+ Impressive battery range for class
+ Characterful design
+ Sensibly priced
- Small boot
- Some ergonomic flaws
- lack of rear legroom
Verdict: The Fiat 500 suits its newfound life as an EV, with the electric powertrain perfectly complimenting the trendy city car. Pleasing battery range and rapid charging times will make transitioning from the ageing combustion model much easier for buyers. It looks funky, drives well and is sensibly priced. A few quirks and some hard plastics aside, the new 500 acquits itself well.
2021 Fiat 500 Electric review: the five-minute read
The ‘new’ Fiat 500 has been around since 2007, making it about as new as the New Forest. However, with 23% market share, you can see why subsequent iterations have stuck close to the reinvented model. It’s a brave new world out there with electrification on the rise, making now the perfect time for a ‘new new’ Fiat 500 to make a real impact.
One of the most critical things for this all-new car to get right was to thoroughly modernise its looks while remaining recognisably 500. The car is now a little wider, a little taller and a smidge longer than before, but you have to admit that it is still proportionally what people expect. Put old and new next to each other and interesting design elements become more apparent. The EV is more voluptuous, its clean and uncluttered like an Apple product, there’s also more intricate detailing. Those characterful headlights that now overlap the bonnet shut line are particularly captivating, and that 500 logo on its nose neatly hides the car’s radar.
The interior is just the same, recognisable but different. An elliptical dashboard remains, but is now finished in more premium materials – there’s even a recycled yarn option on some trims. The various colour and trim options will please those wanting to make this space their own, and the generally minimalist design feels modern. All cars get a digital instrument display, but infotainment changes based upon trim entry-level Action cars get a smartphone cradle, Passion models have a 7-inch display, Icon and above receive a really sharp 10.25-inch HD touchscreen. The latter is a really good size and looks great, however, it can be a little laggy at times. All of the touchscreens play nice with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Being a small car it was never going to major on space, but it’s worth noting that the rear legroom remains tight and is only really suitable for children. It’s a similar story with the 185-litre boot that’s bigger than that of a Honda E, but then that’s not all too difficult to achieve.
What lives beneath the new Fiat 500 Electric again depends on trim. Entry cars get a 94bhp electric motor and a 23.8kWh battery good for 115 miles. However, these cars are limited to a maximum of 50kW charging. Everything else has a more powerful 117bhp motor and a larger 42kWh battery featuring a 199-mile range. These cars can also charge at 85kW meaning that a 10-80% charge can be completed in as little as 35 minutes.
Fiat has improved upon reliability over the years, but it is still far from leading the pack. We actually experienced some electrical problems on our test car with the rain seemingly knocking out systems such as cruise control. This issue may be unique to our example, but sensors that help prevent things such as forward collisions shouldn’t be fooled by spray from the car ahead.
Where the ‘old’ mild-hybrid 500 that’s still on sale alongside the EV feels a bit asthmatic, this new car is a perky little thing. That instant torque from the battery transforms this car into a really eager little city car, keen to dart through gaps in traffic and make the most of its compact proportions. Its rather square footprint gives the 500 a surefooted feel and the short wheelbase a nice sense of agility. Of course, the steering has been calibrated more for town use, meaning it is rather light and lacking in feedback, but there are some underlying dynamic capabilities as the car resists body roll better than expected. Bring on the electric Abarth, there’s something to work with here.
Refinement has been boosted tenfold with the silent running of the electric powertrain and a nice supple suspension setup. Instead of bouncing out of potholes, the new 500 does a great job of absorbing lumps and bumps. However, larger alloy wheels will inevitably dent this newfound softness somewhat. It’s only on faster pieces of road where wind noise begins to build, but it’s far from outrageous, but much more noticeable on Cabrio models as you might expect.
There’s a lot to like about the all-new Fiat 500. Sure, there are a few style over sustenance decisions that have been made, but these two things are now delivered in far more equal measure than ever before.
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2021 Fiat 500 Electric interior and infotainment
The interior of the all-new Fiat 500 looks as modern and sophisticated as the exterior. It echoes its predecessor, but strips away some of the fussiness and introduces a less cluttered space. The large dashboard can be trimmed in various shades – even a recycled yarn for those wanting to boost this car's already green credentials. It’s fair to say that there’s still a lot of hard plastic through this cabin, but it’s generally of better quality than before. Look closely and you’ll also find some nice little Easter eggs to discover around the cabin such as the silhouette of the Turin skyline in the wireless phone charger tray, and a classic 500 tracing in the door cubby.
As mentioned, what sits in the middle of your dash depends upon the trim level. Action comes with a cradle for your smartphone – no bad thing as your latest gizmo will typically outgun the factory systems in cars. Passion cars get a 7-inch infotainment system, but it is Icon trim and above that gets the headline 10.25-inch screen. No only is this display a great size, but it’s also HD and full of crisp imagery as a result.
While visually slick, the infotainment screen can at times lack the computing power to keep up with inputs, resulting in a laggy experience. There’s also a bit of style over sustenance at play with some of the intricate icons being a little too small to accurately prod while on the move. The best way to take advantage of this large display is via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. That way you get the benefit of the screen’s real estate while your smartphone provides the electronic muscle.
You’ll find much more adjustment in the seats than before, although these posts do still sit quite high even in their lowest setting. Visibility is adequate, but it’s worth noting that with the Cabrio’s roof down, the bunched fabric reduces rear viability to zero. As a result, we’d recommend a model with a reversing camera if you plan on doing plenty of alfresco motoring in the city.
