Fiat isn’t a firm known for being ahead of the curve. In fact, it usually watches from afar to see if trends take off before getting in on the action – it even admitted as much at the launch of an (exceptionally) mild-hybrid 500 last year. That model extended the lifetime of the petrol 500 further, which has been on sale since 2007. Though – impressively considering it’s never been substantially changed – sales of it show no signs of slowing.
But Fiat knows it has to change and that is what has led to the introduction of this new electric model – simply called the ‘New 500’ rather than 500e, for example. Can it rival the growing range of compact EVs, though? We’ve been finding out.
While this new model might still look unmissably like a 500 – though with differences which we’ll explain later – it actually doesn’t share a single component with the petrol model. For clarity, the combustion-powered model is going nowhere, with the firm saying it will be sold for ‘years to come’.
But back to the EV, which sits on a new electric car platform, bringing a slight increase in dimensions alongside a range of important enhancements – including a new infotainment system and Level 2 semi-autonomous driving capability.
There’s a choice of two powertrains on the 500 – a ‘City Range’ and a ‘Long Range’. The former aims to make EVs more accessible, though does so by using a small 24kWh battery that enables a small 115-mile range.
But the vast majority are expected to go for the Long Range, which features a significantly larger 42kWh battery that unlocks an impressive claimed 199-mile range, though expect closer to 160 miles based on our test car’s estimations. The ability to charge at up to 85kW also means its battery can be topped from flat to 80 per cent in just 35 minutes using a rapid charger, too.
That battery combined with an 87kW electric motor, which produces 116bhp and 220Nm of torque, enables a 0-60mph time of under nine seconds and a top speed of 93mph.
Next to the somewhat lacklustre petrol options in the regular 500, this new EV model is a true revelation. The zippy nature of the electric motor makes it a perfect fit around town, with an immediacy never seen with this Fiat before. Even at higher motorway speeds it never feels like it’s running out of steam, either. Its light steering makes manoeuvring especially easy, though it does mean it’s not quite as involving as the Mini Electric – one of the 500’s key rivals. We also reckon the ride is a bit busy and unsettled around town, though opting for smaller wheels may improve things a touch.
There are also three clear driving modes to use – Normal, Range and Sherpa. The former lives up to its name, with Fiat offering this to make it better suited to those not used to EVs. Range then brings in added regenerative braking, which enables ‘one-pedal’ driving, while the Sherpa mode aims to maximise the number of miles by cutting the power available, turning off the air-con and limiting the top speed to 50mph.
At first glance, you might reckon this electric model doesn’t look too dissimilar from its petrol counterpart, but there are actually plenty of changes. For starters, this new platform means the 500 is 6cm longer and 6cm wider. This might not seem noticeable at first, but park it next to the existing car and there’s a clear size difference.
You’ll also notice the lack of ‘Fiat’ badge on the front end, with the model just using a prominent ‘500’ logo instead – while a further appealing feature is the bonnet and headlight design, with part of the lights being integrated into the hood to give the car a rather cool signature. Despite the changes, though, it’s still unmissable as a ‘500’.
Without a doubt, the biggest weakness of the petrol 500 is its interior, which looks and feels just as outdated as it is. It’s all changed here, though, with all but the entry-level Access car getting a new touchscreen that’s clear, responsive and possibly one of the best systems to use today. It’s especially appealing on higher-spec cars that use the larger 10.25-inch screen.
Elsewhere there’s a smart new digital dial system and a more upmarket-feeling steering wheel with smart new touch. The space in the front also feels far more plentiful than the regular car, not least due to the additional width and lack of transmission tunnel.
It’s not all plain-sailing, though. Rear seat and boot space remain just as compromised as the petrol model, and though quality has improved significantly, there are still plenty of cheaper plastics on display that don’t quite fit the car’s price.
There are some cars that just suit an electric powertrain perfectly and that’s definitely the case with this new Fiat 500. In just about every conceivable area – perhaps with the exception of price – it’s better than the petrol car.
With a long electric range (for such a small car), impressive interior and clever touchscreen as well as the same unmissable styling that’s been key to the 500’s success since its rebirth in 2007, it truly future proofs this lovable city car for years to come. But, let’s revert back to the present, and right now, this new electric 500 is possibly the best compact EV on the market today.