Fully electric Fiat 500 e EV will not only make your wallet happy, but also will come in handy during traffic jams because of its small size
10/20/14 12:04 pm chumakdenis 1
The Fiat 500e is every bit as cute as the gas-powered Fiat 500. It uses a 24 kilowatt-hour liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack, providing an estimated 80 miles of range under typical driving conditions. The Fiat 500e is widely considered a "compliance" car produced only in small numbers to meet California regulations.
Clever marketing about EV sex appeal, but production is limited
Base MSRP - $32,600
Est. tax credit - $7500
Body type - sedan
Seats - 4
Range - 87 miles
EPA range - 87 miles pure electric
Battery size - 24kWh
Charging rate - 6.6 kW
The Italian urban chic styling of the all-electric Fiat 500e stands apart from the geeky gizmo aesthetic of many small electric cars, including the popular Nissan LEAF. In fact, Fiat’s director of product marketing, Matt Davis, took a cheap shot at the LEAF iat the launch event for the Fiat 500e. "Let's be honest, ugliness is probably one of the worst forms of pollution," said Davis. "The Fiat 500e proves that you do not have to give up on good looks to deliver an electric car."
The only clues that the electric 500 is visually different than the attractive gas versions are a few design flourishes. Brandon Faurote, head of Chrysler and Fiat brand design for North America, told us, “We didn’t want to shout electric.”
So, you’ll see what he calls a “dot matrix aesthetic” in a grill that drops to the bottom of the front and rear fascias, and the liberal use of an orange signature color. Faurote calls the electric’s design more "masculine and sinister" - but the car is too stylish and cute to really be sinister.Imagine those plastic Croc shoes on wheels.
The dashboard is simple, well designed and highly functional. (Although, it takes a minute to get used to window buttons on the center stack, and seat levers in the middle, rather than positioned on the outside.)
The 500e' smaller platform cuts the LEAF’s weight by 600 pounds - but Fiat uses a motor that’s the same size as the Nissan compact electric vehicle. Actually, the 500e is a pinch more powerful at 83 kilowatts (or 111 horsepower) rather than the LEAF’s 80 kilowatts (110 horsepower).
“You get more kilowatts per pound. It’s literally accelerating faster,” said Brett Giem, the 500e’s chief engineer, told us. Based on our test drive, we found the 500e noticeably quicker and more maneuverable than the LEAF. It was a blast tossing the small electric two-seater around the crowded city streets, hills and highways of L.A.
The motor is calibrated for some tire chirp on launch, and a smooth ramp up to about 15 miles per hour. And then it lets loose with a surge of quiet electric power. “The car loves 45 miles per hour,” said Giem. “It just lives there - based on driving dynamics, the ability to accelerate, and how it beats other cars on the road.”
“This is not an electric car,” said Matt Davis, head of Fiat brand marketing, over and over again. That was his cute way of explaining that Fiat 500 shoppers entering dealerships will get a pitch to switch to the EV. According to Davis, marketing the 500e to the EV crowd would be like using a “scalpel” to slice off a tiny fraction of a small market. The idea is to openly cannibalize their own Fiat 500 internal combustion customers, convincing them that Fiat 500 fun when mashing gears and a hearing a signature exhaust note (especially in the Abarth version) is even more fun when it's quick, silent and free of emissions.
No eco modes. No dashboard monitors (except for the Tom-Tom navigation device that comes standard) No braking coaches or leaves for efficient braking. Same amount of creep as in the gas 500. No L or B gears (because engineers said the regen braking is already maxed out, even when not overly grabby.)
The small lightweight format does bounce a bit over the road. Road noise is minimal. Highway driving is solid, but it’s clearly a commuter car with only reasonably comfortable seats, rather than a cushy long-distance cruiser. Visibility is generally good, although rear and side mirrors are small.
Engineers did a great job guarding passengers from any motor whine. It’s whisper quiet, in part due to acoustic glass used in the windshield - one of several innovations applied to the EV that will likely be carried to future versions of the gas-powered 500.
Efficiency and range
The 500e’s low weight advantage - which gives it a zippy drive - also helps with efficiency and driving range. Its liquid-cooled 24 kilowatt-hour battery pack batteries will reliably deliver its E.P.A. estimated 87 miles on a single charge, or darn close. Official city mileage is 122 MPGe, and 108 MPGe on the highway.
While the 500e provides a guess-timate of remaining driving range, Fiat designers add either an arrow pointing up to indicate that you are likely, based on how you’re driving, to beat that guess - or an arrow pointing down to indicate that you probably won’t get the indicated remaining range in the battery.
