Rather than take its pension, Fiat’s 65-year-old star car heads into the electric age

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Fiat has become a car maker a critic might compare to one of those greying musical acts that keeps touring but hasn’t come up with any new material worth listening to in yonks, and is simply milking its back catalogue for all it’s worth.

The Mazda MX-5-based 124 Spider was a likeable but ultimately forgettable cover album; the Fiat Tipo – which is still on sale – was an old name for an old-fashioned car, even when it was new; and the Fiat 500X and Fiat 500L are unimaginative and somewhat cynical reinterpretations of old material. Meanwhile, endless new variations on the 500 city car – and, to a lesser extent, the Fiat Panda – have kept the fans entertained.

Contrary to what the badge suggests, it’s not called a 500e, or even a 50e. Just 500, please; 500 Electric if you must. The old petrol model remains in production as the 500 Hybrid, even though it’s only a mild hybrid.

But at long last, Fiat may just have a worthy comeback album on its hands. Sure, the all-new, all-electric 500 has a familiar name and (from a distance) looks familiar, but don’t let that fool you: the material here is truly fresh and original, and very current indeed.

Let’s be clear about the name first: this new car is simply called the Fiat 500. The second zero of the badge has a dash in it to make it look like an ‘e’, but Fiat never actually calls the car the ‘500e’. It does sometimes call it the ‘New 500’ or ‘500 Electric’ to avoid confusion – but nowhere does it say ‘electric’ on the car. Meanwhile, the petrol-powered 500 remains in production, but that is now called the 500 Hybrid, even though it’s only the mildest of hybrids.

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Now that’s cleared up, let’s find out if the electric 500 is the comeback album that Fiat so sorely needs, and whether it ranks as one of the best small electric cars around?.

The Fiat 500 range at a glance

The new 500 offers a choice of two battery capacities, the smaller pack coming with a weaker electric motor. The 500C, with its retractable fabric roof, is only available with the bigger battery.

There is a choice of four trim levels. Action is quite basic and always comes with the smaller battery. Red is a slight step up and offers a choice of the two batteries. Icon comes with the 42kWh pack only and has a reasonable amount of standard equipment. La Prima is similar to a fully loaded Icon.


2 Fiat 500 electric 2022 road test review tracking rear

The confusing naming disguises the fact that this 500 is a completely new car. You could be forgiven for thinking it’s a re-engineered version of the existing car, but when you park it next to an older one, it becomes abundantly clear that cannot be the case: the new car’s size and proportions are just distinct enough that this can only be a new car.

Fiat is now part of Stellantis, of course, and most if not all of that group’s future EVs will use the CMP platform developed by PSA, which can accommodate petrol and diesel engines, hybrid powertrains and full EV tech. However, the 500 project began before the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and PSA, and it rides on a bespoke EV skateboard platform. It remains to be seen if other Stellantis cars will be based on this architecture as well, or if all future models will use PSA’s technology.

The Fiat 500 is one of few three- door hatchbacks that remain on sale. The very long doors and the difficulty clambering into the back show why five doors make more sense, but it just wouldn’t look right, would it?

Mechanically, it’s a relatively unadventurous recipe, using MacPherson struts for the front suspension and a torsion beam axle at the rear, as is the norm for a small front-drive car. Not going with rear-wheel drive might seem like a missed opportunity given both the 500’s history and the way the mass-EV market is developing technically, but the traction benefits of RWD are limited in low-powered compact cars like this, and not having a rear motor prevents the 500’s already small boot from becoming comically tiny.

The drive battery under the floor has a capacity of 42.0kWh in most versions, including the car we’re testing here. Of that, 37.3kWh is usable, giving a WLTP range of 199 miles. On lower trim levels, there is also a smaller battery, with just 21.3kWh of usable capacity good for 118 miles. That base version comes with peak power of just 94bhp, while other new 500s have 117bhp.

Those numbers are no longer class-leading but are certainly not bad for a car this diminutive. And the new 500 is definitely still small. It has grown compared with the petrol-engined version: it’s 61mm longer at 3632mm, as well as 39mm taller; and while the body has got 56mm wider, it’s barely wider than the old car across the mirrors. And that’s just as useful in busy cities as it is when threading down country lanes.

