Lucire
The global fashion magazine May 20, 2024 
Fiat 500e Pop
 

Italian verve

Living
Fiat has brought the 500 bang up to date as the 500e, an electric car with plenty of Italian style and character. And, as Jack Yan found out, you can forget about range anxiety
Photographed by the author

 

 

Fiat 500e Pop Fiat 500e Pop Fiat 500e Pop Fiat 500e Pop rear badge
 

Fiat feels far more certain as a company in the Stellantis group than it has for a long time. At one point, it looked like it was the Cinquecento Company: in an effort to rival BMW’s Mini, Fiat came up with the 21st-century 500 in 2007, a retro-themed city car, taking its inspiration from the nuova 500 of 1957. It was our Car to Be Seen in for 2008. Then other 500s followed, stretching the theme, from the people-carrier L to the Derek Zoolander-endorsed X crossover.

However, there’s nothing like the cute original, where Fiat got the proportions spot on. And when creating its successor, Tipo 332, Fiat knew what it shouldn’t tamper with: the cute, Italianate looks.

Under the skin, there’s one huge difference with the 2007 Tipo 312: a fully-electric powertrain. While the US did see a 24 kWh Fiat 500e in 2013, this new-generation model is sold in more countries, coming out of the Mirafiori plant in Italy, rather than Poland or México.

It’s bigger, not that you’d notice in isolation. There’s an extra 22 mm in the wheelbase and 61 mm in overall length. Width is up 56 mm, and height by 29 mm, all to keep the proportions cute. Our six-year-old niece calls it a ‘baby car’, which, of course, isn’t far from the nuova 500’s nickname in New Zealand of bambina all those decades ago.

The Fiat 500e Pop does come in at a hefty NZ$59,990, more than double what the cheapest petrol-powered 500 costs, so without a three-point charger as standard (there’s only a cable for fast charging), can the Italians justify the price? (The higher-spec Icon gets you leather seats, bigger wheels, auto high beam, a fixed glass roof, 360-degree parking, among other goodies.)

Like so many things, the answer lies in your preferences. There’s no doubt that Fiat’s compact package makes for an ideal EV, with a 42 kWh battery capable of 320 km (WLTP), with decent torque when you need it (220 Nm). It’s undeniably stylish and cute, and surprisingly, the classic 500 lines haven’t dated. Fiat’s made updates to the styling to bring it into the 2020s with simpler surfacing, integrating the elements better, and the result is fresh and modern.

Get inside and the modern theme continues. The driver’s 7 in display, within a circular binnacle, has a sharp resolution and provides its information clearly—we opted to have a digital speedometer and a circular surround indicating whether we were using power or regenerating it. The steering wheel is wonderful to the touch, with a leather feel. Happily, the centre console has physical switches for ventilation, and by having buttons for the automatic gearbox, it does without a gear lever or a rotary dial. The effect is clean, and quite practical. Everything felt properly screwed together, with a very high quality, something Fiat has been doing quite well on from its Italian plants since the Brava and Bravo in the 1990s. There were no harsh plastics in sight or within reach.

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Fiat makes it clear that you aren’t supposed to leave your keys in the wireless phone charging bay—but provides an oddments’ storage in front of the centre console, near your feet. Controls are second-nature and easy to understand. And the central 10¼ in infotainment screen is one of the sharpest and most informative we’ve come across. It shares its base with others in the Stellantis family, including Jeep, and given that it serves so many models, no wonder it’s comprehensive.

The cloth seats, with the Fiat logotype as its repeated pattern, are supportive and comfortable, and possibly the one (cheerful) break away from modernity in the cabin.

As an EV, there are three driving modes: Normal, with no brake regeneration; Range, with some—and quite a bit more than in comparable EVs as the 500e can come to a complete halt in a very short distance; and Sherpa, which limits the air con, maximizes the regeneration, and limits you to 80 km/h—a limiter that can border on annoying if you want to be a hypermiler yet travel with the rest of the motorway traffic. (You can exceed 80 km/h if you put your foot down, but it’s jarring when you “break free” of the limiter.)

Handling is superb and the steering direct. Our sister publication Autocade had recorded in 2020 that the steering was light, but we found it perfectly weighted, and the 500e proved a joy to manœuvre, even in some challenging settings, which we’ll come to.

The 500e coped with bumps admirably, with excellent ride: Fiat has hit it on the head with the ride–handling balance. As a car in the sub-B segment size-wise, there’s virtually nothing to fault it.

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Above, from top: The 500e at the summit of Remutaka Hill Road. On a side street not far from the town square in Martinborough. Outside the iconic Martinborough Hotel.

 

There’s always that big question of range in New Zealand. It’s not Norway: you can’t just find public chargers anywhere, and RFIDs won’t work across different charging networks. They also expect you to download apps. Knowing this, could the 500e be the ideal mode of transport from Wellington to Martinborough, across the tricky Remutaka Hill Road, a 160 km round trip to a friend’s wedding? We’d also do some sightseeing and head beyond the town, so let’s say we would like to have 180 to 200 km.

WLTP cycles are one thing but this is a real-world test, so we bet on 100 per cent netting us around 260 km. There were chargers in Martinborough but we expected we would not be able to charge up at the Airbnb overnight.

Seats down, the 500e accommodated our luggage with ease—we travel with a lot of stuff—and we set off toward the Wairarapa district.

On the motorway, it proves to be a comfortable cruiser, as many EVs are. It was the Remutaka Hill Road, one of the region’s most dangerous, where we took extra care.

The 500e is more than competent, though as a city car we decided to take it easy—not all journalists treat press cars roughly. We had the 260 km total range to think about, too.

Though not helped by hooligans on the downward section, who tailgated, beeped and gestured from a pathetic Toyota Corolla wagon—the old Vitz-based one that tells others you’ve given up on life—the 500e more than acquitted itself as it took the windy roads with safety and confidence.

Country roads and the 500e go well together, and we ended the evening with around 160 km left—more than enough to get home.

After sightseeing, the return trip on the Remutakas saw a Toyota Hiace van on its side and emergency services in attendance: a reminder that we did the right thing by putting safety first. By this time, there was a lot of traffic heading back to Wellington, and, perhaps sobered by the sight of the accident, drivers were happy to crawl back at a safe speed, not exceeding 50 km/h.

By the time we were back in Tawa in Wellington, the 500e was asking to be charged and showed the nearest charging stations on the sat-nav, its capacity down to 25 per cent. A round trip was, we concluded, easy peasy, even with limited (or in our case, no) charging opportunities.

There’s no range anxiety, only app anxiety, and that is hardly an issue for Fiat.

So is it worth the 60 grand investment? We think so, if your aim is to have a highly competent city car with more style than a lot of its competition. Ora might have its larger Haomao hatchback at a better price, but it lacks the cohesiveness of the Fiat’s design. We’ve yet to drive that to make a full judgement. Of the premium small EVs, Fiat’s biggest threat is the renewed Mini, which has a price starting just NZ$1,000 more, though with a marginally smaller-capacity battery. The question then becomes: do you want English-inspired style made in China (with the help of the same mob who make the Ora), or Italian style made in Italy?

The EV rebates would have helped bring prices down into the low NZ$50,000s, a more palatable price. However, Mini has managed to reinvent itself as a fashion icon worth a $60k asking price, and the 500e is every bit as well put together—and, we think, even more fashionable. Think of it as the Gucci of EVs, and you’d be about right. •

 

 

 

Jack Yan is founder and publisher of Lucire.

 

Sidebar: app anxiety

 

 

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