A little Italian time machine taking you into the future
The “e” is added on
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
Italian aesthetics meet electric drive
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
the hatch gives easy access to ample storage
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
The center stack is full of standard electronics
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
Even the chargeport has style
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.
The seats are good, but could give more support
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.
The thick “C” pillar kills rear visibility
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 500e in its natural element–in town
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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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class. We also feature those that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at email@example.com.
The Most Popular People Hauler Gets Electrified
By Larry E. Hall & Michael Coates
A subtle badge
It started with rumors in 2013. Then, in May of 2014 in a presentation to analysts, FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) said it was planning a Chrysler Town & Country plug-in hybrid minivan that would arrive in 2016. But often times business plans presented two years in advance don’t always materialize. Then came the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit and all (the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica) was revealed.
The reports were confirmed, but the Chrysler Town & Country now sports a new name—Pacifica—that will apply to the plug-in version as well as its mainstream cousin. While the standard model will be on sale first, the plug-in version will join it before fall, according to an FCA spokesperson.
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid will have a 30-mile all-electric driving range and is expected to deliver up to 80 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) on EPA tests. The powertrain centers on a 3.6-liter Atkinson cycle Pentastar V-6 gas engine. It’s mated to a two-motor hybrid system that substitutes for a transmission and operated like an electrified version of a continuously-variable transmission (CVT). A 16-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is located under the second row of seats, which preserves Chrysler’s Stow ‘n Go seating and storage for the third row.
Recharging the Pacific PHEV will take approximately two hours at a 240-volt Level 2 charging station. Pricing will be released closer to the vehicle’s introduction.
Inside–a move up from the soccer mom mobile
Minivan sales in 2014 reached the highest level since 2008, with more than a half million units sold (down from the segment’s heyday when sales were more than double that) and looks to repeat that number for 2015. The Town & Country was the top seller, and when combined with the company’s Dodge Caravan, the two garnered a 48,9 percent market share.
A plug-in hybrid minivan makes a lot of sense when you consider the driving habits of minivan owners; a lot of in-town trips and the occasional longer drives where the hybrid powertrain takes over after the battery in depleted. Plus, the size of a minivan offers a lot of space for batteries.
Introduced as a 1990 model, the current fifth-generation Town & Country has been in production since 2008 and is over due for a full redesign. Adding a plug-in version would give it a competitive edge over its two key competitors, the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna — neither of which are offered in higher-mileage hybrid form, let alone a plug-in hybrid. Of course the trick will be to ensure it is affordable.
A Few Details
The 2012 Preview
The replacement for the Town & Country (body code RU) is slightly taller and wider than the current model. The 700C concept displayed at the 2012 Detroit show gave some hints, but the finished product takes the storied people hauler to a new level of style and sophistication. The cabin shows Fiat’s influence. It will feature the company’s Uconnect infotainment system with an 8.4-inch touch screen along with a “customizable seven-inch display screen in the instrument cluster.” There will be a number of new or updated features, such as foot-activated sliding side doors. FCA managed to keep the popular Stow ‘n Go seats in the third row in the hybrid version while the standard model will remain the capability of going from seating for seven to a completely flat floor.
As for the plug-in capabilities, Fiat Chrysler believes the projected efficiency is in the neighborhood of 80 MPGe (MPGe is an EPA rating that measures the distance a vehicle can travel under electric power on the same amount of energy as contained in one gallon of gasoline) and 30 miles of all-electric range will allow around-town driving without gasoline.
Unlike other large auto manufacturers—Ford, General Motors, Honda and Toyota—Fiat Chrysler does not have a hybrid in its lineup. The automaker desperately needs vehicles to help meet the
The disappearing seat trick
upcoming federal regulations of 54.5 mpg by 2025 and recently revealed even its Jeep lineup will be getting a variety of hybrids ranging from mild to full during the next decade.
While the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica plug-in fills a gap in the minivan segment, it contributes very little to company’s need for fuel-efficient vehicles unless its volume explodes.
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A little history lesson. FIAT (Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino) began in 1899 building small city cars for the masses, including the Cinquecento – or 500. So, nothing exciting…yet. Currently, Fiat’s parent, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles owns several other brands – Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep in the U.S. as well as Abarth, Lancia, and the very fun Alfa Romeo and the exotic Ferrari and Maserati. Now we are getting somewhere!
