Delayed by the COVID19 crisis, the new Fiat 500, or Nuova 500 as the Italians say, is finally available. If this city car retains its timeless lines, it grows a few centimeters and, above all, acquires a 100% electric motor, a first for the Turin brand. We got to try it out.
Essay by Alexandre Lenoir
At Fiat, the 500 is obviously a story in history and each new iteration of this small urban phenomenon is experienced as a real event. It is enough to remember how the presentation of the Trepiùno concept caused a sensation when it was presented in 2004 at the Geneva Motor Show during a show entitled Back to the future, Back to the future.
For the new electric 500, simply called Fiat 500e, which interests us today, Fiat has built on its solid foundations by calling its launch Welcome back, future (which could be translated as “welcome back among us, future”). And the call to history doesn’t end there becausea new body called 3 + 1 (or Trepiùno, in Italian) is also born, but we will come back to this a little later.
Old (yoghurt) pots for the best recipes
If we put its silhouette in Chinese shadow, it would probably be difficult to guess how the new Fiat 500e is very different from the previous one. However, almost 96% of the parts are completely new, assures us the manufacturer, starting with the platform designed to accommodate its electric motor. To be convinced of this, all you have to do is turn on the light and equip yourself with a tape measure to discover many new style elements and more generous dimensions of 9 centimeters in length, 5 centimeters in width and 3 in height. But don’t worry, the car’s proportions have remained the same, with very short overhangs at the front and rear and a face that it would have been dangerous to modify as it never ceases to seduce the public.
This increased generosity that could go unnoticed in the street is felt, however, inside where the elbow room is improving for the occupants, especially in the front seats, and where rear passengers benefit from improved leg roominess. The trunk volume remains unchanged at 185 liters. But where the hell did Fiat put them near 300 kilos of battery needed to power the car’s electric motor? Well, directly under the floor, with an almost ideal weight distribution of 52% at the front, 48% at the rear, while ensuring a very low center of gravity. When it comes to dealing with being overweight, it’s always good to take.
A readable range
The 500e range may sound complicated, but it is actually relatively straightforward. Baptized Action, the entry-level model has an electrical capacity of only 23.7 kWh and is only available in one definition. Offered with the classic 3-door body, it is the cheapest electric 500 and the least expensive in terms of equipment and range (185 km WLTP), but which nevertheless adopts all the driving aids adapted to the city .
From the next level of finish, Passion, the battery capacity increases to 42 kWh (37.3 kWh useful) and, as for the other three trim levels offered in the catalog (five in all), all the bodies are available: sedan, convertible (the only openable electric at four market places, by the way!) and 3 + 1.
The latter is characterized by the addition of an additional opposing door on the passenger side, which facilitates the entry of a passenger or the installation of a child in a suitable seat. It can also only be operated if the front right door is itself open, thus freeing a wide passage without a central pillar. Even if it’s not new, it remains original and aesthetic.
An eco-techno interior
New, the electric 500 is also in it, with a completely redesigned interior. The synthetic upholstery displays a Seaqual label, a material made from recycled plastic fibers, “part of which is fished from the oceans”, the brand assures us. And if you like leather, you will have to be content with “eco-leather” which, again, is a simple imitation without any animal skin.
Facing the driver, a 7-inch TFT screen replaces traditional instrumentation. If it is moderately customizable (it is still possible to duplicate the display of the GPS navigation in the form of a map or pictograms), it keeps the rounded face characteristic of the car. Very readable, it mainly displays information on speed, range, available energy reserve and battery charge-discharge.
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In the center, the beautiful 10-inch touchscreen of our test model is offered from the icon mid-finish. Its interface U-Connect new generation is based on a widgets and customizable shortcuts that allows you to really put everything in your hand. It takes a lot of adaptation time, but once configured and mastered, the device is quite pleasant to use, as long as it is reasonably responsive. If you ever balk at tapping on the screen, the voice assistant (“Hey Fiat!”) Was surprisingly effective in our tests, including intentionally convoluted wordings on the first try. We have seen much more devious systems on luxury sedans. And to complete the picture, the on-board system can perform its updates “over the air”, in other words via a wifi network and without going through the workshop.
A little further down, we will find a set of lacquered piano keys to control the air conditioning. The storage compartment located just below can accommodate an induction charger, optional or standard depending on the version. Finally, four large buttons P, R, N and D come as an operating selector.
On the floor, between the two seats, we note the clever retractable bobbin holder system, which folds upwards to disappear completely when not in use.
Departure in music
Once the ignition is on and the selector is in R, it is to the sound of Amacord’s first electronic measurements that the first turns of the wheels roll. This soundtrack to Federico Fellini’s classic resonates here like a hymn to joie de vivre and, above all, marks the 500 Electric for what it is: a cheerful little Italian rooted in the dolce vitta. The national pride that it represents never leaves its driver, because even in Turin, where it is at home and should be completely trivialized, this fourth generation of 500 is turning heads.
We start our test with a posted range of 270 km for 98% reserve in the batteries. Our route will not be very long (around sixty kilometers), but will explore all types of road, from the motorway to the urban cycle, passing through the somewhat steep secondary network of the Turinese terrain.
