16 February 2024

Parking no problem in chic little electric

| Paul Gover
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Fiat 500e

Paul Gover says the pricing of the Fiat 500e is “pretty good”. Images: Supplied.

The Fiat 500e should be the poster car for electrification in Australia. It’s modern and chic, compact and useable, and priced from $52,500.

It’s the 21st century makeover of the classic Fiat 500, which was a baby car boomer in Italy for generations and has also worked well in Australia right through to the most-recent Abarth 695 super-hot hatch.

Yes, by the way, there will be a 500e hottie in Australia next year.

For now, the 500e has a claimed range of 260 kilometres, a 0-100 km/h time of just over nine seconds, and it will happily carry four adults.

It’s much, much bigger than the earlier 500, and also – with the battery in the floor – considerably heavier. It also gets the latest in infotainment and electronic safety systems.

The price is pretty good, since it undercuts its most obvious rival – the Mini Cooper (from around $65,000), but it’s also up against a number of good-looking Chinese contenders including the MG4 and GWM Ora.

The 500e is so obviously Italian that it will be enough for some people.

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Although it is big-ish, it is easy to park, the performance is sharp enough for city work, and it is electric quiet on any road surface.

Yet some digging found it’s not as good as it seems.

The sunroof on the test car turns the cabin into a sweatbox because the electric air-conditioning cannot cope with Australian weather, the cupholder is set too low in the central console, the door handles are almost hidden way down in the doors, and access to the back seat is not easy. Unlike many other electric cars, there is no ‘frunk’ because the old-school engine room is filled with the electric workings.

Worst, for me, was the operation of some assistance systems. The braking is jerky at slow speeds, the steering intervenes too much when there is no need for lane assist, and the car completely refused to work properly on a steep driveway.

The suspension, too, is considerably worse than I expected. The car bounces over speed humps and undulations and never feels properly settled.

Still, it is a fun car around the city with just enough pep for cut-and-thrust commuting and a bit of cornering fun.

The styling turns heads, people stop to ask questions, and people thinking about a full electric car say the 500e could be the one to win them over.

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But there is still the question of range, which is claimed at 260 kilometres. That’s way short of the standard today, at more than 400 kilometres, and in the real world I didn’t even manage 200 in a mix of city, freeway and suburban running.

The 500e has the benefit of fast charging, as I put an 80 per cent top-up into the car in 35 minutes, but if you get caught short, Fiat has decided – like Ford with the MachE – not to include a three-pin charge cable you can use with a home socket. It’s also deleted any sign of a spare tyre to save space and weight.

So the 500e is a car that makes me smile. I want to love it.

But, when I drive it, not so much …

Fiat 500e

  • Position: Battery-electric city car
  • Price: From $52,500
  • Engine: Single electric motor
  • Power: 87kW/220Nm
  • Transmission: Single speed, front-wheel drive
  • Plus: Shape, style
  • Minus: Range, driving
  • THE TICK: Good for city trendies
  • Score: 6.5/10

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