Used 2015 FIAT 500e Review

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.




What's new for 2015

For 2015, the battery-powered Fiat 500e has a redesigned center console and two new available colors.

Vehicle overview

In congested areas, having a small maneuverable car that can dice through city traffic and be parked in spots most every other car must pass up helps make life a lot easier. Having an all-electric small car that never requires a visit to a gas station can be almost liberating. And we find the 2015 Fiat 500e, the electric-powered version of the gasoline-powered 500 subcompact, liberating on several fronts.

Sure, you have to be prepared to make some adjustments, the primary one being that the Fiat 500e can take you only so far before you must recharge it. But you've probably already taken that factor into consideration if you're contemplating a battery-powered car.

For almost all urban uses, the 2015 Fiat 500e's 87 miles of combined city/highway driving range is more than you'll probably need in a day. Plug it in at home or at one of the proliferating public-charging stations and a depleted battery pack can be fully recharged in as little as four hours using a 240-volt outlet. So the 500e's "hassle factor" is comparatively low.

There are plenty of compelling arguments for going electric, but maybe the best justification is what a hoot the 500e is to drive. The 500e sticks tenaciously around corners and the power delivery characteristics of an electric motor means it generates peak torque immediately when you hit the pedal, so acceleration is delightfully eager. The 500e is quicker than the gasoline-engine Fiat 500, in fact.

Downsides? There are a few, the first being that the 500e is available for sale only in California and Oregon. Also, the 500 already is a smallish car but becomes even more cramped inside in the "e" because of the conversion to battery electric propulsion. The two rear seats, already marginal in the standard 500, become all but vestigial in the 500e. And yes, somewhere between 80 and 100 miles is the limit to how far you can travel at one time, although Fiat has a generous program for 500e buyers that pays for the rental of a larger vehicle several times a year for those times when a subcompact, range-limited electric car just won't do.

There's now a surprisingly rich herd of affordable all-electric cars, and particularly if you don't live in California or Oregon, you're going to need alternatives to the 2015 Fiat 500e. The 2015 Nissan Leaf has similar driving range and has a markedly larger cabin. Ditto for the Ford Focus Electric, though, like the Leaf, its performance isn't as satisfying as the 500e's. The Chevrolet Spark EV also has pleasing performance, but its long recharging times (almost twice as long as the 500e's) could inhibit its usefulness for some owners. The all-new 2015 Kia Soul EV is another promising contender.

Yet for many, an electric vehicle is earmarked to lower the cost and hassle of commuting or to be a second or third around-town car in a busy household. For those purposes, we think the combination of above-average driving range, entertaining performance and quick recharging make the Edmunds.com "B" rated 2015 Fiat 500e a fine choice.




Trim levels & features

The 2015 Fiat 500e is a two-door subcompact hatchback that's sold in a single, well-equipped trim level. It shares most of its bodywork with the standard gasoline-powered Fiat 500, but has its own specific front and rear body panels, wider side sills, smooth underbody components, a rear spoiler and 500e-specific 15-inch alloy wheels. The 500e's altered bodywork was designed to optimize the car's aerodynamics, which helps to boost that all-important driving range.

Standard features for the 500e include heated side mirrors, automatic climate control, full power accessories, cruise control, manually adjustable heated front seats with driver-side height adjustment, leatherette (premium vinyl) 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, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a removable handheld TomTom navigation system (with a 4.3-inch touchscreen that attaches to the 500e's dash) and a six-speaker Alpine audio system with a CD player, satellite radio, USB/iPod integration and an auxiliary audio jack.

The only options are a sunroof and the e-Sport appearance package for the 500e's exterior. That package includes darkened exterior lamp bezels, orange exterior trim pieces and orange-accented wheels for a more customized look.



Performance & mpg

The 2015 Fiat 500e has an 83-kilowatt electric motor that develops 111 horsepower and 147 pound-feet of torque, channeled to the front wheels through a single-speed automatic transmission. The electricity for the motor comes from a 24 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack.

During Edmunds testing, the 500e went from zero to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds, a quick time for an EV in this price range.

Determining "fuel economy" for an EV is markedly different than for conventional vehicles. According to the EPA, the Fiat 500e needs 29 kWh of electricity for 100 miles of driving (the lower the kWh number, the better here). That amount of energy efficiency is right in line with that of the Chevy Spark EV and Nissan Leaf.

Combined city/highway driving range for the 500e is an EPA-estimated 87 miles, better than the similarly sized Spark EV's 82 miles, Ford Focus Electric's 76 miles and Nissan Leaf's 84 miles. Fiat claims city-only driving should easily yield 100 miles or more of driving range; our best range during testing was about 109 miles.

Fiat says the 500e can fully recharge in four hours on a 240-volt outlet, an estimate confirmed in our testing. That's as quick as a Leaf with its optional 6.6-kW charger, but a bit longer than the Focus Electric. If your only available circuit is standard 120-volt household current, charging time increases considerably.

Safety

The 2015 Fiat 500e comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front seat side airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag and active front head restraints. Rear parking sensors also are standard, and a warning sound is emitted at low speeds to warn pedestrians of the near-silent 500e's presence.

In Edmunds testing the 500e came to a stop from 60 mph in 129 feet, which is average for small EVs.

Driving

An electric motor can provide its full torque as soon as you ask for it (gasoline engines have to build up their engine rpm to achieve their maximum torque and power), so just as with other EVs, the 500e accelerates briskly from a standstill. It also pulls steadily to higher speeds, although the acceleration noticeably tapers off as speeds approach the 500e's 85 mph maximum. All EVs are quiet, but the 500e's aerodynamic upgrades and a host of other sound-reducing measures make for an impressively tranquil cabin, even if you're moving at highway speed. The energy-saving regenerative braking feels pretty normal, essentially devoid of the somewhat grabby feel that many EVs' brakes exhibit.

Compared with other electric cars in this price range, the Fiat 500e stands apart for its sporty handling and fun-to-drive character. The electric power steering makes the dense little Fiat 500e feel nimble and quick to respond; tight parking or hitting a gap in traffic is a cinch. Careful packaging of its heavy battery pack allows the 2015 Fiat 500e to run around corners with the same kind of eagerness that's won the conventionally powered 500 such regard. While cruising straight down highways, the generally light steering takes on more "weight," providing a confident, reassuring feel rather uncommon with such a small car.

Interior

It's a cheerful place inside the 500e, where airy orange accents set off either white or black as the primary interior color. We wish the plastics looked and felt a little better, though, and that trim panels were fit with more precision. However, these conditions are no different from the conventionally powered Fiat 500.

An inviting 7-inch circular instrument cluster is standard for the 500e, and its primary focus is on EV-specific data such as driving range, energy use and the battery pack's state of charge. Also provided are basic operational information such as speed and gear selection, as well as phone connection status. There are numerous ways in which to arrange the display to suit your preference.

There's ample room in the front seats for taller occupants, thanks somewhat to the noticeably high seat cushions, which optimizes legroom. Be advised that the optional sunroof drastically cuts into your headroom, though. And because the battery pack and other electronics are situated rearward, rear seat legroom is pretty much nonexistent.

Luggage and cargo space also take a hit. With the rear seatbacks up, the 500e provides 7.0 cubic feet of space (down from 9.5 cubic feet in the regular 500) and 26.3 cubic feet with the seats folded (down from 30.2 cubes). Nonetheless, the 500e's cargo area compares reasonably well with the larger Leaf, which offers 30 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats down.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.