As car manufacturers strive ever harder to create an electric car with a 300+ mile range, it’s easy to forget that city cars fitted with a smaller battery, travelling short distances, are currently a better option for many. Joining the Honda-e, MINI electric & Mazda MX-30 in this category is the Fiat 500 electric, the convertible version of which we got to test recently.
What’s new ?
Both the 500 hatchback & convertible sit on a new platform, that’s 56mm wider & 61 mm longer than the previous 500. It may not sound that big a deal, but what you get is an extra 22mm between the axles, which equates to more interior space. And, the convertible is the only electric four seater cabriolet currently on sale.
Model choice, battery & range
Choose from four models: Action, Passion, Icon & La Prima. Entry-level Action costs from £19,995 & comes with a 23.8kW battery & 95hp electric motor, equating to a 115-mile range. It’s basic, so you you don’t get a touchscreen infotainment system, instead a smartphone cradle & a Bluetooth connection. Action is only available as a hatchback & can charge at a maximum of 50kW.
Next up is Passion, which comes with the larger 42kWh battery & 118hp electric motor. The range is 199 miles & you can utilise 85kW fast chargers. It’s better equipped too, with a 7″ touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, LED daytime running lights, cruise control & climate control. It’s available as a hatchback or a convertible.
Our test car the Icon’s up next. The Icon is available as a hatchback or a convertible. Icon models feature the same battery & motor combo as Passion versions. Improved spec includes 16″ alloys, keyless entry, SatNav & larger 10.25″ touchscreen infotainment system.
Range topping La Prima is offered as a hatchback or cabriolet & features the 42kWh battery & 115hp electric motor. You get 17″alloys, LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, a surround camera, leather seats & a panoramic glass roof in the hatchback.
The cabin may be new, but it’s reassuringly a Fiat 500. Our test car featured a dark grey interior with black fabric seats with a Technowood finish, with the build quality improved over the previous version.
The dashboard itself is clutter free, with most of the functions accessed via the centrally mounted 10.25″ touchscreen, which features pin-sharp graphics. The heating controls are separate though, sitting beneath the screen. The auto gear selection is dashboard mounted. Select from left to right, P park, R reverse, N neutral or D drive. The push button start & a single USB also sit in the centre of the dash.
The steering wheel features controls, that allow access to the hands-free telephone & multi-media, as well as the cruise control. In front of the steering wheel sits a TFT 7″ digital instrument cluster. It’s bright & easy to read. Interestingly, there’s no door handles, rather a button located on the door which you push to open. There’s a nice touch on here too, with a ‘Made in Torino’ logo on the inside, denoting the cars manufacture, in the same Turin factory that built the original 500.
Cabin & boot storage
In-between the front seats there’s a storage area which contains a second USB input, a 12v socket & as an extra fitted to the Icon, a wireless charging pad. There’s room for a cup behind this. The door pockets are narrow & quite hard to reach, although the glove box is a good size. Access to the rear seats is fiddly as in effect, the cabrio’s really just a 2-door.
Thanks to the space required for the roof to retract into, the boot is small, just 185 litres & with your charging cable stored in it, even smaller. The convertible also features a boot-lid rather than a hatch, so access is awkward at best.
Driving modes & regenerative braking
There are three driving modes, Normal, Range & Sherpa. Normal offers a touch of brake regen, but really isn’t very noticeable. Range gives you a little bit more regen & Sherpa is the strongest & also limits the 500’s top speed to 50mph. It also turns off the aircon. Unlike many EV’s none of the regenerative braking settings are particularly intrusive to the driving experience.
On the road
The 500 electric unsurprisingly, offers go-kart driving experience. It’s not quick per se, 0-62mph takes 9 seconds, but is rapid off the line & it’s small stature, with a wheel on each corner, only add to the fun.
We loved the old Twin Air version of the 500, but the electric’s not far behind for enjoyment, retaining the old car’s’ joie de vivre.’ Light steering & built in agility make it a cinch to drive in town.
On the motorway, it’s surprisingly comfortable & up front there’s plenty of room.The fabric soft-top roof though, does let outside noise in, especially on the motorway. And the fabric roof colour, black, makes the cabin feel dark & a little claustrophobic. It’s also worth noting that when reversing, you’ll need to make use of the door mirrors & parking sensors, because the 500’s rear window is tiny & the cars design features large A & B pillars.
On the plus side, the convertible roof can be retracted at the touch of a switch & then neatly tucks away behind you. Fully closed to open, takes just 25 seconds & can be undertaken at speeds up to 62mph. By holding down the ‘e-latch’ button, the roof can also be closed from the outside.
Real world range & charging
Fiat claim’s of a 199 mile range is a little generous. We drove the 500 electric for a week over a mixture of roads racking up 250 miles. Charging at home & at our local Tesco on 7kWh chargers, meant that we kept the battery topped up. We saw a range of just under 150 miles across the week driving mainly in Range mode. We tried Sherpa mode, but found that it dulls all sense of fun.
To charge the 500 from empty to full on a home 7.2kWh charger takes approximately 6 hours. Using an 85kW fast charger will see you go from 0-80% full in only 35 minutes.
As much fun to drive as the petrol 500, only easier. Push D & go. Infotainment & safety features are a big step up from the previous 500. Four model options & a sub-20k entry price, means there’s a 500 electric for everyone. Company car drivers pay just 1% BIK.
It’s cramped in the back & the boot is tiny. The Mini Electric & Honda e offer more rear space, although both are more expensive. The black convertible roof makes the interior fell dark & lets in quite a lot of outside noise.
Whilst we can’t fault the 500 electric cabrio for it’s on board tech, safety equipment, how it looks & how it drives, we think that the standard hatchback, which is more practical, fitted with a light coloured roof lining, would make day to driving quieter & more enjoyable. Up against the competition, it’s low entry price also makes a splash.