GOING ELECTRIC, ITALIAN STYLE
The FIAT 500e
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Mon, Oct 13, 2014
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
By Roy Nakano
“Don’t Buy My Car”
“I hope you don’t buy it because every time I sell one it cost me $14,000.” That’s what Fiat Chrysler Automobiles chief executive Sergio Marchionne told an audience at the Brookings Institution about the all-electric Fiat 500e. He was only half joking.
You see, the Fiat 500e is what the industry refers to as a compliance car. What Marchionne is really saying is that Fiat makes the 500e only because California requires the company to offer it under the state’s mandate to sell a certain percentage of zero emissions vehicles.
“Yeah, well, tough, says the Wall Street Journal’s Dan Neil. “It's the cost of doing business in the biggest vehicle market in the U.S., and a plain-fact acknowledgment that the automobile has public costs—impacts on air quality, climate and health, infrastructure, injury and death.” Neil goes further: “You can take issue with California's zero-emission vehicle methodology, and you can reach different conclusions with regard to electric vehicles' value to consumers; but it's inarguable that car companies have an obligation to clean up the mess they make.”
The Best FIAT Offered in America?
For a car that the company didn’t even want to make, the 500e is one nicely executed vehicle. We tip our hats to the 500e team, for it’s arguably the best FIAT offered in America (it’s sold only in California and Oregon, by the way). Arguably the best, because the high-performance Fiat 500 Abarth is one of the most fun-to-drive vehicles we’ve encountered. But the excessive noise and vibration associated with the Abarth can get a little tiring after a while. In contrast, the power plant in the 500e is utterly silent and vibration-free. It adds a sense of refinement that’s missing in all the other iterations of the 500.
Moreover, the 500e is fun to drive. Much of the credit goes to the positioning of the heated and liquid-cooled 24 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which is under the floorpan. This lowers the center of gravity on the car, which in turn allows it to scoot around corners even quicker than the regular Fiat 500. Credit also goes to the electric drive, which allows maximum torque to be available at zero rpm. And, lo and behold, this car evidently doesn’t have traction control—meaning you can pretty easily lay a patch of rubber off the line, or even after a rolling start. This car is quicker out of the gate than the high-performance Abarth model. What a hoot.
Alas, while the electric drive does wonders to the car, it does nothing to improve rear passenger seat room in the FIAT 500. Is it habitable back there? Let’s just say don’t plan on any long trips in the back seat. The same restrictions apply to the trunk. Of course, if you fold down the rear seats, there’s plenty of trunk space—so long as you don’t mind losing rear passenger room. On the other hand, there’s lots of room for the people up front—including a prodigious amount of head room. And, of course, finding parking spaces in this car is a breeze. So too is maneuvering this car into a small garage.
You Can See the Car a Mile Away
FIAT press photos have been showing off the 500e in Arancio Elettrico, AKA Electric Orange, with Pearl White trim—and with good reason. It’s as if the car was designed with this color combination in mind. Interiors are available in two color combinations: black, with orange and white trim; or white, with orange and black trim—no matter what exterior color you choose. The LA Car test vehicle came in black, with orange and white trim—and we must admit that the execution is pretty nice. Yeah, there’s some unsightly hard plastics in the 500e, and the sun visors and Tom-Tom GPS feel decidedly econocar-like (well, at least this car comes standard with GPS). On the other hand, the orange stitching on the black leatherette and the exterior-matching Pearl White dash panel add a touch of class that’s rare in this group of cars.
One more thing about an Electric Orange Fiat 500e: You can see the car a mile away. Yes, it’s very bright. But it’s not just the color. The 500e sits a little higher than the average car. Consequently, it’s easy to spot the bubble-shaped car coming down the road or sitting in a sea of parked cars.
500e by the Numbers
As one of the newer electric car designs, the Fiat 500e’s electric credentials hover toward the top of the class for this price point. The EPA rating is at 122 MPGe in the city and 108 on the highway. The EPA pure electric range is 87 miles, which bests both the Chevrolet Spark EV (82 miles) and Nissan Leaf (84 miles). In reality, the actual range depends a lot on how and where you drive. Stay off the freeways and ease up on the air-conditioning—and you can achieve that 122 miles in the city. Get in the fast lane of the freeway, and watch the estimated range start sinking right before your eyes.
Other than being Italian, electric, and a very smooth operator, what’s attractive about the Fiat 500e is the bottom line: $31,800. Throw in the $7500 Federal tax credit and the $2500 California Clean Vehicle Rebate, and that takes the car down to $21,800. And this is no stripper model. The 500e comes standard with navigation, contrast stitching on the seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel, a push button shifter, heated front seats, SiriusXM Satellite Radio with a one-year subscription, a FIAT Premium Audio System, a sonar-controlled Rear Park Assist, Hill Start Assist, Electronic Stability Control+, and Range Indicators and Routing FIAT® Access Smartphone Application+ with Remote Telematics.
The advertised lease deal is even better: $999 down payment, and $199 per month, for 36 months. And California will still thrown in the $2500 Clean Vehicle Rebate, which is like getting the down payment as well as the first seven-and-a-half monthly payments comped by the State of California. Just make sure that your dealer will honor FIAT’s lease program. Many don’t. Sierra FIAT of Duarte (where our review vehicle was leased) comes close, but you may fare better by shopping around on the Internet.
And if the electric car range makes you hesitate, this car comes with the FIAT 500e Pass, which provides owners and lessees of a new FIAT 500e with up to 12 days of free rental car use in a standard-sized vehicle each year for the first three years after purchase through Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental or Alamo Rent A Car anywhere in the USA.
The Smile Factor
What makes this car attractive goes beyond the numbers. But for the fact that this car is brand new, it’s brimming with little details that are not unlike those little European collector cars that Wayne Carini shows on “Chasing Classic Cars”. The FIAT 500e has far more personality than one would expect from your typical green car. Even the Argento painted aluminum wheels with Nero inserts emit a faint sound reminiscent of an African thumb piano (think Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Kalimba”). It sure beats the Vehicle Proximity Notification Systems that one hears on some green cars. This car will put a smile on the faces of pedestrians, front-seat passengers and drivers alike.
For more information about the FIAT 500e, go to fiatusa.com/en/500e
FIAT (Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino)
Name of vehicle:
2015 Fiat 500e
$32,300 (as tested, with optional Electric Orange Tri-Coat Pearl paint)
Federal tax credit: up to $7500
California Clean Vehicle Rebate: $2,500
$999 down payment
$199 per month for 36 months
36,000 mile limit
California Clean Vehicle Rebate for lease: $2,500
EPA mileage estimates (MPGe):
122 city/108 highway
Pure electric range: 87 miles
Powertrain: Battery-electric vehicle, AC permanent-magnet traction motor, with a single-speed transaxle and front-wheel drive; 24 kwh, liquid-cooled/heated lithium-ion battery pack Charging times: Four hours with a Level 2 charging station (240 volt) 24 hours with a Level 1 charging station (ordinary house current) Purchase or lease of a 500e includes a discount on a 240 volt charging station Horsepower/torque: 111 hp (83 kW)/ 147 pound-feet at 0 rpm Drive configuration: Front-wheel drive Transmission: Single speed direct drive Suspension Front independent, front and rear stabilizer bars, Electronic Stability Control Wheels and tires: 15 x 5.5 and 15 x 6.5 aluminum wheels and 185/55R 15 tires Brakes Regenerative braking and four-wheel disc ABS brakes Dimensions Overall length: 142.4 inches Overall width: 64.1 inches Overall height: 60.1 inches Curb weight (lbs.): 2948 pounds