The Fiat 500 has undergone an electric evolution. Tom Fraser investigates whether it makes the iconic hatchback a more attractive option, or if it’s a change for the worse.
- Powertrain has more zip than you expect
- Cute little design details
- Very energy efficient
- Hard plastics a letdown at this price point
- Firm ride quality
- Three-year warranty only
I’m not sure whether it’s by design or by happenstance, but Drive has managed to match its tallest employee with the country’s smallest car. You see, I’m 194cm tall (or 6ft 4in) and the Fiat 500e is just about the tiniest car you’ll see on sale today in Australia.
Joke or not, I’m determined to give the new electrified Fiat 500e a good run for its expensive outlay. You see, the Fiat 500e La Prima is double the price of the old petrol-powered Fiat 500e – making what was once a niche offering even more pigeonholed to a very small subset of buyers.
It competes with some pretty polished competition such as the equally fashion-forward Mini Cooper SE, as well as value-packed newcomer small electric cars out of China such as the MG 4 and BYD Dolphin. Let’s find out whether the iconic Fiat 500e still has a certain je ne sais quoi into its new electric era.
How much does the Fiat 500e cost in Australia?
The Fiat 500e is offered in Australia in a single high-specification model grade called La Prima and it costs $52,500 before on-road costs. While the new generation is now electric only, the previous petrol model also lines up next to it in showrooms.
In place of the old tiny petrol engine is a tiny electric motor that powers the front wheels. Outputs are 87kW and 220Nm, which is fed by a 42kWh battery array. Fiat says it’ll travel 311km on a charge, and it’ll take just over 30 minutes to charge from zero to 80 per cent at a maximum rate of 85kW.
It’s priced similarly to longer-range and larger electric-car rivals such as the BYD Atto 3 and Hyundai Kona Electric.
Buyers could also opt for the sportier Abarth 500e electric hatch that is closer to the $60,000 price mark. However, that car’s still to come to our local market.
But as for the 500e La Prima, it’s pricey for such a small car. Especially considering it’s about twice the price of its petrol-powered predecessor.
Specs-wise, it gets a 10.25-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a panoramic sunroof, front and rear parking sensors, ‘eco’ man-made leather, and heated front seats.
Whereas the old car was cheap and cheerful, this car relies far more on its electric underpinnings and an ingrained sense of style to push it closer to the premium end of the spectrum.
Thankfully, the brand has kept the iconic styling of the original. It’s still bubble-shaped using short overhangs at either end, while the cute big headlights are accented at the front by eyelash day-time running lights.
There are lashings of chrome trim down the side and sunken door handles, while our car sports a set of 17-inch alloy wheels. On its rear guard sits a CCS charge connector in place of a regular fuel filler.
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|2023 Fiat 500e La Prima
|$52,500 plus on-road costs
|Colour of test car
|Price as tested
|$52,500 plus on-road costs
|Mini Cooper SE | Mazda MX-30 | Hyundai Kona Electric
How much space does the Fiat 500e have inside?
Folding my 194cm self into the driver’s seat and organising a nice driving position isn’t the simplest procedure, but it’s far better than its predecessor.
But it’s a light and airy space once you’re inside (with thanks to the glass roof), and the general light-hearted feel totally matches the 500e’s laidback nature.
Firstly, in terms of space, you’ve got decent adjustment to find a nice driving position, and the steering wheel is now tilt and reach adjustable. However, there’s no footrest to rest your left foot while driving, and quite a cramped fotwell, which is very annoying and especially on the freeway.
Storage-wise, there’s not a ton of space to store your loose items, but we do have a lidded centre console bin with USB-A and -C ports, a little cubby underneath with a cupholder-sized hole, and a slot up on the dash for the wireless phone charger.
Fiat might suggest the pop-open cupholder will hold a drink, but the ergonomics of placing a coffee cup down there are horrendous – this car basically has no cupholders as a result.
You’ll note this car doesn’t have a transmission tunnel, so there’s a wide-open space between the two front seats lending a spacious feel to the front row – odd to say about a tiny hatchback, I know.
Instead of a conventional gear selector, the Fiat 500e uses buttons on the dash that aren’t always quick to register a press. I had several instances where I was trying on a three-point turn, and had to press the button more than once to engage reverse gear.
Materials use is not this car’s strong suit, which is a shame considering the expensive purchase price. The door cards comprise hard plastics, which can hurt your arm if you enjoy leaning on the door like me, and it does not match the 500’s European character.
The seats are covered in a man-made leather fabric that smells a bit funny, though I’d imagine the waft subsides the longer you own the car.
Fiat has included some cool Easter eggs, like the Fiat script etched into the seat’s stitching and you can see little ‘Made in Torino’ motifs inside the door pulls.
I spent about 40 seconds in the second row before deciding it wasn’t the space for me. It’s extremely tight and no one will enjoy sitting back there. However, kudos to Fiat for including four seats for emergencies.
Lift the rear hatch and the boot fits 185 litres with the rear seats up. Tiny, as to be expected. Drop the 50:50-folding rear seats and the capacity boosts to 550L. Unfortunately, there’s no space underneath the front bonnet like you’ll see on some other electric cars, and the car only has a tyre repair kit for flat-tyre emergencies.
|2023 Fiat 500e La Prima
|185L seats up
550L seats folded
Does the Fiat 500e have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto?
I had a bit of trouble early on with this car’s 10.25-inch infotainment, which operated a bit laggy and wouldn’t connect my phone up to either Bluetooth or wireless Apple CarPlay.
However, it did eventually start working as intended, and I discovered it’s a fairly simple system to get your head around. It has digital radio and native satellite navigation easily accessed using shortcuts on the side of the screen, and you can skip between certain functions using the band of icons at the top.
