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The all-electric version of Fiat's 500 hatchback is well suited to city dwellers and presents a charismatic, high-style alternative to many of today's electric cars.
Impressive cruising range; quicker acceleration than the base gasoline-powered 500; fun to drive; easy to park; stylish for an electric car.
Battery pack and associated hardware consume valuable rear legroom and cargo space; cramped front headroom with sunroof; sales limited to California.
The 500e is an all-new model for 2013.
The current Fiat 500 has steadily amassed an adoring fan base that appreciates its nostalgic styling and city-friendly packaging. New for 2013, the all-electric Fiat 500e (yes, the "e" stands for electric) is an effort to add a few eco-minded drivers to the fold of Cinquecento devotees. They'll all be Californians, too, as Fiat plans to sell the 500e only in the Golden State initially.
Owning an electric car presents obvious challenges: EVs typically cost much more than their gasoline-powered counterparts, and you can't drive them as many miles before you have to recharge. Buying a pint-size Fiat 500 comes with its own challenges, the biggest of which is limited room for rear-seat passengers and cargo.
Neither set of problems is overcome on the all-electric version of the 500. In fact, with the battery pack and other related components gobbling up a fair chunk of what little backseat and cargo space the 500 offers to begin with, the 2013 Fiat 500e is effectively rendered a two-seater. On the other hand, the 500e boasts an EPA-estimated range of 87 miles, an above-average number for an EV. Further, Fiat says its EV hatchback can fully charge in less than four hours from a 240-volt outlet, also a good figure for this class. What's more, the 500e looks as sporty and chic as any other Fiat 500 and it basically drives like one, too.
Like other EVs, the 2013 Fiat 500e looks expensive at first glance, but once you add up the various federal, state and local government incentives (plus manufacturer rebates that Fiat plans to offer), the automaker insists it won't cost you much more than a comparably equipped gas-powered 500. Early adopters will also have access to a compelling lease program. Plus, there's Fiat's 500e Pass program, which grants 500e owners free access to rental cars for up to 12 days annually. That way, you're covered when you require a larger vehicle or want to take a road trip.
Overall, the charming and stylish Fiat 500e represents an attractive proposition for city dwellers wanting to make the switch to electric-powered transportation. However, if you live anywhere besides California, you'll have to look to the more widely available 2013 Ford Focus Electric, 2013 Honda Fit EV or 2013 Nissan Leaf instead.
The subcompact 500e is available as a two-door hatchback and offered in a single, well-equipped trim level. It shares most of its exterior components with the standard, gasoline-powered 500, but wears unique front and rear fascias, wider side sills, smooth underbody components, a rear spoiler and distinct 15-inch wheels, all tuned specifically for aerodynamics.
Standard features include heated mirrors, solar-tinted glass, keyless entry, automatic climate control, full power accessories, cruise control, manually adjustable heated front seats with driver-side height adjustment, leatherette/cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped tilt-adjustable steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and 50/50 split-folding rear seats. The standard electronics array includes rear parking sensors; a handheld TomTom navigation system with a 4.3-inch touchscreen that attaches to the 500e's dash (it can scan nearby charging stations and determine availability in real time); and a 276-watt, six-speaker Alpine audio system with a CD player, satellite radio, a USB/iPod port and an auxiliary audio jack.
A sunroof is optional, as is the e-Sport appearance package, which provides darkened exterior lamp bezels, orange exterior trim pieces and orange-accented wheels for a more customized look.
The 2013 Fiat 500e has an 83-kilowatt electric motor capable of 111 horsepower and 147 pound-feet of torque. It's powered by a 24kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The Fiat's transmission is a single-speed unit operated via push-buttons on the dashboard.
The 500e should be able to make it about 87 miles on a charge according to the EPA, which compares favorably with the Fit EV (82 miles), electric Focus (76 miles) and Leaf (75 miles). The EPA gives the Fiat 500e an energy consumption estimate of 29 kWh per 100 miles rating (the lower the kWh number, the better here), which is on par with the Honda and Nissan. That translates to MPGe figures of 122 mpg city/108 mpg highway and 116 MPGe combined, which are good numbers for this class but slightly behind those of the Fit EV.
Fiat says the 500e can fully recharge in less than four hours on a 240-volt outlet. That's as quick as a Leaf (with a 6.6kW charger), but a bit longer than the Fit EV. If you have to plug into a 120-volt circuit, though, estimated charging time goes up to "less than 24 hours."
Even though it's heavier than the base gasoline 500, the 2013 500e should accelerate to 60 mph in about 9 seconds, according to Fiat. That would make it about as quick as the Fit EV.
The 2013 Fiat 500e comes standard with antilock brakes (four-wheel discs), stability and traction control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag and active front head restraints. Rear parking sensors are also standard.
The Fiat 500e comes generously trimmed with perforated leatherette upholstery with a nifty retro-inspired contrasting gradient pattern. Orange accents abound, whether you choose the white or black primary color scheme, and a coordinated, matte-finished body-color dashboard panel is standard. All 500e models ordered with the white interior theme also wear white-accented front and rear fascias and a white rear spoiler.
Drivers face a unique 7-inch, circular instrument cluster displaying power output, driving range, energy use, the battery pack's state of charge, speed, gear selection, mobile phone connection status and more.
Not surprisingly, the battery and associated electrical components eat into cabin space, which is already at a premium. Rear legroom shrinks 4 inches compared with the standard 500, while total cargo space (with the rear seats folded) is down to 26.3 cubic feet from 30.2 cubes. While the 500e is technically a four-passenger car, it is truly comfortable for only two.
Thanks to the instantaneous torque of the 111-hp electric motor, the 500e feels quick from a stop and pulls briskly to highway speeds. Once you're on the highway, though, the rate of acceleration drops off considerably as you approach the car's top speed of 85 mph. The various aerodynamic enhancements not only reduce drag, but they also contribute to a quiet cabin. Even the regenerative brakes feel very natural, which is a nice surprise because EVs often have odd braking characteristics.
With most of its mechanical weight set low in the chassis, the 500e has a respectable 53/47 front-to-rear weight distribution, and it goes around turns with much the same eagerness as the gas-powered 500. The only major dynamic shortcoming is the overly light steering, which offers little feedback. It won't be a big deal to most consumers, but more demanding drivers might find the 2013 Fiat 500e a bit less fun than the standard car.
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