Back to the Fiat brand. In the mid-20th Century, post-WWII, saw Fiat retool into a major automotive company with the majority of its sales in Europe, but also including a lengthy run from 1908
Good things in small packages
to 1983 in the USA. When Fiat took over Chrysler and became FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), it reentered the American market in 2009 with the 500. Derivatives soon followed with the sporty 500 Abarth and the recently introduced 500e, four-door 500L and mini-crossover 500X (which had a cousin in the Jeep Renegade). Clean Fleet Report will start here with the 500 Lounge 1957 Edition (more on this name later) and work our way through the Fiat line-up, which will be reviewed separately.
The 2015 Fiat 500 Pop, Sport and Lounge base models come with a 1.4-liter, inline, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine with sequential multiport electronic fuel injection, producing 101 hp and 97 lb-ft of torque through a five-speed manual transmission, delivering an EPA rating of 31 city/40 highway/34 combined. In 426 miles of 70-percent highway /30-percent city driving Clean Fleet Report averaged 35.9 mpg, which means the 10.5 gallon fuel tank would take you about 370 miles before needing a fill-up.
Note: The EPA’s gas mileage formula is 45-percent highway and 55-percent city. Here in Southern California our 70-percent highway /30-percent city driving pattern is far more real world and is why we report it to you.
The original and the retro
Running on unleaded regular (with mid-grade recommended), the high-revving 84-cubic-inch engine was smooth and responsive, but not very fast, taking about 10 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph. Helping a bit with peppiness and adding a fun factor, was the easy shifting five-speed manual, which provided more of a performance feel. A smart choice would be to get the optional turbocharged engine that kicks-out 135 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque. If you like manual transmissions, go ahead and stay with the five-speed, but the six-speed automatic with Auto Stick is a slick mate for the turbocharged engine. Plus, it offers one big advantage when on the highway: at 70 mph the five-speed manual is turning 3,000 rpm while the six-speed automatic drops the engine down to 2,300 rpm. Why Fiat doesn’t offer a six-speed manual is a big question.
Driving Experience: On the Road
Clean Fleet Report’s 500 Lounge 1957 Edition with the five-speed manual transmission weighed in at a relatively light 2,366 lbs. If opting for the six-speed automatic the weight goes up a bit to 2,542 lbs. For comparison, a Mini Cooper with the 1.5-liter engine and a six-speed manual transmission, which the Fiat 500 is frequently matched-up to, weighs in at 2,605 lbs.
Does this bumper make me look fat?
The front-wheel drive 500 was fun to drive and handled the open road with confidence. Of all the small compact cars we have driven, even with the short 90.6-inch wheelbase, the 500 had the most stable feel at highway speeds and was unaffected by passing big rigs. Parking, as you can imagine for a car just over 11-feet long, was a breeze. It did not come equipped with a rear view camera, which was just fine, as there was no need for one.
Pointing the 500 where you wanted it to go resulted in ending-up in that desired spot, with the electric power steering being very subtle in its assist. The front and rear MacPherson suspension includes coil springs with twin-tube shock absorbers, producing a firm, but not stiff, ride with acceptable drift or pushing through extremely hard cornering. We also found the highway ride to be comfortable. The 500 comes with either Continental ContiProContact, Firestone Firehawk or Pirelli Cintuarto all-season 185/55R15 tires, mounted on 15-inch painted aluminum wheels.
The response and feel of the 500, even without the turbocharged engine and modified suspension and tires on the Abarth and Sport models, was a thing to enjoy. Wind and road noise was low, which is saying something for a relatively light vehicle with a short wheelbase, probably in part due to the aerodynamic design of the body.
The brakes, vented front with solid rear rotors, worked very well under all conditions, including late, last-second corner braking. Steady pressure delivered a desired brake force through the system, which included four-wheel power assist, Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) with brake assist, all-speed traction control (TCS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Electronic Stability Control (ESC).
Driving Experience: Exterior
The Fiat 500 is all about being retro, and it is done quite well in unmistakable Italian design. Clean Fleet Report was driving the Fiat 500 Lounge 1957 Edition…a long name for a small car. The reference to 1957 (the year of the introduction of the nuova—new—cinguecento) comes from the two-toned paint scheme, retro badging, retro fascia with bright inserts and retro wheels, making this car reminiscent of the one so popular throughout Europe in the late 1950s and seen in many films from that era.
A little storage–until you fold down the back seats
To start with, the 500 is small, but not in an obvious or curious way compared to a Smart Fourtwo.
