Six Reasons Why The Fiat 500e Electric Car Beats The Abarth

September 10, 2014

The Fiat 500e is a rare sight in most parts of the U.S., and as a 'compliance car,' only offered in California and Oregon and aimed to satisfy the framework of fuel-efficiency rules, it's not a viable option for many American small-car shoppers.

That's a shame, as it ranks as one of the most fun-to-drive, money-saving, and charming all-electric cars on the market. Our editors aren't newbies to the to the 500e; we've driven it a number of times, in four or more different cars and several hundred all-electric miles. Each time, we've had a blast, with the 500e feeling like a well-engineered, predictably performing electric car that's quick and quiet—and seems to always be exceeding expectations.

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And in a recent revisit with the 500e, in which we were able to drive both the Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio and the Fiat 500e, nearly back-to-back, we decided that the 500e is simply a better car.

Yes, none of the two-door Fiat 500 models are good 'only' cars for a family—or even an active couple—but for the kinds of things for which you buy a city car, the 500e is the winner.

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Before you rush to judgement, take a look, point by point, at six reasons why the 500e is the better bet than the Abarth:

Above-and-beyond engineering. The 500e isn't just an electric conversion, Fiat insists. After Fiat adapted the 500 lineup for the U.S. market, it added plenty more engineering to the 500e. The suspension was retuned and adapted, the battery actually helps stiffen the body, and engineers spend an additional 400 hours in the wind tunnel to cut aerodynamic drag by a whopping 13 percent versus the gasoline versions—saving the equivalent in energy of about 5 mpg. As chief engineer Brett Giem put it, the intent from day one was to create a really great car that happens to be electric. There are painful oversights—like the lack of fast-charging in the 500e—but it fully delivers to that in most other ways.

2014 Fiat 500e - Quick Drive, September 2014

2014 Fiat 500e - Quick Drive, September 2014

It's better-balanced—and just as quick at lower speeds. The 500e is an evangelist for how great electric cars can be, and the perky off-the-line performance isn't the only reason why. It handles in a nimble, more balanced way than the standard 500—and we'd venture to include the Abarth in that, too. Having the battery packaged under the floor, toward the rear wheels not only lowers the center of mass, adding to stability, but it improves the 500's weight distribution from a nose-heavy 63/37 percent front/rear to a more even-keeled 53/47 percent. Below 40 mph or so, the 500e feels just as quick as the Abarth; and even with a skilled professional driver, the 'high-performance' Abarth can only manage an edge of a few stopwatch ticks to 30 mph.

2014 Fiat 500e - Quick Drive, September 2014

2014 Fiat 500e - Quick Drive, September 2014

You shed the boy-racer bit. The 500 Abarth's crackly, popping, angry exhaust note, which channels the sound of an Italian exotic at its best, is something that driving enthusiasts will find pretty charming. But it's a little much for those who aren't open-throttle gearheads, and you're most likely to get some pushback from significant others about why it needs to sound like a loud tuner car. The 500e is quiet no matter what, so the little secret here is that you can drive it quicker and dart through those gaps without attracting attention from the passenger seat, or the outside world.

2014 Fiat 500e - Quick Drive, September 2014

2014 Fiat 500e - Quick Drive, September 2014

The wicked-great display. There's nothing bad about the gauges and displays you get in the gasoline versions of the Fiat 500. But take even one brief look at the bright, colorful display you get in the 500e, and unless you're a serious traditionalist we'll bet you'll favor the electric car's version. Battery levels and how much charge you're using can be seen at a quick glance, the display for range remaining is steady and reliable, and extra features for scheduled charging and vehicle settings are out of the way in menus beneath. When you turn the ignition off you get the full efficiency briefing, but it's clean and uncluttered when you're driving.

2014 Fiat 500e - Quick Drive, September 2014

2014 Fiat 500e - Quick Drive, September 2014

There's as much range as you really need in a minicar. Are you going to go farther than 70 or 80 miles per trip in a car like the 500 anyway? We've seen 70+ miles on a charge in the 500e, using the climate control and fully taking advantage of this model's zippy characteristics. And this most recent time, with the climate control off and just driving 'normally' we easily saw 100 miles before plugging in. The front seats aren't all that comfortable in any Fiat 500, so keep it as your second or third car for short trips and be happy being zippy, clean, and quiet.

2014 Fiat 500e - Quick Drive, September 2014

2014 Fiat 500e - Quick Drive, September 2014

You save money every step of the way. The 500 Abarth gets an EPA Combined 30 miles per gallon. On the other hand, the 500e gets 116 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe). While that might be hard to parse out, what is easier to grasp is that the 500e's 24-kWh battery only costs around $2.75 to charge up under national-average utility rates. And that takes you an EPA-rated 87 miles. You can knock the 500e's up-front price down near the Abarth's sticker if you claim the federal tax credit that applies; but it's the bargain $199 lease on the 500 that makes it the no-brainer deal if you're out to save money. And then you don't have to worry about resale value—not a strong point for the Abarth so far.

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