- Cheerful lines, character
- Quiet, smooth performance
- Well-balanced roadholding
- Remarkably fun to drive
- Awkward driving position for some
- Barely usable rear seat
- Styling is slightly garish
- Only sold in California and Oregon
- Range soon eclipsed by Bolt EV
If you can live with a real-world range of 80 miles, the 2017 Fiat 500e is probably the best 500 minicar.
The Fiat 500e is the all-electric, battery-powered version of the Italian automaker's very, very small hatchback.
Now in its fifth model year, the 2017 Fiat 500e remains a very small, fun-to-drive, and economical electric car, available only in California and Oregon. Drivers, whether owning or leasing, revel in its smooth and silent acceleration, cheerful character, and zippy handling.
After getting the latest Uconnect in-dash infotainment system last year, the 500e remains largely unchanged this year. It comes in just two trim levels: the standard 500e, and the E-Sport, with added trim and accessories.
We rate is at 6.2 out of 10, with its best scores in Green, of course. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Why it exists
The Fiat 500e is a battery-electric adaptation of the little three-door hatchback minicar launched in 2011 as a 2012 model. It was the car to reintroduce the Italian brand to U.S. buyers, and its electric sibling arrived for 2013, a year after the various gasoline versions. It's probably worth noting that because it's a so-called compliance car, sold only in California and Oregon to meet zero-emission vehicle sales mandates.
Still, FCA's losses are Californians' gains, and given its truck-heavy lineup, the company may be closing in on 10,000 of the electric Fiat 500 delivered since 2013. (The company refuses to release sales figures for the 500e.) This year, it will compete with the new 200-mile Chevrolet Bolt EV, which offers more than double the range of the electric Fiat, and far more interior space despite its subcompact five-door hatchback shape. Other competitors include the Nissan Leaf, Volkswagen e-Golf, and Ford Focus Electric.
You may have to look twice to distinguish an electric Fiat 500 from its cousins with combustion engines, though that will depend a lot on the color. The 500e has unique front and rear bumper assemblies, door-sill extensions, and some other trim pieces. In darker colors, they pretty much blend in like any other 500. The electric car can also be ordered in bright orange with white contrast panels—and that one stands out even at a distance.
The 500e interior is essentially similar to the gasoline 500 as well, with a power meter substituting for a tachometer and various additional screens of operating information added to the vehicle display.
Rather than a gasoline engine, transmission, fuel tank, and associated plumbing, the 500e uses a 24-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack to power a 83-kilowatt (111-horsepower) electric motor that produces 147 lb-ft of torque to power the front wheels. The EPA rates the Fiat 500e at 84 miles of range in combined city and highway driving, and a relatively high 112 MPGe for combined energy efficiency. (The Miles Per Gallon Equivalent, or MPGe, rating indicates how far an electric car can travel on the same amount of energy as contained in 1 gallon of gasoline.)
On the road, the Fiat 500e may be the most fun to drive of the entire 500 minicar range. Sure, the turbocharged 500 Abarth has an exhaust note to die for and oodles of hot-hatch personality, but you have to shift gears frequently to make the most of it, whereas the electric 500 has one long, continuous power delivery.
At the launch a few years ago, it was clear that the Fiat Chrysler engineers had surprised even themselves with how much fun the electric car is to drive. With all its battery weight down low under the floor and rear seat, it's heavier—2,980 pounds, Fiat says—but hugs the road better and is less bouncy than any gasoline 500. It's less nose-heavy than the regular 500 range, so its handling and roadholding is more balanced.
You can toss it into turns and below about 40 mph, the only major noise you'll hear will be the tire squeal that shows how close you are to its limits. It's also notably quieter, and rather like the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, it's sort of what a small urban runabout should be—without the compromises of having to work a small engine hard to keep up with traffic.
500 pros and cons
Otherwise, the 500e has the same pluses and minuses as any Fiat 500. Its interior is really only usable for two standard-size adults, though smaller adults and children can use the rear seats once they get back there. The driving position is upright, on short, high seats, and the steering wheel is a bit more horizontal than usual—and it tilts, but doesn't telescope. That makes the driving position awkward for some, depending on how they're proportioned. And there's a mere 7 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the rear seat.
We've given it a Safety rating of just 4.0, because neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has rated the electric 500. Its gasoline counterpart gets four stars out of five overall from the NHTSA, and the IIHS gives it the highest rating of Good for all tests except the tough small-overlap crash test, where it gets the very lowest rating of Poor.
In other words, the essential qualities of the Fiat 500e combine the best of several models. It's got the smooth, torquey acceleration of any battery electric car, roadholding that's closer to the sporty Abarth than the boulevardier 500 Lounge, and real-world range close to its EPA-rated 84 miles. Fiat says 100-plus miles isn't uncommon in city use. The company is also to be commended for fitting a 6.6-volt charger, meaning that a full recharge takes less than 4 hours at a 240-volt Level 2 charging station.