The all-electric New Fiat 500 re-invents and re-defines what this iconic model line should be. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
At last, an all-new third generation Fiat 500. And contrary to appearances, everything is different. This is the very first all-electric car from the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles FCA conglomerate, a model to be marketed as 'New 500' and sold alongside the existing petrol hybrid model, which continues for the foreseeable future. This latest car is fractionally bigger than that old second generation model, but continues to be offered in 3-door hatch and convertible body styles. Unlike some stylised direct EV segment rivals, there's a proper 200 mile driving range.
A new Fiat 500 is a big deal. We had the cute original in 1957. The New Millennium model that saved Fiat as a car maker, launched in 2007. And this car, introduced in early 2020. It's only offered in full-electric form (which is why the old petrol mild hybrid model carries on). And that's part of the reason development of this MK3 model has been so lengthy. Fiat wanted to wait for battery technology to mature a bit before launching this car - and that's paid off, allowing the brand to engineer in a much longer EV driving range than close rivals, the MINI Electric and the Honda e.
"It doesn't feel time to be timid", says Fiat boss Oliver Francois. "This car isn't just for now, it's for the next decade. So it's built new from the ground up and it's all-electric and only electric from day one". But the exterior look is very recognisable, as is the hatch and convertible body style choice.
The 42kWh battery and its associated electric motor develop 117bhp, which is all you really need for zesty performance in a car this small. Like all EV's, this one is quick off the mark, though Fiat has tried to make power delivery quite linear so that you don't use up all your battery charge at once. Hence the relatively realistic 0-62mph time of 9.0s, though 30mph can be reached from rest in just 3.1s. Maximum speed is restricted though - to just 87mph. various types of automated driving technology are available, including adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and intelligent speed limit assist.
Various drive modes are available that will enable you to maximise your driving range. There are three settings - 'Normal', 'Range' and the curiously named 'Sherpa', with the last of these being focused on getting the maximum from the battery, including a navigation program that will limit maximum speed to 50mph and restrict acceleration. The 'Range' mode maximises brake regeneration, meaning that you'll normally only have to drive with one pedal, so great will be the deceleration when you lift off the throttle. But most of the time, you'll be leaving in this car in its 'Normal' setting, in which form it won't require too much acclimatisation over a conventionally-engined supermini.
Don't be deceived by the familiar looks; everything is new here - including the fresh architecture that this car sits upon. That's allowed for a subtle increase in size, both fixed-top and convertible versions of this third generation model being 3.36m long and 1.69m wide, an increase of 6cm in both length and width. The 1.53m height means it's 4cm taller too. Fiat has deliberately made exterior look an evolution of this car's predecessor - specifically in the light and bumper designs. Look more closely though and you'll spot sharper lines and flush door handles, plus the adoption of full-LED headlights.
For existing owners, much less will be recognisable inside, where the dashboard is much wider and now topped by a big 10.25-inch touchscreen housing the brand's latest U connect 5 media system. This can deliver navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot and Apple CarPlay. Out back, the 2cm wheelbase increase means that things aren't quite as cramped as before: indeed, Fiat markets the drop-top version of this car (which retains folding fabric sunroof-style top) as 'the world's first 4-seat convertible EV'. The company also reckons that the floor-mounted battery pack won't reduce luggage capacity.
To begin with, just one trim level is available for New 500, a launch edition 'La Prima' high spec variant, which costs £27,000 for the fixed-top and £29,000 as a convertible, these figures after deduction of the UK government's £3,000 EV plug-in grant. Obviously you'll save a little on that if you go for and one of the lower spec trim variants you can ask your dealer about in the range. One nice little touch across the line-up is that the legally required low-speed acoustic warning sound that warns pedestrians of your approach in town is taken from the musician Nina Rota's score for the film 'Amacord'. Fiat wanted this acoustic warning sound to play like a melody, like the ring tones of your phone.
Across the range, you get the brand's latest 'U connect 5' 10.25-inch centre-dash infotainment screen, which is fully connected and based on the Android operating system. It includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-mirroring. The 'La Prima' launch-spec model comes with a panoramic glass roof, full-LED headlights, 17-inch diamond-cut wheels and chrome-plated side panel inserts. It will be offered with three exclusive paint shades. Inside, there's eco-leather upholstery for the dashboard and the seats.
Safety kit includes big car-style features like autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and a 360-degree parking assist system. As an option, Fiat is offering an intelligent adaptive cruise control system, which combines automatic lane keeping and a feature that will keep you a predefined distance from the vehicle ahead.
The new 500 features a 42kWh lithium-ion battery pack and an 85kW rapid charging system that can recharge the battery from empty to 80% capacity in just 35 minutes and can provide the car with 31 miles of driving range in just 5 minutes. As part of the launch edition package, buyers also get a Fiat-branded wall charging box that offers 3kW charging and apparently doesn't need to be professionally installed. This wallbox can be upgraded to allow for 7.4kW charging at home. That 7.4kW wall box allows you to fully charge this electric 500 in just over 6 hours. The car also comes with a mode 3 cable for charging at up to 11kW from a public charging point. It can be charged via AC or DC power points.
The important driving range figure is quoted 199 miles on the WLTP cycle - which is quite a lot more than the 144 miles offered by the rival MINI Electric, though that car has a much smaller 29kWh battery pack. It's much closer to the 211 mile EV driving figure you'll get from a Peugeot e-208. As usual with a Fiat, this car is covered by a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty and there's 36 months of breakdown cover included as well. Should you have a problem on a journey, you can use the 'Uconnect' infotainment system to contact roadside assistance and the same set-up can also be used to book routine services too.
In the past, Fiat 500 buyers have shown a desire to spend plenty on cars from this model line - which is just as well because they'll have to spend plenty to enter the era of 'New 500'. Looking at the list figures, you can see why it was so vital that the old model should continue as a more affordable option - a stepping stone to this new design
So is this new EV-era 500 worth aspiring to? We think many loyal (mainly female) buyers will think so. It's just as stylish as its MINI Electric and Honda e rivals and set a new high bar in terms of driving range for a tiny EV that embarrasses both of them. Which goes some way to justifying a high price that hopefully will become more accessible as the range broadens. This is no longer the cheap Peoples' Car it once was. But without doubt, it retains the spirit of the original.