By Alexandra Lawrence, carsales.com.au
The Fiat 500 is a big car in Europe. No, the retro-cute, city-sized hatchback isn’t physically any larger, but it is hugely popular among urban trendsetters in fashion-focused cities like Milan, Paris, London, and Rome.
In Australia, our continued love affair for large cars – converting from traditional sedans to SUVs and dual-cab utes over the last decade – has meant the born-again cinquecento (literally 500 in Italian) hasn’t taken off here in the same way.
But Stellantis, Fiat’s parent company, has introduced a fully electric version of the adorable city car to Australia, which it hopes will be more aspirational among forward-thinking city-slickers than the petrol-powered versions have done.
The all-new Fiat 500e isn’t cheap though, starting at $52,500 plus on-road costs. So, can this Bellissima Italian justify such a big price tag?
If you love the look, then you’re more than halfway there.
The all-new 2023 Fiat 500e hatchback is offered in Australia in a single high-grade La Prima specification that costs from $52,500 plus on-road costs.
For that money, Fiat says you’ll get 311km of driving range from a 42kWh lithium-ion battery, as well as loads of equipment in the tiny four-seater city car.
Fiat Australia is adamant it won’t undercut the La Prima version with the more affordable 500e City Range variant that features a smaller 24kWh battery, as seen in the UK. And a rag-top convertible version of the 500e appears to also be off the cards for the time being.
However, the Italian brand has confirmed a high-performance Abarth 500e is coming, which should be fun.
While the 500e is likely to be a niche player in Australia, Stellantis is hoping the first electric car from its Italian brand can replicate some of its European success - it sold 70,000 of the pint-sized electric Fiats last year alone, making it the conglomerate’s best-selling global EV.
Buyers might have only one model grade to choose from with the 2023 Fiat 500e, but there are plenty of colour options and accessories that can personalise the vehicle.
The standard Ice White paintwork is the only no-cost colour, while Ocean Green, Onyx Black, and Rose Gold cost an extra $700, while Celestial Blue commands a whopping $1600 premium.
The only caveat is that it might be tricky to get the colour you want… unless you want black, white, or pink.
That’s because Fiat stopped producing the gorgeous Celestial Blue in June 2023, then canned Ocean Green the following month, both of which we saw (and loved) in the metal at launch.
Meanwhile, a Mineral Grey option also appears on the spec sheet, but production of that colour also ended in June when Fiat announced it would stop producing grey cars, so those three colours will be much more difficult to come by.
At least there’s plenty of standard equipment on board, which somewhat justifies its hefty price tag.
That includes 17-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, LED headlights, a fixed glass panoramic roof (with mesh sunshade) and tinted windows.
Inside, the Ice Beige eco-leather trim features a neat FIAT pattern embroidered into the heated front seats, plus there’s a six-speaker sound system, wireless phone charging and a two-tone steering wheel.
Outside, an enclosed honeycomb grille is stamped with new ‘500’ badging, while ‘e-latch’ door handles aim to improve aerodynamics.
Fiat covers the car with a sub-par three-year/150,000km warranty, while the battery is covered for eight years/160,000km.
Service intervals are scheduled every 12 months/15,000km and cost $250 per visit for the first eight years.
All Four Safety
The 2023 Fiat 500e will likely be scrubbed out for company fleet choices, and safety conscious consumers may dismiss it quickly too, as the car only scored a four-star safety rating in 2021 by Euro NCAP, which has been adopted here by local crash test authority ANCAP.
That’s despite the 500e being equipped with a decent suite of safety and driver technology, including six airbags, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, driver fatigue detection, tyre pressure monitoring, adaptive cruise control and auto high beam.
You also get traffic sign recognition, which we found a bit hit-and-miss during our road test.
As for convenience features, the 2023 Fiat 500e crams an array of impressive yet thoughtful ideas into its tiny cabin.
For starters, the interior design takes inspiration from the iconic original model (which first launched in 1957 and sold nearly 4 million units by the time it ended production in 1975) with plenty of retro-infused flair from its round dials and curvaceous lines.
Like a lot of modern EVs, the Fiat 500e ditches a regular transmission lever and adopts a button-only approach when it comes to gear selection, to help with packaging inside the cabin.
It’s a neat space-saver, but the button lacks a certain high-quality finish we expected, and you often need to hit it more than once before it recognises your input.
Similarly, there are no regular door handles; instead, it’s the push of a circular button on the door trim, much like a Tesla.
There are, however, physical buttons and switches for the climate control panel which makes it easy to adjust temperature and fan speed on the fly.