Up front, there is a fun face with large, round Halogen projector headlights and a mustache trim piece, above the mouth-like grill openings, and fog lamps. The 500 has an upright design with sides that slope inward towards the roof. A raked front windshield leads over the fixed glass roof to the rear glass on the hatch, which has a sharp angle sloping forward. Chrome pieces are at a minimum and used properly as accents.
As part of the Lounge 1957 Edition package, the four-slot, 15-inch wheels are painted the body color (in our case, Celeste Blu) and have chrome flat dish hubcaps along with a chrome wheel ring.
All-in-all, it’s a completely unique design from anything else you will see on the road—and pure Italian all the way.
Driving Experience: Interior
The first thing you notice when getting into a Fiat 500 is how small it seems. But the smallness does not translate into being cramped, because at 5’ 9”, I fit just fine, as did my six-foot-tall friend, including ample headspace. The leather-wrapped steering wheel and tilt column along with the heated leather seats made finding a comfortable seating position easy. But, and there is always a but, the tight fit between the doors and seat edges mean you should not even attempt to find anything you dropped until getting out of the car. And, the contortionist moves needed to reach the shoulder belts once seated upfront are the result of the smallness of the interior. If you are thinking of hauling around people larger than about four-feet-tall, be forewarned that the rear seat is not meant for grown humans. The best bet with the 500 is to lay the 50/50 split rear seats flat and enjoy zipping around with enough luggage space for two to have a great weekend trip.
All the Italian curves you would expect
The 500 dash is clean, basic and everything is well within reach of the driver. But, and there is that dastardly but again, the Tom Tom navigation screen appears to be an afterthought, as it is
An intrusion into my space
inserted right at eye-level mid-dash and is a distraction when driving. This device also acts to sync Bluetooth through the Blue&me system for mobile phone hands-free, voice-activated communication, so it is necessary to install it into the dash when starting the car. Thankfully, once synced, you can remove the Tom Tom device, put it in the glovebox, and the Bluetooth continues to work. Of course this means you no longer have navigation, but, heck, how can you get upset when getting lost in a fun driving car?
Our 500 Lounge 1957 Edition had the six-speaker, Fiat Premium Audio System with AM/FM/CD/MP3, SiriusXM (One-year subscription included), all of which can be managed by the steering wheel mounted controls and a media hub with USB, AUX and audio input jacks.
Convenience features include power windows with one-touch down, power door locks, power and heated foldaway exterior mirrors, A/C with automatic climate control, floor mats, remote start, keyless entry, 12V and USB power outlets, multiple cup holders, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rear window wiper/washer, security alarm, and a tire service kit in lieu of a spare tire.
The 2015 Fiat 500 has an Overall 4-Star National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rating, with a 5-Star Side Crash, and a 4-Star rating for Rollover and Frontal protection. Safety features include seven airbags, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), traction control, rear park assist, remote keyless entry, engine immobilizer, Tire Pressure Monitoring (TPM), brake assist, hill start assist and cruise control.
Pricing and Warranties
The 2015 Fiat 500 has a base price of $17,965 with the 500 Lounge 1957 Edition Clean Fleet Report was driving had a MSRP of $22,650. All prices include the $850 Destination Charge. Option packages will add to these prices.
All 2015 Fiat 500 models come with these warranties:
Basic Limited Four-year/50,000-mile
Brakes, Wiper Blades, Clutch, Windshield and Rear Window, Wheel Alignment and Balancing One-year/12,000-mile
Roadside Assistance Five-year/100,000-mile
Observations: 2015 Fiat 500 Lounge 1957 Edition
I live near a high school and usually, when driving by the students, I don’t draw any attention. But, when driving the 2015 Fiat 500 Lounge 1957 Edition, all of a sudden I was getting stares,
The looks for the beach
double-takes and pointing from…teenage girls. Guaranteed they were not looking at me, but were reacting to the cool, retro 500 cruising by as they trudged to class. This was no surprise because watching Fiat’s television commercials you will see pretty quickly to whom they have targeted this car: females, 21 – 30, single, hip and fun-loving.
The Fiat 500 is fun to drive, easy to park and handle. The base engine we drove in the 500 Lounge 1957 Edition is underpowered, but it gets good fuel economy. The design is unto itself.
So what’s not to like about this cool looking small car? If you absolutely do not need a car that can haul around adults or your family and their gear, then the 500 could be a good car. Otherwise, it’s a second or third car. The Fiat 500 is a statement car that will draw attention and says something about your lifestyle and outlook on life.
Treat yourself to a test drive of this fun car. You just may drive home in something you never thought would be in your garage.
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!
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