A bigger ergonomic flaw is that the narrow footwell doesn’t really have anywhere to put your left foot. There is a tiny rest next to the pedals, but unless your shoe size is Cinderella, you’re not going to find much comfort there. Of course, if you have one leg this won’t be an issue, but considering many people have two, it appears to be a bit of a design oversight. It’s a similar story with the now fully electric door handles that replace the traditional leaver with a button. An interesting touch for sure, but the button itself is awkwardly placed for the motion of pushing the door open. There’s also the irony that for safety reasons Fiat has also installed a manual override lever in the door bins in case of an emergency.
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2021 Fiat 500 Electric practicality and boot space
We need to keep in mind that, while the Fiat 500 has grown in size, it’s still very much an A-segment offering. The city car has become 61mm longer, 56mm wider and 29mm taller. Designers have done well to promote a sense of space in the cabin, but it’s still fundamentally a small car. The lack of a bulky central console frees up some interior volume, and the new storage box between the front seats really boost storage. However, things are tight in the back.
The Cabrio’s clever roof design doesn’t impact interior space, but regardless of model, it’s a real squeeze for adults. Younger children should be fine on the rear bench, but as they grow the lack of legroom could become an issue. Boot space is 185-litres, which is more than the sub-par cargo space in the Honda E, but realistically not all that big. The Mini Electric has a bigger boot and the 500 also lacks somewhere to store a charging cable.
2021 Fiat 500 Electric motor
The Fiat 500’s move to electricity comes at a crucial transition point in the UK. Full EV motoring is set to become a reality, and launching this car as sales are heading sharply upwards is a good move. The ‘old’ car will remain on sale for a few more years in mild-hybrid form, but this is the real 500 right here.
The most basic Action cars are equipped with a 94bhp electric motor and a 23.8kWh battery – range is officially 115 miles. Step up to any other new 500 and these cars pack a 117bhp motor and larger 42kWh battery featuring a 199-mile range. Another big advantage of moving up the range is that these models are also capable of charging at 85kW as opposed to the standard 50kW. An Action car will take 30 minutes at 50kW to 10-80% charge its smaller battery, while a better endowed 500 will do the same to a much larger battery in just 35 minutes via 85kW. A great asset of the faster charging is that you can add 30 miles of range in just 5 minutes.
For both variants, you can juice via a three-pin-plug over 15 hours or an 11kW wallbox in just over four hours.
At this moment in time we’ve only driven the most potent electric motor option, but its instant torque delivery is a big asset in the city and for strong overtaking at higher speeds. The entry-level Action car might have less power overall, but the rapid response from its motor should be pretty similar. For those who primarily potter about town, its smaller range might not be a problem and its lower price tag is certainly appealing.
Driving in the real world with UK temperatures at around 9 degrees, we managed to charge our 500 to 100% and 161 miles. Temperature plays a big part in battery performance, so in warmer times of the year, we’d expect better. In an urban environment, the car delivers on what’s indicated with good accuracy, however, hitting the motorway on a frosty morning sees real-world range sink to just over 100 miles. While this is an A-segment car and is unlikely to regularly be doing triple-figure trips, it was concerning to see the range half from official figures regardless of circumstance.
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2021 Fiat 500 Electric driving
As you set off a few notes of music emanate from the Fiat 500, said to emulate the feel of 1960s ‘la dolce vita’. Cheesy? A little, but it does add to the tiny car’s cheerful character. Going electric has served the new 500 really well, making it a strong contender around town. Its small footprint not only makes it easy to park but also take advantage of gaps in the traffic. Thanks to the rapid delivery of torque synonymous with EVs, it feels peppy and eager when leaving junctions. The light steering and surprisingly cosseting ride also make for strong urban companions.
The car has three core driving modes that dictate its behaviour. Normal is essentially that, but Range activates one-pedal driving and much stronger regenerative braking. With a bit of forward planning, the deceleration from harvesting otherwise lost energy can be used instead of the brakes themselves. There’s also a Sherpa setting for those times when reaching your destination might be touch and go for whatever reason. The car is limited to 50mph, air conditioning is turned off and power is limited. Considering the up to 199-mile range in this city car, we’d be surprised if you ever really needed to activate this ‘get out of jail free’ mode.
Head out and onto faster roads and you’ll discover the 500 EV to be a fun little thing to drive with a bit of verve. Because all of the weight is nice and low in the car and its wheels are pushed right to the edge of the chassis, there’s a strong sense of grip and stability. Drive ham-fisted and the car will eventually run into understeer, but its naturally agile stature gives it a quick change of direction that can be exploited. This all bodes well for an eventual Abarth EV. You could critique the lack of feel and weight from the steering, but then you have to remember that this is a city car at the end of the day with town driving as its focus.
It’s a competent car on the motorway as well, happily keeping pace with traffic and more than capable of making overtakes of its own. Wind noise does begin to build around the pillars a little, but it’s a rather refined experience overall. Cabrio models with fabric tops tend to experience more wind noise, but it’s not unbearable and totally expected. Set the adaptive cruise control and the 500 will happily make its way up the M1 more competently than the combustion predecessor.
The new Fiat 500 instantly propels itself into the top EVs on sale thanks to a great drivetrain, fast charging, good range and a sensible £20,495 starting price. Factor in its stylish looks, tech and a captive audience of Fiat 500 fans already out there, there’s every reason for this new 500 to be just as popular as it always has been.
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