The engine of the electric 500 claims a power of 87 kW (or 118 hp) and 220 Nm of torque. This seems almost modest for an electric, but it is enough to propel the car from 0 to 50 km / h in 3.1 seconds. If you have to add 6 more seconds to reach 100 km / h, the maximum speed, limited to 150 km / h (135 km / h on the 23 kWh version), is then reached with good linearity. At no time does the driver feel a lack of power, which makes you feel safe, even on the highway when it comes to overtaking. This motorway section also allows us to quickly understand the various driving aids offered to the driver.
The electric Fiat 500 claims level 2 autonomous driving, so it is equipped with adaptive cruise control, active lane keeping assistance and emergency braking (a little too pessimistic for our taste, a recalibration of its sensitivity would not harm it) with detection of pedestrians and cyclists. As an option, various packs can improve its endowment, in particular with blind spot monitoring or a 360 ° parking radar. What this test did not allow us to assess, however, was the stabilized consumption of the car on this type of road. The victim of a bug, the econometer and the partial distance recorder of the on-board computer of our pre-production version have indeed remained desperately at zero. However, we will see later that it was possible to estimate the actual average consumption of our test.
What is certain is that like any electric motor, the motorway remains the weak point of autonomy. Very stressed, the battery drains faster and the displayed autonomy is blindingly clear. Once in town, however, the opposite happens.
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Three driving modes
Between the two seats, in addition to controlling the parking brake and adjusting the volume of the sound system, there is the driving mode selector on the left. There are three of them: Normal, Tidy and Sherpa. The first favors dynamism and is similar to the sensations that a heat engine would provide, with moderate engine braking and therefore a reduced deceleration recharge capacity, but not zero (there is unfortunately no freewheel mode, even if the gear selector authorizes switching to Neutral when the car is moving).
Range mode, on the other hand, allows you to drive only using the accelerator pedal alone since the deceleration is strong when you lift the foot, with very efficient regeneration. It is thus possible to come to a complete stop, so that by anticipating slowing down, the brake pedal joins the ranks of accessories. The Sherpa mode, on the other hand, is to be preferred when autonomy becomes critical. It reduces the available power and favors energy savings while using the generator as much as possible.
If you opt for Range mode, moving around the city then becomes almost free, as the phases of energy recovery when getting up are effective. It then took us nearly 20 kilometers of route at this rate to see the available capacity drop by only 4%.
With its mass of batteries to move, the electric 500 has a rather comfortable suspension setting, with a large travel that brings the road to life with amplitude, but smoothly. The installation of the batteries at the chassis level, which ensures a very low center of gravity, allows the car to maintain a very satisfactory level of dynamism. This one is even more so as, as we have seen, the car has the power and the braking is good.
Rather easy to recharge
To fill up its batteries, the electric 500 has an onboard 11 kW charger and is delivered with a standard Mode 2 cable for the home network. For 300 euros more, it can have a Mode 3 T2-T2 cable (standard on the Prima version). On all versions it is possible to use a CSS Combo 2 socket to charge up to 85 kW. At this rate, it then takes 35 minutes to charge the battery to 80% or, put another way, Fiat announces that you can regain 48 km of range in just 5 minutes spent at the pit.
In its 42 kWh version, the approved WLTP range is 320 km. Despite the difficulties encountered with our on-board computer, we estimated our average consumption at just over 14 kWh / 100 km, which seems in line with the technical sheet. There is no doubt that this value could largely be revised downwards with a more urban route than that of our test. It does not seem utopian to us to exceed 450 km in urban use.
A complete ecosystem
Even if this is now fairly obvious, it is worth remembering that electric propulsion is generally accompanied by an eco-system designed to facilitate its use. The Fiat 500 is no exception, with a host of apps and services designed to help the buyer choose, finance and then use their vehicle on a daily basis. For first-time buyers, an EasyWallbox is even offered for less than 500 euros. This entry point into the electric world then allows control of the charging and pre-conditioning functions of the passenger compartment (to heat or cool down before leaving without preempting precious kilometers on the battery) and many other subtleties. again. An “easy charge” card providing access to tens of thousands of terminals in Europe is also available.
Obviously, the price remains. The bella is offered from 24,500 euros in its sedan version with an Action finish, excluding bonuses and recovery aids. In the high-end definition Icône Plus, the bill comes to 31,500 euros, while the very exclusive limited launch series La Prima is priced at 34,900 euros. The convertible costs 3000 euros more than the sedan, while it costs 2000 euros to upgrade to the 3 + 1 version. It’s a lot !
Devoid of any electric offer in its catalog, Fiat had in any case little other choice than to begin its transformation by starting with the iconic 500. This car comes at the right time to compete with the all new electric version of the Twingo, Volkswagen eUp and its cousins Skoda and Seat, but also to a lesser extent slightly larger cars such as the Peugeot e-208 or its cousin Opel Corsa-e. Admittedly, the additional cost compared to a thermal version (old version, from 15,290 €) is real, but the cars are different enough to pass the pill. The sympathy capital for this car is in full play anyway and it seems to us both completely coherent in its conception and, ultimately, well in its time.