60 mph dash of 8.2 seconds. The power inverter module featured in the engine bestows the 500e with quick throttle responses, which aid in immediacy when passing, but the electric motor’s power delivery is really best suited to city use and not highway speeds.
The one advantageous quality the 500e has brought forward over the years is its fun and quirky drive. Because of its compact nature, short wheelbase and proportionately powerful engine, the 500e exhibits fun handling dynamics and appreciable maneuverability in city-like conditions. On straight roads, the steering feels stiff and difficult to effect minor adjustments with. It loosens up through the turns and provides ample feel and feedback. The regenerative brakes are responsive, and for the 500e have been designed to replicate the feel of a gasoline-powered vehicle, a goal at which they succeed in completing. Although the drive is quiet and moderately smooth, it is average at best; as the 500e becomes unsettled on uneven road surfaces and due to its short wheelbase, it experiences larger undulations with some jostling.
In place of a traditional gasoline engine, the 500e features a permanent-magnet, three-phase synchronous-drive electric motor, paired to a single-speed gearbox transmission which earns the 500e EPA estimates of 121/103/112 MPGe in city/highway/combined driving cycles respectively. Its rechargeable 24 kWh liquid-cooled/heated Li-ion battery delivers a range of 84 miles and can be fully charged from empty in under four hours with a 240-volt charger. Range aside, the 500e’s regenerative brakes maximize energy efficiency by utilizing 100 percent of its regenerative capability down to eight mph. Most other electric vehicles are far more efficient and can travel a lot further than the 500e, this could be attributed to the 500e’s compact nature limiting the battery size the small EV can hold.
Comfort levels are decent in the front of the cabin, with well-cushioned and supportive heated front seats that feature position memory, and position the driver ergonomically behind the steering wheel, pedals, and controls, and with good overall visibility. The seating position is tall, however, which in turn leads to a perched feeling while cornering. The rear of the cabin is, however, far less comfortable, presenting very limited leg and headroom. Rear seats would be best used as an expansion to the trunk given they are 50/50-split folding. Cabin quality is better than a regular 500 - with additional dashes of color and available orange accents, while a black headliner adds a sense of luxury.
With highly compact dimensions comes an equivalence of limitations, which the 500e clearly demonstrates in its ridiculously finite trunk and cargo capacity. The tiny seven cubic feet of trunk space is enough room for about a single medium-large luggage case, but is less than the already tiny amount of space in a normal 500, due to the battery pack impeding trunk volume. Folding down the 50/50-split rear seats expands this space to roughly triple the size. Not much more utility is found within the cabin with only a decently spacious glovebox to offer, whilst the door-side pockets are shallow, the front and rear floor-mounted cupholders cramped, and the front-seat back map pockets too much of a tight fit unless there are no rear passengers aboard.
With only one 500e trim, there are a fair few standard equipment features, including ParkSense rear park assist system and ParkView rearview backup camera. Additionally, you’ll find standard air conditioning with automatic temperature control, power door locks and windows, a rearview auto-dimming mirror with microphone, heated leatherette front seats with armrests and position memory, 50/50 split-folding rear seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, and a push-button shifter. A power sunroof can be included at an additional cost of $795.
The 500e features a Uconnect three system with a five-inch touchscreen display tethered to Fiat’s standard six-speaker Alpine audio system. It allows for AM/FM radio, satellite radio, and GPS Navigation compatibility, and offers Integrated Voice Command with Bluetooth functionality. It does not, however, offer Android Auto or Apple CarPlay compatibility. In the center console is the media hub which consists of a single USB and auxiliary port for device connectivity and charging and a 12-volt power outlet. An additional USB port is situated inside of the glovebox. The steering wheel is mounted with audio controls for convenience and the Uconnect three system can be accessed via the Uconnect Access App, which gives the owner some remote capabilities.