There’s a cute 7.0-inch digital cluster in front of the driver that shows speed information, charge data, different displays, and a live feed of whether the battery is depleting or charging (using the regenerative braking system).
It’s designed to look like the original 500’s circular gauge cluster, which is a touching throwback.
Is the Fiat 500e a safe car?
The Fiat 500e has been safety-scored by ANCAP and received a four-star result in late 2022. This was based on testing by Euro NCAP in 2021.
Separating out the 500e’s individual scores, the car earned a 78 per cent result for adult occupant protection, 79 per cent child occupant protection, 67 per cent for vulnerable road users and 67 per cent for safety assistance systems.
What safety technology does the Fiat 500e have?
Fiat has vastly improved the safety characteristics of this new-generation Fiat 500e compared to its predecessor, which is helped by a selection of active safety measures.
It gets autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-centring assist for the adaptive cruise-control system, traffic-jam assist, driver attention alert, blind-spot monitoring, traffic sign recognition, and tyre pressure monitoring.
Dual frontal, side chest-protecting, and side head-protecting (curtain) airbags are standard and the total count is six. But passive safety does not include the important centre airbag to protect front passengers’ heads from clashing together.
How much does the Fiat 500e cost to maintain?
Fiat offers a very ordinary three-year/150,000km warranty for the 500e, and it’s one of the few car makers to still offer a basic three-year plan whereas its rivals have moved to the unofficial five-year standard. The high-voltage battery itself is warranted until eight years or 160,000km, whichever comes first.
The car is covered off by a three-year roadside assistance plan.
Services intervals are every 15,000km or 12 months, and cost $250 per visit for the first eight years.
|At a glance
|2023 Fiat 500e La Prima
|Three years, 150,000km
|Eight years, 160,000km
|12 months or 15,000km
|$750 (3 years)
$1250 (5 years)
Is the Fiat 500e energy-efficient?
Fiat claims the Fiat 500e will run 311km on a full charge, and I never saw anything like that on the car’s projected range. The most I saw was about 250km with a 99 per cent charge capacity.
However, I think the Fiat’s computer is just being modest. I managed to beat the claimed energy consumption of 14.4kWh per 100 kilometres, registering an indicated 12–13kWh/100km consumption over a variety of freeway and suburban stretches. That’s among the most efficient electric vehicles on the market.
I re-energised the car with a variety of 50kW and 250kW chargers throughout the week and managed to get the car’s maximum 85kW rate out of a Tesla Supercharger.
|Energy cons. (claimed)
|Energy cons. (on test)
|Driving range claim (WLTP)
|Charge time (11kW)
|Charge time (50kW)
|Charge time (85kW max rate)
|35min (claimed 10–80%)
What is the Fiat 500e like to drive?
Spend time behind the 500e’s big steering wheel and it quickly becomes apparent that this is a fun car to drive around, but only in certain areas.
With just 87kW and 220Nm sent through the front wheels, the Fiat doesn’t raise eyebrows after reading its spec sheet, but it feels way perkier on the road and zips through traffic with ease.
It feels like the 500e arguably does its best work punching away from a set of traffic lights, but then the roll-on acceleration is surprisingly spicy too.
The throttle is responsive and burying your foot results in a surge of power whenever called upon, while the spritely acceleration ensures you can shoot between corners swiftly. When it comes time to wash off speed, the brakes are reassuringly effective no matter the road’s condition.
There were a couple of instances in my week with the car where I had to come to a halt quickly in the wet – the autonomous safety systems were well attuned to the surroundings and the car’s brakes bite down hard.
To drive around town, it’s a very nimble light hatch, and I enjoyed the sensation of being able to complete U-turns without a three-point manoeuvre (the turning circle is just 9.7m).
The hard leather steering wheel is light and easy to twirl, and while it’s a system devoid of feel, it is very easy to place the car on the road. It surely wanders within a lane given its tiny footprint, but it remains steady and doesn’t get beaten around by wind buffeting from other cars.
Down on the centre console arrangement is a switch to cycle through three drive modes: Normal, Range and Sherpa. There’s no sporty driving mode, just ones that extend the car’s ability to hold onto battery charge by switching off air-conditioning, limiting top speed, etc.
One downside to the 500e’s character is the hard-edged suspension quality. It runs into road joins and cracked bitumen without softening off the initial hard impacts and larger bumps aren’t well absorbed by the system. It feels far too firm overall for what the car should be doing.
It’ll also transmit a lot of road noise through to the cabin, which becomes especially tiresome during long freeway stints.
But, on the whole, the driving experience of this electric Fiat 500 is every bit as enjoyable as its petrol-powered predecessors.
|2023 Fiat 500e La Prima
|Single electric motor
|Spare tyre type
|Tyre repair kit
Should I buy a Fiat 500e?
The Fiat 500e is a cool electric adaptation of an Italian classic. I love the styling and design, I’m a fan of the perky driving quality, and it punches above its weight grade in terms of electric efficiency.
But this is the nichest of niche plays and will only appeal to select buyers. The scary price tag will have interested buyers scratching their heads wondering if it’s worth it, and this factor is arguably the biggest deterrent to the car’s success.
It does have a charming appeal, but it’ll only find favour with a select few.
How do I buy a Fiat 500e – next steps?
Buyers looking for even more pep out of the Fiat 500e experience might want to wait until 2024 for the Abarth 500e to drop locally, but the 500e La Prima is the sole model grade you can buy in Australia for now.
Fiat confirms that stock levels of the 500e La Prima are good and customers can check in with their local dealership about availability. The next steps on the purchase journey are to check the Fiat website for stock. You can also find Fiats for sale at Drive.com.au/cars-for-sale.
If you want to stay updated with everything that’s happened to this car since our review, you’ll find all the latest news here.