Possibly more important than the technical details is that, for such a style-led car, this still looks unmistakably like a modern-day Fiat 500. It’s a remarkably unfussy and restrained design, and one that earned Maserati’s vice-president of design, Klaus Busse, the Design Hero prize in Autocar’s 2021 awards.

Like the petrol 500, it is available as a regular hatchback or as a 500C with a retractable fabric roof. Left hand-drive markets also get a 3+1 version with an extra, rear-hinged door to aid rear entry, but that has not yet been confirmed for the UK.


10 Fiat 500 electric 2022 road test review cabin

The 500 is relatively affordable for an EV, but that evidently means it wasn’t the kind of car that was developed with a budget to spend around the cabin on soft-touch materials and expensive-feeling switchgear. Nevertheless, its designers have struck some good compromises here. A lot of the surfaces are hard plastics but the design is pleasingly retro, with body-colour panels in the dash and fabric inserts in the doors.

The row of climate control buttons is unique for the 500, and the physical controls are welcome but do feel flimsy and, being gloss black, are just as susceptible to fingerprints as the car’s touchscreen is. The heated seats (optional, but essential to preserve range in an EV) are controlled through the screen, though.

The main internal door release is a button. It works okay but there’s a prominent physical lever in the door bin as well. Just a physical release would have sufficed.

The seats are upholstered in a retro blue-and-white fabric made from recycled plastic. They’re comfortable by city car standards and don’t cause too many aches on longer journeys. The cushion is a little short and flat, and there is no adjustable lumbar support, but we’ve experienced much worse in this segment.

We do have some serious quibbles with the car’s driving ergonomics, though. First, base height adjustment is optional on the driver’s seat but really ought to be standard. Our test car didn’t have it and had a seat that felt set far too high. Head room is actually very good, but you end up looking through the top third of the windscreen, and vision is further hindered by the interior mirror, so if you’re tall it’s tempting to hunch, causing backache on longer drives.

More irksome still is that Fiat’s right-hand-drive conversion is particularly poor. The pedals are positioned relatively centrally but there is a big centre console that intrudes into the footwell, making very little room for your left foot. There is a paltry effort at a footrest, a narrow bit of plastic trim on the wall of the footwell, but your foot often slides off it, and then under the brake pedal, which can be very annoying. Interior space is as expected from a small car: limited. With the front seats in a typical position, adults couldn’t really sit in the back on account of both the limited head room and leg room. For younger children, though, the second-row seats are usable enough with two Isofix points.

The 50/50-split folding rear seats are standard from Icon trim up and leave quite a step in the car’s loading area when folded down. The small boot at least has a flat floor otherwise, and is a usefully square shape.

Fiat 500 infotainment and sat-nav

The Italian brands are not generally considered leaders in infotainment systems, but Fiat has pulled out all the stops for this one.

The interface can seem slightly overwhelming initially as it tends to throw a lot of information at you all at once, but as soon as you get used to the layout, it’s quite logical and responsive enough. There is a permanent row of shortcuts on the left, and there is wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, which worked smoothly during our test and goes well with the wireless charger that’s available on most versions (you get only two wired USB ports in the car).

That all applies to the 10.25in screen you get in Icon and La Prima models. If you choose the base Action car, you don’t even get a radio – just a phone cradle and an app. A brief experience on the launch suggested this works fine, but a £850 Radio Pack offers an upgrade to a 7.0in screen.


A 0-62mph time of well over 11 seconds used to be expected of most petrol-powered city cars, but electric motors have made their EV successors much more assertive on the road. Despite not being any kind of pseudo-performance model, our Fiat 500 beat a Volkswagen Up GTI from rest to 60mph by 0.3sec.

For a small car, the Fiat is heavy on account of its 295kg battery pack. Its 1365kg kerb weight dulls its performance somewhat, but it still managed to hit 60mph from rest in just 8.1sec. It also reached the UK motorway limit almost eight seconds sooner than the 1.2-litre 500C we tested in 2016, and ultimately ran into its 92mph limiter with apparent ease.