In our drive of the Fiat 500e, we managed 43 miles of raucous mixed driving - speedy switchbacks through Topanga Canyon, along the Pacific Coast Highway, and through the streets of Venice - using 48 percent of the pack. The very simple dashboard cluster, designed to be as normal as the gas version of the Fiat 500, clearly indicates percentage state of charge. That’s a very helpful feature - and in our time with the car - indicated that the estimated 87 miles of range is a good expectation for real-world range.
A full charge via the car's 6.6-kW charger takes about four hours. That has become the standard for EVs - and the Fiat 500e meets that bogey (avoiding the shortcoming of those electric cars that only offer the slower 3.3-kW capability). You’ll want a 240-volt home charging station rated at 30 amps to take full advantage of the 500e’s charging capability, which adds about 20 to 25 miles of range in an hour of charging.
Fiat elected not to offer Quick Charge capability on the 500e. We don’t see this as a major setback. Yet, the 50 kW public chargers that can bring an EV from empty to about 80 percent full in 20 to 30 minutes is a no-go for the all-electric 500.
Fiat uses the filler-door location in the back right to situate the charging port. That could cause some problems with charging cord management, but the car is small enough that most charging spots should not be a problem. There’s no light in the port, but the inlet
materials are bright orange, making them visible in low-light situations.
Obviously, the 500e is a very small car. It offers two doors, a minimal backseat, and a merely adequate cargo space in the hatch. If you have a family, or expect to put anybody except small children in the back for any length of time, you should pay special attention to leg room (or lack thereof) in the back seat. Visit a dealership, climb in back, and stay there for several minutes to experience it for yourself.
Unlike some other EVs, most notably the Ford Focus Electric , the Fiat 500e stores batteries beneath the cabin, rather than eating into already limited passenger and cargo space. (Ford plug-in hybrids and the Accord PHEV also take bites into trunk space.) But Fiat said the pack fits “low and aft” under the floor, starting at the front seats and extending a foot behind the rear axle, by raising the floor a half-inch and giving up a few inches of ground clearance. By virtue of the pack, the 500e is, according to the company, 20 percent stiffer (and 10 percent quieter than the gas 500).
Anyway you look at it, the Fiat 500e has limited passenger and cargo space. The car is great for single, or even duo, urban commuters taking shorty daily trips. But road trips are another matter.
All models of the 2014 Fiat 500, including the 500e, get “Good” ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in all categories, except the recently unveiled front overlap test. Good is IIHS’s highest score. Unfortunately, the IIHS gave the 500 a “Poor” score on the front overlap test, which tries to replicate what happens when the front corner of a car collides with another vehicle, or with an object like a tree, at 40 miles per hour.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the gas-powered Fiat 500 its top rating of five stars for side crash, and four stars for both the frontal crash and rollover tests. The overall rating from NHTSA was four stars. The agency has not yet tested the 500e.
The Fiat 500e has a base price of $31,800, not including a destination charge of $800. That effectively brings the price to $32,600, but in California - the only place where the electric 500 is sold, dealerships offer a $2,000 incentive. The math starts getting crazy when you take another $10,500 out in combined federal tax credits and California rebates, dropping the price below $20,000.
Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne frequently complains that the company loses $10,000 or more on each sale.
Options like the $500 Electric Orange paint, and the $500 eSport package can send the price back up by $1,000 or more.
Perhaps more importantly, Fiat set a compelling lease price of $199 a month, a $999 down payment. The federal tax incentive is built into the lease, but considering the $2,500 California rebate that goes into your pocket, the lease could be as low as $170 a month.
Fiat 500e owners, and lease holders, have the opportunity to rent any vehicle at Enterprise for one day a month at no cost. Drivers can bank 12 days worth of rentals a year, mitigating worries that Fiat EV owners won't be able to take road trips a few times a year.
Comared to other cars
While Nissan offers a similar attractive lease deal like the one offered by Fiat for the 500e, the LEAF is simply more car - offering significantly more passenger and cargo room. A shift from the LEAF to the 500e would be based on wanting an EV that could be more easily tossed around city streets, and one with more visual pizazz.
The Mitsubishi i-MiEV would be a candidate for buyers seeking rock-bottom EV prices, but it comes at the cost of diminished range and weaker driving characteristics. The Smart Electric Drive is also not exactly exciting to drive, but is the only electric with a convertible top. Perhaps the closest competition to the 500e is the Chevy Spark EV, which provides the most exhilarating ride of the small EV pack - but doesn’t provide nearly the same chic looks as the Fiat.
The BMW i3 is significantly more expensive, and the Honda Fit EV is made in very low numbers and is only available for lease.
How can I buy Fiat 500e EV?
The Fiat 500e is only available in California. Fiat's 500e website provides a wealth of tools to build and price a desired model - and locate a suitable dealership. Specific inventory is listed on the site. There is also a price quote tool.