The all-electric New Fiat 500 re-invents and re-defines what this iconic model line should be. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
This is the third generation Fiat 500, a model the brand rather charmingly calls 'a boutique car for the working man' - or woman: this new-era design will certainly have far more across-the-board appeal. Contrary to appearances, everything is different - not least the fact that you can only have battery power, this being Fiat's first all-electric car, offered as with the previous 500 in three-door hatch and Convertible body styles. It's stylish, cheeky and best of all, the driving range is class-leading for a tiny EV. In short, if you can afford one, there's lots to like.
A new Fiat 500 is a big deal. We had the cute original in 1957. The New Millennium model that saved Fiat as a car maker, launched in 2007. And this car, introduced in early 2020. It's only offered in full-electric form (which is why the old petrol mild hybrid model carries on). And that's part of the reason development of this MK3 model has been so lengthy. Fiat wanted to wait for battery technology to mature a bit before launching this car - and that's paid off, allowing the brand to engineer in a much longer EV driving range than close rivals, the MINI Electric and the Honda e.
"It doesn't feel time to be timid", says Fiat boss Oliver François. "This car isn't just for now, it's for the next decade. So it's built new from the ground up and it's all-electric and only electric from day one". But the exterior look is very recognisable, as is the hatch and convertible body style choice.
This all-electric 500 model's 42kWh battery pack is mated to an 118hp motor and is fitted across the range, including the Convertible variants. This is good for 186-199 miles and the car manages the 0-62mph time in 9 seconds. Few will want the base 93hp version with its much smaller 24kWh battery (good for only 118 miles). Whatever your 500e choice, like all EV's, this one feels even quicker off the mark than that figure suggests (in the 42kWh variant, 30mph can be reached from rest in just 3.1s), though Fiat has tried to make power delivery quite linear so that you don't use up all your battery charge at once. Maximum speed is restricted though - to just 93mph. Various types of automated driving technology are available, including adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and intelligent speed limit assist.
There's lots here that owners of previous 500 models will recognise - the high-ish seating position and manoeuvrability for instance; there's a tight 9.6-metre turning circle. You also get the previous model's rather brittle low speed ride quality, though it copes with poorer pot holes and speed humps quite well and anyway, things smooth out quite a lot once you get out of town. When you might discover that this Fiat actually handles quite well, despite having to carry around 350kgs more weight around than the MK2 mild hybrid petrol model. All the weight of the mattress-shaped Samsung battery has been positioned well down, compensating for the extra bulk with a lower centre of gravity, hence the well-controlled body roll at speed through the corners, though the effect is somewhat masked by the rather anaesthetised electric steering.
A series of drive modes are available that will enable you to maximise your driving range. There are three settings - 'Normal', 'Range' and the curiously named 'Sherpa', with the last of these being focused on getting the maximum from the battery, including a navigation program that will limit maximum speed to 50mph and restrict acceleration. The 'Range' mode maximises brake regeneration, meaning that you'll normally only have to drive with one pedal, so great will be the deceleration when you lift off the throttle. But most of the time, you'll be leaving in this car in its 'Normal' setting, in which form it won't require too much acclimatisation over a conventionally-engined supermini.
Design and Build
Don't be deceived by the familiar looks; everything is new here - including the fresh architecture that this car sits upon. That's allowed for a subtle increase in size, both fixed-top and convertible versions of this third generation model being 3.36m long and 1.69m wide, an increase of 6cm in both length and width. The 1.53m height means it's 4cm taller too. Fiat has deliberately made exterior look an evolution of this car's predecessor - specifically in the light and bumper designs. Look more closely though and you'll spot sharper lines and flush door handles, plus the adoption of full-LED headlights.
For existing owners, much less will be recognisable inside, where the dashboard is much wider and now topped by a big 10.25-inch touchscreen housing the brand's latest U connect 5 media system. This can deliver navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot and Apple CarPlay. Out back, the 2cm wheelbase increase means that things aren't quite as cramped as before: indeed, Fiat markets the drop-top version of this car (which retains folding fabric sunroof-style top) as 'the world's first 4-seat convertible EV'. The company also reckons that the floor-mounted battery pack won't reduce luggage capacity.
Market and Model
So how much is Fiat's latest EV technology going to cost you? Well, as you'd expect, a fair bit more than you'd pay for the continuing mild hybrid petrol combustion 500 model, which retails from just under £16,000 in hatchback form. The 500e is priced from around £27,500, but that's for the feeble 93hp 24kW version few will want. The 118hp 42kWh model we tried with its 186 to 199 mile range costs from around £30,500 - or from around £33,500 as a Convertible. There are two identically-priced mainstream trim levels, standard or 'Red'; plusher 'La Prima'-spec costs £3,000 more.
Across the model range, you get the brand's 'U connect 5' 10.25-inch centre-dash infotainment screen, which is fully connected and based on the Android operating system. It includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-mirroring. The 'La Prima'-spec model comes with a panoramic glass roof, full-LED headlights, 17-inch diamond-cut wheels and chrome-plated side panel inserts. It will be offered with three exclusive paint shades. Inside, there's eco-leather upholstery for the dashboard and the seats.
Safety kit includes big car-style features like autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and a 360-degree parking assist system. As an option, Fiat is offering an intelligent adaptive cruise control system, which combines automatic lane keeping and a feature that will keep you a predefined distance from the vehicle ahead.
Cost of Ownership
The all-electric 500 features an 85kW DC rapid charging system that can recharge the 42kWh battery from empty to 80% capacity in just 35 minutes and can provide the car with 31 miles of driving range in just 5 minutes. Buyers can also get a Fiat-branded wall charging box that offers 3kW charging and apparently doesn't need to be professionally installed. This wallbox can be upgraded to allow for 7.4kW charging at home. That 7.4kW wall box allows you to fully charge this electric 500 in just over 6 hours. The car also comes with a mode 3 cable for charging at up to 11kW from a public charging point. It can be charged via AC or DC power points.
The important driving range figure is quoted at 186-199 miles on the WLTP cycle (though that can rise to between 299-320 miles in urban driving). The smaller-battery 24kWh model can manage only 118 miles between charges - or 190 miles in urban driving.
As usual with a Fiat, this car is covered by a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty and there's 36 months of breakdown cover included as well. Should you have a problem on a journey, you can use the 'Uconnect' infotainment system to contact roadside assistance. What else might you need to know? Well, servicing intervals are every year or every 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. Owners can keep up to date with their car's maintenance schedule via the 'My Car' section of that 'My E-Charge' Fiat app, which briefs you on the time of your next service and various maintenance issues.
In the past, Fiat 500 buyers have shown a desire to spend plenty on cars from this model line - which is just as well because they'll have to spend plenty to enter the era of 'New 500'. Looking at the list figures, you can see why it was so vital that the old model should continue as a more affordable option - a stepping stone to this new design
So is this new EV-era 500 worth aspiring to? We think many loyal (mainly female) buyers will think so. It's just as stylish as its MINI Electric and Honda e rivals and set a new high bar in terms of driving range for a tiny EV that embarrasses both of them. Which goes some way to justifying a high price that hopefully will become more accessible as the range broadens. This is no longer the cheap Peoples' Car it once was. But without doubt, it retains the spirit of the original.