by Roger Biermann
Electrifying the 500 range is the 2019 Fiat 500e, a two-door, pure electric hatchback offered as a stand-alone, well-equipped trim and available in California and Oregan. Its 83-kilowatt liquid-regulated battery-electric motor produces 111 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque channeled to the front wheels through a single-speed automatic transmission. New electric vehicles are debuted every year with improved range and functionality, and with the Fiat 500e maintaining its obsolete specs and having to go up against a host of contending rivals such as the Nissan Leaf and Volkswagen e-Golf, it'll be a tough option to consider. In comparison to other EVs, the 500e falls short in many aspects, specifically in its range, with rivals surpassing its estimated range by two or three times, it also lags in infotainment and safety features. Unlike other EVs in the market that portrays a prominent "drag" feeling with the release of the accelerator pedal, the 500e is designed to feel like a regular gasoline-powered Cinquecento, while still immediately regenerating power.
The Fiat 500e enters 2019 with no changes from last year's model. It has, in fact, remained relatively unchanged since its debut in 2013.
Single Speed Automatic
The 500e is aerodynamically styled, with a wind-tunnel-sculpted shape, with retro-futuristic dot-matrix styled cues for a cutting-edge appearance while still holding on to its iconic retro-Italian appeal. The hatchback sits on 15-inch painted aluminum wheels and features daytime running lamps, bi-function halogen projector headlamps, front fog lamps, body-color, power heated side mirrors, and an eco spoiler.
The Fiat 500e is one of the smallest EVs on the market. With a total body height of 60.1 inches and a width of 64.1 inches, it spans a mere 142.4 inches in length, making it even shorter than the gasoline 500 overall, while the wheelbase remains identical at 90.6 inches. It's a lot heavier than the gasoline 500, with a curb weight of 2,980 pounds.
The 500e is available in six colors including Vesuvio Black, Granito Gray, Colosseo Gray clear-coat, Pompei Silver, and Luminosa Orange. For an additional $500 the Perla White Tri-coat can be selected. The Luminosa Orange best complements the retro-futuristic design and dot-matrix style cues of the 500e exterior.
The Fiat 500e is powered by an 83-kilowatt electric motor that generates 111 horsepower and 147 pound-feet of torque, which is channeled to the front wheels through a single-speed automatic transmission. This is the only engine and transmission option available for the 500e. The ample levels of torque impart a peppy drive-away feel from a standstill, while the power inverter module provides a quick accelerator pedal response throughout the drive for quick passing power and smoothly reaching highway speeds. The 500e motors up to 60 mph in a reasonably quick for its class time of 8.2 seconds.
The 500e is one of the more excitable EVs on the market with its liberal balance and eagerness in taking turns. Although the steering wheel feels heavy during linear driving, it loosens up pleasantly and provides ample feedback through corners. Braking is firm and responsive and the laggy feeling usually exhibited by regenerative brakes is by design nonexistent in the 500e. Drive quality overall is gentle and quiet, although the suspension delivers a more unsettled ride on uneven surfaces and its short wheelbase allows for some jostling over larger undulations.
On a full charge, the 500e can motor on for a range of around 84 miles. The regenerative brakes do, in most cases, use 100 percent of its regenerative capabilities all the way down to eight mph to maximize the vehicle's efficiency. The 83-kilowatt electric motor paired with the single-speed gearbox transmission earns EPA estimates of 121/103/112 MPGe in city/highway/combined driving cycles respectively. The rechargeable 24-kWh lithium-ion battery takes around 24 hours to fully charge from empty through a typical 120-volt outlet, while a level two charger will complete the charge in about four hours.
The front cabin is spacious in all regards, and the reclining front seats are heated and include a position memory feature, distinctive headrests, and an easy entry pull handle. The driver is seated comfortably with good overall visibility and positioning behind the steering wheel and pedals. The 500e is easier to live with if you think of it as a two-seater vehicle, as the rear seats are highly cramped and best used as an expansion to the trunk.
As is expected with the dainty 500e, trunk and cargo capacity are limited. At seven cubic feet, it can fit about a single large luggage case, which is roughly tripled in space with the 50/50-split folding rear seats down. In-cabin storage is no more impressive, with the glovebox being the only spacious compartment in the car. The door-side pockets are shallow, and the front and rear floor-mounted cupholders cramped, while the front-seat back map pockets are a tight fit.