The 7.0-inch high-res digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel displays important information in a clear manner, and the larger 10.25-inch touch screen in the centre of the dash offers DAB+ digital radio and wireless access to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Meanwhile, two USB ports feature up front, one USB-A and one USB-C, while an unbranded six-speaker audio system takes care of sound, but is nothing special in terms of quality.
The Fiat 500e makes a solid first impression compared to the previous petrol-powered versions we have driven.
The cabin feels well-built, and the tactile elements are top notch, but it’s hard to see how the 500e can justify its $60k price tag in other areas with lots of hard plastics and clunky switchgear through the cabin.
There are some cute design touches though, like the etching of the Turin skyline along the edge of the wireless phone charging pad – in honour of the brand’s hometown in Italy.
But the 500e cannot disguise the fact it is a compact car. While there is plenty of manual adjustment in the driving position, it’s best to consider the little Fiat as a two-seater rather than a small family runabout.
Its three-door configuration obviously restricts easy access to the back seat in the first place, and there’s really only enough room for small children to travel comfortably.
At 166cm tall, I could manoeuvre myself in there okay, but the roofline cuts into headroom, and there’s very little outward vision back there. Unless you have short legs, you’ll feel cramped.
If you do use the 500e as a two-seater and lay down the 50/50-split folding rear seat, boot space goes from a measly 185 litres to a whopping 550L.
There’s no space-saver spare tyre though, just a tyre repair kit.
The 2023 Fiat 500e is powered by a small electric motor mounted up front, producing modest outputs of 87kW of power and 220Nm of torque.
It doesn’t sound like much on paper, and it isn’t, particularly given how heavy this chunky little EV is, but it defies the numbers by feeling zippy and accelerating quickly from standstill thanks to having all its torque available the moment you touch the throttle.
Fiat says the 500e will go from 0-100km/h in 9.0 seconds, before topping out at a speed-limited 150km/h. It feels quicker than that, and has no trouble keeping up with traffic while also travelling confidently at highway speeds.
Keep within city limits
The 500e might look the same as regular models, but it is built on an entirely different, dedicated electric-car platform.
Housed between the axles is a 42kWh lithium-ion battery that will deliver a claimed 311km of range on a full charge (based on the WLTP cycle).
It’s good for DC charging up to 85kW and Fiat says it’ll take around 35 minutes to go from fully depleted to 85 per cent, while AC charging up to 11kW (via a wall box, for example) will take the battery from 0-100 per cent in just over four hours.
If you’ve only got access to a regular domestic power point, you’ll be waiting more than 20 hours.
Despite its tiny proportions, the 2023 Fiat 500e is a relatively heavy little thing, tipping the scales at around 1300kg.
But it still feels nimble on road and those city-car dimensions – measuring 3.6m long and 1.6m wide and having a 9.7m turning circle – make it super-easy to dart around town.
Compared to the current Fiat 500 hatch, the electric version is 61mm longer, 56mm wider and 39mm taller, while riding on a wheelbase with 24mm extra between the front and rear axles to increase cabin space.
The steering provides decent feedback to the driver despite having heaps of power assistance that makes it light and easy to twirl.
The suspension set-up is nothing fancy, consisting of MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear with disc brakes up front and drums at the rear (like the Cupra Born).
Although it runs on relatively firm springs without a lot of travel, the ride is surprisingly comfortable. Even on harsh bitumen scattered with big potholes that you’d generally try and avoid, the 500e feels compliant.
Find a twisty road and it really comes alive, tackling turns without a hint of body roll and fantastic purchase from its Continental EcoContact 6 tyres.
Drivers have the choice to tailor the car’s character through three driving modes: Normal, Range (which increases the power of the regenerative braking system) and Sherpa, which applies an 80km/h speed limit and switches off the climate control to increase driving range.
Adorable, but not affordable
It’s easy to see why the 2023 Fiat 500e is so popular in Europe. It is the perfect urban runabout that offers plenty of style and is zippy to drive. It also has a decent list of standard equipment, the latest in safety (even if it only scores a four-star rating) and provides more than enough driving range to cater for inner-city dwellers that don’t drive beyond the city limits.
But here in Australia, where we live further apart and tend to do a lot more driving, the electric 500 won’t suit everyone. And it asks a lot for its size and sticker price, especially against the flood of cut-price competitors coming from the Chinese brands.
But it is so adorable that it’s hard not to love. And, if all you need is a two-seater four-wheeled fashion accessory, the new Fiat 500e is well worth a test drive.
2023 Fiat 500e at a glance:
Editor’s Rating: 7.8/10
$52,500 (plus on-road costs)
Single permanent magnet synchronous motor
Four-star (ANCAP 2021)
Single-speed reduction gear
Disclaimer: Images supplied by Stellantis Australia.
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