Used 2013 FIAT 500e
- 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.
Edmunds' Expert Review
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.
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.
2013 FIAT 500e configurations
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.
Performance & mpg
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.
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.
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.
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Driving a pure electric car like the 2013 Fiat 500e makes you think about range a bit differently. Halfway through our drive, the charge meter told us there were about 32 miles of range left, yet we thought nothing of it.
In a gasoline-powered Fiat 500, 32 miles of range would have the fuel gauge buried on empty accompanied by a blinking fuel light. If it could, the car's computer would be yelling, "You have one gallon left; find a gas station already."
But in an electric car that touts a range of 87 miles, having 32 miles left seems like a nice cushion. Add to that the Fiat 500e's impressive regeneration capabilities, and a few downhills later we were back to well over 40 miles. It's an odd and completely different kind of range anxiety.
It's Not the Only Issue
Getting over range anxiety is one of the many issues Fiat has to face as it starts pushing the 500e on buyers in California, the launch market for the new coupe. Unlike a hybrid like say, the 2013 Chevrolet Volt, running out of juice in the 500e means you're dead in the water. No back-up engines here.
There's also the cost issue. The 2013 Fiat 500e has a base price of $32,500, pretty steep for a subcompact hatch. It does get you a fairly loaded car, but standard 500s are less than $20K to start. To get over cash anxiety, Fiat has added its own incentives to go along with the many that are offered by state and local governments. Pile them altogether and Fiat says the 500e lands around the same price as a similarly equipped 500.
And if that isn't enough, there's one final pitch: free access to rental cars. Yep, buy a 500e and you automatically get points at Enterprise so you can borrow something bigger or with more range when you need it. Fiat executives told us the idea is to make the 500e as easy to own as a regular 500.
It's Definitely Easy To Drive
Removing barriers to buyers is one thing, but the 500e still has to function like a regular car to make it worth the trouble. In most ways it does feel very much like a standard, gas-powered Fiat 500. The engineers behind the 500e managed to maintain a very respectable 53/47 front-to-rear weight distribution and kept most of that weight of the battery pack low in the chassis. Chief Engineer Brett Giem says the 500e is about 10 percent stiffer than a 500 Lounge model, so there's no obvious feeling of driving a car with a few hundred pounds of batteries slung underneath the chassis.
In fact, thanks to the instant torque of the 111-horsepower electric motor, the 500e feels quick from a stop and continues to pull briskly all the way to highway speeds. Once on the highway, the rate of acceleration drops off considerably, which is not surprising given the car's estimated top speed of 85 mph. The various aerodynamic tweaks made to reduce drag on the 500e make it quiet, too.
This 500's weakest dynamic issue is the overly light steering. There's just nothing there to give you any sense of what the front tires are doing, so it's not much fun to toss around corners. It's a shame, too, as the 500e is otherwise enjoyable from behind the wheel thanks to its small dimensions, tightly tuned suspension and instant power. Even the brakes feel very natural, a common sore spot with EVs.
Very Much a 500
In keeping with its promise to make the 2013 Fiat 500e just another member of the family, changes to the interior are minimal. The only obvious difference is the standard push-button transmission setup that sits where the shifter normally resides. All other controls are standard issue, which is a good thing, as the 500 has a uniquely simple layout that works.
The other notable change is a new instrument cluster screen that blends a traditional speedometer with a battery charge meter and other EV-centric information. It's a setup that's easy to use and manages to deliver all the relevant information you need without looking like an overly cluttered computer desktop. It's necessary, too, as the 500e can go through some pretty wild swings when it comes to its projected range. To help guide you in the right direction, there's even a "trend" indicator that gently reminds you when you're on the fast track to a depleted battery.
On our drive, the range dropped quickly from its fully charged state and then leveled off during mixed driving. Some aggressive maneuvers further shaved the projected range, but once we settled down a bit and concentrated on conservation, we saw the range slowly creep back up. There's not a significant amount of drag from the regenerative brakes when you let off the gas, so we were a bit surprised to see just how quickly the 500e gained back mileage on downhill sections.
A Slightly Different Kind of EV
On paper, the 500e isn't all that different from the various entry-level EVs already on the road. Its maximum range is roughly the same, its price is competitive and the features it offers are right in line with the competition.
What really separates this Fiat from the crowd is the fact that it still looks like a Fiat. Other EVs try to promote their green credentials with bizarre styling that borders on the absurd. The 500e is almost indistinguishable from the standard models save for a few unique body panels.
That alone should be enough to give the 2013 Fiat 500e a chance in the increasingly crowded EV market, especially in California, where style points count as much as anything. The rest of the package is well done in terms of performance, price and flexibility. Sure, the range anxiety issue is always going to be there, but Fiat isn't trying to change the world with the 500e. It's merely attempting to make it a little less of a compromise. For that, it works, and works well.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
Used 2013 FIAT 500e Overview
The Used 2013 FIAT 500e is offered in the following submodels: 500e Hatchback. Available styles include Battery Electric 2dr Hatchback (electric DD).
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Should I lease or buy a 2013 FIAT 500e?
Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.