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2013 Fiat 500e – First Look At This New Electric Funhouse

2013 Fiat 500e

Anyone familiar with the iconic little Fiat 500 knows that it is a fun little urban commuter with tons of Italian style packed into a tiny frame. While not practical for everyone, it is a great car in its gasoline configuration. Now Fiat says they're going to offer the little 500 in a battery-electric version next year and debuted the Fiat 500e at the Los Angeles Auto Show. By all indications, this fun little car will become an entire funhouse of joy when this happens. Click here to read our hands-on review.

The manufacturer says

Isn’t ugliness the worst pollution of all? Fiat is delivering something environmentally sexy.

Specs:

  • Manufacturer: Fiat
  • Year, Model: 2013 500e
  • Class, Type: Subcompact 3-door
  • Propulsion system: EV
  • Vehicle range: 80+ miles
  • Fuel(s): Electricity
  • Time to refuel: 4 hours+
  • Base Price: Unannounced
  • Availability:
  • 2013

Overview

The 2013 Fiat 500e is basically the chassis and body of the 2013 500 with a few modifications and an electric powertrain. Stylistically, its chief difference is the closed-in front grille and the EV markings Fiat put on the panels. Otherwise, visually, it is largely identical to its gasoline counterpart. Underneath the body shell, however, it's very different.

The 500 is a sporty, fun to drive Italian micro car with a lot going for it. While not the most powerful or peppiest vehicle in its class, it certainly is tops in its overall package of driving fun and general versatility. For the electric version, Chrysler-Fiat installed a 24 kWh battery pack of thermally managed lithium-ion and an 83 kW permanent-magnet, 3-phase synchronous drive motor. That motor puts out a respectable 147 lb-ft of torque. Overall, the car will have an estimated 80 mile range with over 100 miles achievable in city driving. That means an estimated 116 MPGe city and 100 highway.

A few things will set this one apart from the BEV competition – which will be the Nissan Leaf and the Ford Focus Electric, largely. First, it has no "Eco" button, which Fiat suggests is just a gimmick that kills throttle response in return for marginal (if any) range improvement. Second, it will have small details in its drive style that mimic the gasoline version to give the driver the impression of a "normal car" while keeping all of the benefits of electric – including full torque at all speeds.

Sitting behind the wheel, the driver sees no shifter at all. Instead, a handful of push buttons control park, drive, and reverse modes. When at a stop and in Drive, the 500e will begin to "creep" forward if the brake pedal is not depressed, mimicking the way internal combustion cars move when not actively engaged in a stop. At a light, for example, this would give the driver the forward movement between letting off the gas and pressing the accelerator that they're used to and would also allow the driver to "idle forward" as is common when anticipating traffic or light changes.

Other little things are also added thanks to the electric-assist power steering. EPS calibration tunes the car to steering response and feedback based on the car's speed – faster means less response, slower means more response; a common feature in sports cars. It also compensates for "drag" so that roads with a severe crown or driving in a crosswind where the car is continually pulled to one side will have the steering respond by automatically adjusting to compensate, taking the onus off the driver.

Finally, regenerative braking is controlled through the brake pedal as with most other electrified vehicles.

What we like

Perfect choice for EV conversion, the 500 is a great platform. It is a fun drive, a popular vehicle, and it's just the right size for a realistic electric car with today's production-available technology.

Excellent balance - the way Chrysler-Fiat has designed this little conversion is a great example of how it should be done. Just the right balance of sporty power output and range potential.

What we don't

Limited range is always a problem with battery electrics. The 500, however, is primarily an urban car and so the sub-100 mile range will not bother most of its potential market.

Slow rollout on this one is common, but lame.

Conclusions

The Fiat 500e promises to be a fun, accessible entry into the emerging battery electric vehicle market. The company has not announced availability as of this writing nor a price point, but it's likely to roll out in the usual places and then go national within a year. Fiat has made it clear that this will be a nationally-available EV and not just a compliance auto.

Test Period Length and Limitations
Car was a demonstration only as a production proof and was not driven.

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