Back in July 2007, half the world’s press trooped off to Turin for the motor industry launch of the year. The Fiat 500 might not have been the most important new car of that period, but it certainly was the biggest, most over-the-top production.
Not only were there staged events throughout the city, including 500s floating down the river overlooked by grandstands full of VIPs, 30 cities in Italy actually closed their streets to all cars except original Fiat 500s.
It was a double celebration, for the Fiat 500 had first been revealed exactly 50 years earlier. The updated 2007-generation 500 is still on sale today, and will be for some time. However, the all-new, third incarnation of the Fiat 500 is all-electric.
That’s right. If you want a petrol-engined 500, you’ll have to buy the previous model. Which, to be honest, feels a bit long in the tooth now.
The visual similarities are marked. Every Fiat 500 has had a 37-degree rake to the rear body line, which gives it a distinctive profile. There are the same friendly headlight ‘eyes’, this time with the upper section (the sidelights) pushed up into the bonnet.
And the bonnet line can more closely echoes that of the 1950s Fiat now that, once again, there is no petrol engine up front.
Made in Italy
The family genes are there, then, but this is a brand new car. Now built in Italy, rather than Poland or Mexico, the 500 Electric is around 600mm wider and longer, which frees up space for passengers in what was previously was a very cramped four-seater.
It still has three rather than five doors, but the 500 Cabrio is the only four-seat electric convertible on the market. For the time being, at least.
To justify the inevitably higher price (the 500 Electric range runs from £20,495 to £30,495, compared with £13,275 to £19,155 for the petrol model) there need to be some compelling reasons to move across. And there are.
Gallery: Future electric cars: Upcoming battery-powered cars that will be on the roads within the next 5 years (Pocket-lint)
The 500 Electric is an altogether more grown-up vehicle, with the latest active safety equipment and, if you pick the right model, connectivity tech.
There is air conditioning, climate control, big screens, nice fabrics, clever door handles and much, much more. It’s even set up for low-level autonomous driving.
The seat fabric is reclaimed plastic, 10 percent of which comes from the sea. The front seats are genuinely comfortable, with superb support all-round. The driving position is higher than in many small cars and offers great all-round visibility. And while it’s still a bit pokey in the back, space is just about OK for this class of car.
How does it drive? Very well indeed. The motor is not as powerful as in some other electric cars, but there’s enough oomph both for city driving or cruising comfortably at 70mph on the motorway. Naturally, there are no gears to worry about, so it’s simply a matter of pressing the Drive button and taking off.
There are three drive modes, easily selected via a switch down by the handbrake. Normal is the default, while Range allows one-pedal driving, strongly slowing the car down when you lift off the accelerator.
Sherpa is really a get-you-home mode when you get panicky that you’ll run out of amps before you reach a charge point.
Charged with battery
Everything about driving the Fiat 500 Electric is delightfully simple. Even the dashboard controls are dominated by traditional buttons rather than touchscreens, although many are so small and hard to read you may wish for the more modern idea.
On the key point of how far will the Fiat 500 Electric go on a charge, well, that depends. The well-priced entry model, the £20,495 500e Action, has a smaller battery than the others. Its 24kWh unit allows a range of just 118 miles. Motor power is lower too, at 93hp rather than 118hp.
If it’s more range you want – and who doesn’t? – you’ll need to move up to at least the 500e Passion. That’s listed at £23,995, and comes with more kit, plus a range of 199 miles, courtesy of the 42kWh battery. It can also charge more quickly if you can find the right roadside chargers.
There are Icon and Prima models further up the range, plus the 500e Cabrio for an extra £2,650.
A boutique electric car
The new Fiat 500 Electric is no longer the budget buy it once was, but that’s sadly true of every electric car on the market. In its segment, where it’s up against boutique small EVs like the Mini Electric and Honda e, the Fiat 500 stands up very well indeed.
Its blend of style, quality, comfort, range and price are spot-on – better, in fact, than the dated petrol model. Drive one. You’ll like it.