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- 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 diminutive, fun-to-drive electric car, available only in California and Oregon. Drivers, whether owning or leasing, revel in the 500e's smooth acceleration, silent motor, cheerful character, and zippy handling.
After getting the latest version of Uconnect infotainment 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 500e uses the gasoline-powered 500 as its base and adapts it by adding a battery and electric motor. After the Fiat brand returned to America in 2012 with the new 500, the 500e followed closely behind a year later. However, the electrified 500 is what many in the business call a compliance car; it's sold solely in California and Oregon to meet zero-emission vehicle sales mandates.
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.
Those with keen eyes will distinguish the 500e from normal versions due to its unique front and rear fascias, door-sill extensions, and other assorted body and trim pieces. The 500e can also be ordered in a unique color combination unavailable on the 500: bright orange with white contrast panels—and it 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.
Underneath its skin, the 500e ditches all the gasoline-related powertrain items and replaces them with a 83-kilowatt electric motor (that's 111 horsepower, if you wanted the conversion) producing 147 pound-feet of torque. Of course, it's difficult to measure fuel economy when a vehicle doesn't burn any, but the EPA uses a "miles per gallon equivalent" unit, or MPGe, for communicating electric-vehicle energy efficiency where 1 unit equals the distance traveled on same amount of energy contained in 1 gallon of gas. For the 500e, the EPA estimate is 112 MPGe and it can travel up to 84 miles on a full charge in a mix of city and highway driving.
Believe it or not, the 500e might be more fun to drive than the 500 Turbo and 500 Abarth. Seriously. Sure, the 500 Abarth sings an exhaust note that just oozes hot-hatch personality, but you'll be frequently shifting gears to milk it for peak performance. Conversely, the 500e has one gear, and it delivers power smoothly.
However, it isn't the motor and single-gear transmission that makes the 500e such a hoot. It's the battery—or, more specifically, where the battery is located in the car. FCA engineers placed the battery below the seats in the floor, thus lowering its center of gravity a great deal. Sure, the product is a Fiat 500 that weighs 2,980 pounds, but it sticks to the road and isn't nearly as bouncy as gasoline-powered models. But be prepared to be a little freaked out when you chuck the little electric cars into corners. Due to its near silent operation, all you'll hear are the tortured squeals of its rubber tires at the end of their limits. Atop it all, the 500e is a near-perfect city car for those who just need to get themselves around, much like Smart's ForTwo Electric Drive.
500 pros and cons
The 500e delivers on fun and efficiency, but it doesn't make sense as the primary vehicle for families. A small rear seat makes for tight quarters for anyone larger than a below average-sized adult and the 500e's two-door configuration makes it an accessibility nightmare. You may as well save that rear seat for cargo as the 500e boasts only 7 cubic feet of cargo volume. Also, driver's may find the driving position a bit awkward, thanks to an upright, high-mounted seat sat behind a steering wheel that tils but doesn't telescope.
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 whisks you away with smooth, torquey acceleration, roadholding that's downright sporty, and the ability to deliver close to its estimated 84 miles of range in real-world conditions. (Fiat even claims those who stick to city streets can get over 100 miles from a single charge.) Charging isn't a drain on your time, either, as FCA fitted the 500e with a 6.6-volt charger that allows buyers to plug into 240-volt Level 2 charging stations to fully recharge in less than 4 hours.