A little Italian time machine taking you into the future
It took only one or two miles in the 2016 Fiat 500e for it all to come back. This is what EVs are all about; zippy little electric cars that can be tossed around corners and deliver
more fun than you
expect from such a small package.
Maneuverability if the key and the Fiat 500e is king with its 90-inch wheelbase and short 140+-inch overall length. It fits where larger cars will not and exudes confidence in its ability to thread its way through congestion.
Eco-Chic on four wheels
The pitch from Fiat is that the 500e is “eco-chic,” which appears to be some blend of Italian aesthetics with a sustainable approach to transportation. In reality, what FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the parent organization) has created with major supplier help, is what is called a “compliance car.” The 500e exists to help FCA meet California’s Zero Emission Vehicle mandate and is only sold in California and Oregon. FCA Chairman Sergio Marchionne famously claims the company loses tens of thousands of dollars on each electric car sold.
Whatever the corporate intend, the company has ended up creating a great little EV. Marketing supplies retro colors (like our car’s 1950s robin’s egg blue or the 1960s psychedelic orange that’s also available). This car is a short-cut to a corporate goal—take your smallest, lightest, cheapest gas car and convert it to electric drive.
Quirks of the Eco-Car
So the 2016 Fiat 500e is a short-cut car. You still use a key to start it (an anachronism if there ever was one for an electric). You have to wait for a “ready” light before you can go. You plug the car in behind what’s the gas filler door for the petrol version.
But living with the car makes all these quirks go away. We only had a week, but one of our colleagues had an extended loan of a 500e and came to the same conclusions we did—this is a fun little car that makes going electric easy.
The driver and passenger positions of the 500e are quite comfortable, but the rear seat nominally holds two adults, but it’s a challenge getting in and out and, when you’re in, it’s a tight fit for an
average American male. A plus is the cargo room behind the back seat; enough for moderate grocery shopping. With the back seat folded down the rear of the car offers fairly substantial storage or hauling.
A simple choice
So what do you get with the 2016 Fiat 500e besides Italian small car panache and electric drive? It’s a pretty complete package, which may just be a reinforcement of FCA’s hands-off policy. The only options available or paint choices, one interior trim choice, the Sport Package (which is also basically a paint package) and a sunroof.
The standard equipment list for this four-passenger car is long, including electronic stability control, tire pressure monitoring display, power door locks, remote keyless entry, hill start assist, the Uconnect 5.0 multimedia system, a five-inch touchscreen, integrated voice command with Bluetooth, GPS navigation, SiriusXM satellite radio with one-year subscription, several USB ports, a seven-inch color cluster display, power windows, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, heated front leatherette seats and a 50/50 split folding rear seats, power heated mirrors, bi-function halogen projector headlamps and fog lamps.
The heart of this zippy little car is a 83 kW motor that is rated at 111 horsepower and the 147 lb-ft of torque that you feel the moment you hit the accelerator. A single-speed push-button transmission provides input. The 2016 Fiat 500e uses a 24 kWhr liquid heated and cooled lithium-ion battery to store electric energy either from charging or brake regeneration. The car uses a fairly quick 6.6 kW charging system.
With that you’ll get about an 80-mile range (I topped out with a registered 87-mile range on one-charge). The official EPA numbers are 121 MPGe (that’s miles per gallon equivalent) city and 103
highway. Those numbers really don’t mean much to the average driver. You want to know how far you can go until you have to charge up again.
There’s enough power to keep up on the freeways, but grip is limited by the relatively tall and skinny 185/55R15 tires. Beyond that, you’ll run out of seat before you run out of cornering ability. The leatherette seats are comfortable, but don’t supply a lot of lateral support. Based on California’s average cost per kW, the EPA estimates it will cost about $600/year for the electricity to run the 500e. That compares to about $1,500/year for premium gas at current prices in California.
The 500e is stable in the wind thanks to a couple hundred pounds of batteries underneath the floor pan. The result is it’s a car that handles better than you’d expect from such a tall, small car. Those batteries are a big part of the extra 5-600 pounds the electric version of the 500 has compared to its gas-only counterpart.
Safety and Warranties
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has only tested the gas version of the 500. Overall, it earned four stars (out of five); frontal crash, four stars; side crash, five stars; and rollover, four stars.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not crash-tested the 500e either, but its tests of the identical (from the outside) gas-powered 500 gave it a “good” rating for all but the small front overlap test, where it was deemed “poor.”
The car includes front and rear head curtain airbags, front seat-mounted torso airbags and knee airbags for a total of seven. It doesn’t have a rearview camera, but does have rear park assist and a pedestrian warning system when traveling under 20 mph to warn walkers that the silent car is near.
My biggest safety complaint about the 2016 Fiat 500e is rear visibility—it’s terrible in the left rear—and not much better on the right side.
Warranties are fairly standard for the segment:
- Basic – Four years/50,000 miles
- Powertrain – Eight years/100,000 miles
- Roadside assistance – Four -years/Unlimited miles
The 2016 Fiat 500e has a base MSRP of $31,800 and adds a destination charge of $995. As tested, our model had the eSport Package, a paint and trim package that adds another $495 for an out-the-door sticker of $33,290. You can ignore those numbers, of course, because it’s a “compliance car.” Fiat’s goal is to move every one they import (from Mexico, more on that later), so deals are readily available. On the company website at the time of this writing, the company offered a $179/month lease with $1,999 down (compared to a non-subsidized prices of $431/month to buy or $227/month to lease). Even lower prices have been advertised by local dealers, taking advantage of federal, state and local incentives for the purchase of electric cars.
Conclusion: 2016 Fiat 500e
The 2016 Fiat 500e is a true international car—it’s got an Italian badge on a car assembled in Mexico with a German engine (motor) and transmission and a third of its parts from South Korea. That sums up the modern auto industry. It also says more than you might want to know about the nature of cars whether electric or otherwise.
As an electric car, it’s one that we at Clean Fleet Report like a lot. If you’re running a commute of less than 60 miles each way with charging at work and wanted to use the available HOV-lane access, we couldn’t think of a more fun way to do it. On the other hand, it you were car-pooling, we’d scratch this car off your list. It is a great around-town urban vehicle, stylish enough to be noticed while practical enough to be functional.
The lease deals that we’ve seen offered in California appear to be closing some sales here. According to the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program’s (CVRP) page of statistics, more than 13,000 California’s have bought or leased a Fiat 500e since July 2013 and received a rebate from the state. Another way to look at the numbers is to slice some of the available numbers for the 2015 model year. FCA is quoted as saying it sold a little more than 25,000 of all 500 models that year in the entire U.S. According to the CVRP data, 5,621 500e owners received rebates that year in California.
We can see why they’re so popular and hope FCA sees a way to add some upgrades to the car in coming years. Maybe they could even extend the model availability beyond the little hatchback.
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