The most notable feature in the 500e is the Uconnect Access App, which allows 500e owners to access the onboard Uconnect three system via their mobile device to control some basic vehicle functions like remote locking and temperature controls. Because the 500e is a stand-alone model, it has been well-equipped with features including rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, remote locking, automatic climate control, cruise control, manually adjustable heated front seats with driver-side height adjustment, premium vinyl upholstery, a leather-wrapped and tilt-adjustable steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and 50/50-split folding rear seats. A power sunroof can be added at an additional cost of $795 and a combination of Nero (black) and Steam (white) interior accents can be optioned for an additional $395.
Infotainment in the 500e is modest, comprising a Uconnect three system in a five-inch touchscreen display with AM/FM radio, satellite radio, GPS Navigation, and Integrated Voice Command with Bluetooth functionality. The system is hooked up to the standard Fiat six-speaker Alpine audio system, and for device connectivity and charging, the media hub in the center console holds a single USB and auxiliary port and 12-volt power outlet, and an additional USB port in the glovebox. The infotainment system does not allow for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality.
No recalls have been commissioned by Fiat for the 2019 500e model and no complaints have been logged by drivers of the 2019 model. The most-reported model was the 2015 Fiat 500e for a fried charger cable, it was also ranked the worst model based on several factors: fortunately, reliability has improved since. Fiat offers the 500e with a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty and an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on the powertrain, along with four-years' roadside assistance.
The Fiat 500e has not yet been evaluated by either the NHTSA or the IIHS, however, the standard variation of the 500 range, which is somewhat identical, has been tested. This 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.
When comparing the Fiat 500e to its rival all-electric competitors, it is clear the 500e has a lot of catching up to do. As a stand-alone all-electric variant of the 500 range, it has received minimal attention since its inception in 2013. This is because of Fiat introducing the 500e only to adhere to the zero-emission vehicle requirements set out by the Californian and Oregon state authorities. Automakers of a certain size need at least a small portion of their sales volume to come from zero-emission vehicles, which is why the 500e is considered a compliance vehicle. Unfortunately, this is also why the 500e is so subpar in comparison to alternative EVs out there, especially in terms of range. So, while the 500e has been somewhat neglected, it still offers the iconic design loved by Fiat fans and the nimble and maneuverability that makes it such a legendary city vehicle. It is also relatively affordable and cost-efficient, and because the 500 has never been a long distance journey-maker in any way, purchasing the 500e would be a great way for avid Fiat 500 enthusiasts to move into the all-electric realm.
The Fiat 500e holds a starting MSRP of $33,210 excluding tax, registration, licensing, and Fiat's $1,495 destination charge. Notably, the 500e also comes with a normative $7,250 rebate and buyers are eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500. California buyers are eligible for the Clean Vehicle Rebate of up to $4,500, subject to income limitations. Considering all these pricing factors, the 500e is one of the most affordable all-electric vehicles available on the market.
By reason of the 500e being a stand-alone all-electric variant, it is featured with only a single, well-equipped trim. The 500e has attractive elements at its base price level, with substantial safety features such as an audible pedestrian warning system and ParkSense rear park assist system. Other appreciable features include heated front premium leatherette bucket seats and the driver- and front-passenger-seat memory. It can be cosmetically customized with the eSport Package, which gears the 500e with Nero (Black) trimmed lights, black painted and orange-accented aluminum wheels, and orange mirror caps with a body-side stripe for $495.
Right off the bat, the base Nissan Leaf S trim is offered at a lower starting MSRP of $29,990 and holds a larger 110-kW electric motor that generates 147 hop and 236 pound-feet of torque, which, when fully charged, can deliver up to 150 miles of range, a full 66 miles more than the 500e. Beyond that of the 500e the Leaf also holds more standard safety and driver assist features, including forward collision warning with automatic braking. Moving up to the higher level, Leaf trims include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, which the 500e doesn't even offer as an option. Also available with the Leaf is a DC fast-charger port that can recharge a depleted battery from zero to 80% in just 40 minutes. The Nissan Leaf clearly holds the upper hand over the Fiat 500e in more than just a few aspects.
The VW e-Golf is slightly more affordable than the 500e, with a 35.8-kWh battery pack and a 115-hp, 214 pound-feet electric motor. This motor on a full charge delivers 125 miles of range, 41 more miles than the 500e. The base level SE trim also comes standard with a 7.2-kW onboard charger with DC fast-charging capability. Technology in the VW surpasses the 500e by a mile as it features Volkswagen Car-Net Security and Service remote services, an eight-inch touchscreen, and most notably Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. The 500e overtakes the VW in its standard safety features, such as the audible pedestrian warning system and ParkView rear park assist system, while the VW requires the addition of the optional Driver Assistance Package to receive just these features. In this comparison, the 500e may have more appreciable standard safety features, but when it comes to those elements that make a good EV, the VW e-Golf takes the win.