Due to Fiat’s efforts at improving the 500 at its base level, the 500e has received no driver complaints and hasn't fallen subject to any recalls for 2018. Fiat offers the 500e with a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty and an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on the electric powertrain, along with four-years roadside assistance.
Only the standard Fiat 500 has been evaluated by the IIHS and NHTSA which is significantly identical to the 500e. The tested model received good scores overall by the IIHS with only the Small Overlap Front Driver Test resulting in a Poor score. The NHTSA hasn’t provided an overall safety ranking but scored the 500 with four out of five stars in the Frontal Crash and Rollover tests. Included in the 500e’s safety repertoire you’ll find seven airbags including a driver’s knee airbag, as well as an audible pedestrian warning system.
As the 500e was created merely to cater to state legislation, it’s been left alone by Fiat, unenhanced in the face of an ever-improving EV-onslaught from other manufacturers. As a result, it has fallen significantly behind in what other EVs have to offer at present. The most notable fallback of the 500e is its poor range of only 84 miles, where other EV’s offer double or even triple that range, such as the Nissan Leaf which delivers up to 151 miles of range on a full charge, while a Bolt offers more than 200 miles on a charge. Other EV’s also offer better utility and a more comfortable drive with more up-to-date technology and inclusive features. What the Fiat 500e does have to offer is its iconic retro-Italian style with a modern flair and its scanty dimensions that give it the maneuverability that makes it such an exceptional city-centric car. Nevertheless, until Fiat boosts what the 500e has to offer in aspects pivotal to EVs, buyers should, for now, look elsewhere in the EV market, perhaps toward the Chevrolet Bolt or Hyundai Kona Electric.
For 2018, the Fiat 500e holds a starting MSRP of $32,995 excluding tax, registration, licensing, and Fiat’s $1,495 destination charge. Owning an emissions-free Fiat 500e comes with a few favorable incentives, including a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 and a Clean Vehicle Rebate of up to $4,500 for buyers in California. Even without these incentives, the 500e presents itself as one of the most affordable all-electric vehicles on the market.
With only one base 500e trim available, Fiat takes the choice out of your hands. Fortunately, because there’s only one trim, Fiat has ensured the 500e is well-equipped. Standard features include the ParkSense rear park assist system, a ParkView rear backup camera, air conditioning with automatic temperature control, power door locks and windows, a rearview auto-dimming mirror with microphone, heated leatherette front seats with armrests and position memory, 50/50 split-folding rear seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, and a push-button shifter. Its 83-kilowatt electric motor delivers 111 horsepower and 147 pound-feet of torque through a single-speed automatic transmission as default and can reach a range of 84 miles on a full charge.
The Chevrolet Bolt EV may be around $5,000 more than the Fiat 500e, but its price is well worth what it has to offer in more than one regard. First of all the Bolt EV, with its larger 60-kWh battery, boasts a range of around 238 miles on a full charge, nearly three times that of the 500e. It is also a whole lot more spacious and practical which would be beneficial to a family and for going on longer journeys. Features and technology in the Bolt EV also surpass those offered by the 500e, the notable ones including a much larger 10.2-inch touchscreen, OnStar communications with a 4G LTE connection and a Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, as well a six-speaker sound system with two USB ports. For the mild price jump, the Chevrolet Bolt EV is well worth considering over the 500e. It is simply a better refined modern day all-electric vehicle.
The 2018 Nissan Leaf is slightly more affordable than the 500e by about $3,000, yet delivers more range at 151 miles on a full charge and boasts advanced safety features such as the ProPilot Assist system, forward collision warning and mitigation with automatic braking, none of which are offered on the 500e. Moving up the trim levels of the Leaf, and at the same cost of the 500e, provides access to a larger seven-inch touchscreen display and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. Even though the rear seats in the Leaf do not fold completely flat, space in the interior cabin and trunk is still more practical than the 500e. The Nissan Leaf becomes the value for money buy in comparison to the 500e, with more standard features and better technology, which is why it is undoubtedly the better option of the two.