Notably for a small EV, the 500 has plenty of kerb and driver appeal. It’s fun at everyday speeds and can be hurled into corners without being overrun by the on-tap torque.

The 500 has three driving modes: Normal, Range and Sherpa. Normal has only slight regen, equivalent to engine braking in a petrol car; Range dulls the initial accelerator response and boosts the regen quite significantly but stops short of one-pedal driving; and Sherpa is like Range, but turns off the climate control and limits you to 50mph.

When you keep the car in Normal, the brake pedal is nicely progressive. Emergency stopping power is on a par with similar small EVs like the Vauxhall Corsa-e, with no unusual pitching or instability to report.


22 Fiat 500 electric 2022 road test review cornering front

City cars are generally not known for their engaging handling. Simple suspension layouts, modest limits of grip and generally conservative wheel geometries, intended to promote stability rather than boost agility, see to that. As a result, adequate handling is really all that’s required here. To our great delight, however, the 500 does a lot more than that.

Our test car came on optional 17in wheels shod with 205/45 Continental EcoContact 6 tyres. That’s a pretty meaty tyre section for a car of this size and, as a result, the 500 develops more than decent grip and traction, which is something cheaper EVs can struggle with as their more rudimentary traction control systems fail to contain the instant torque. Other versions of the 500 come on 195- or 185-section tyres, so might behave differently.

17in wheels are standard on the highest trim but optional on most other versions. The 500 won’t ride that smoothly anyway, so you might as well have them. They look great and come with wider tyres.

The car’s suspension is quite stiff and allows very little roll through corners, so although the light steering transmits no tactile road feel, you can be confident in placing the Fiat when going through corners at speed. In fact, it often feels like you don’t need to slow down for corners at all – just aim the car in and hang on, while the agility afforded by the short wheelbase ensures the chassis obeys your instruction in a way that is a bit reminiscent of an original Mini.

At higher speeds, the chassis proves to be stable both at a motorway cruise and when probing the car’s adhesive limits on the Millbrook Hill Route, where it ultimately understeers and then tucks in when lifting off, which is prudent for this kind of car.

All this suggests that the 500’s platform would lend itself to a spicier Abarth version - and indeed it does, because the Abarth 500 electric is a fun car. With 152bhp, improved steering, sportier seats and a more playful chassis balance, it's not only a great alternative to the Mini Electric, but also combustion-engined models such as the VW Up GTI.

But none of that need diminish how brilliantly the 500 handles as a city car in its own right. The steering initially feels slow, but that’s only because there is so much lock to play with. The 500 turns on a sixpence if you want it to, while visibility is great due to how close the corners of the car are and how easy it is to judge them.

Assisted driving notes

It’s not a given for a city car to offer as many active safety features as the Fiat 500 does. Action trim gets lane keeping assistance, traffic sign recognition, drowsiness alert and automatic emergency braking.

At the price point, that’s quite respectable. For any form of cruise control, you’ll need to upgrade to Red trim, while adaptive cruise control, lane following assistance, blindspot assistance and a 360deg parking camera are available on Icon and above.

Our Icon test car had only the standard-fit features, but what it had worked quite well. We didn’t experience any false activations from the autonomous emergency braking system, which is able to recognise cyclists and pedestrians. The lane keeping assistance was largely unintrusive on the motorway and can be deactivated easily with a button on the end of the indicator stalk when on country roads.

Comfort and isolation

Ride and handling remain a compromise, but it’s one that Fiat has struck reasonably well with the electric 500. As well as good stability on the motorway, it offers longer-distance comfort and refinement.

That said, the car still makes a much more effective city car than a motorway supermini. In absolute terms there is plenty of wind and road noise about it at motorway speeds, but at least there is no engine screaming out for another gear.

Where the car’s particular dynamic trade-off can be most clearly felt is in its low-speed ride. The stiff suspension set-up, short wheelbase and relative lack of wheel dexterity combine to hamstring the ride a little when it’s dealing with bigger bumps, when the 500 can bob and bounce around a bit disconcertingly. You get used to it soon enough, and potholes aren’t necessarily jarring, but you soon come to expect to be jostled at least a little bit by every bump in the road.

Another factor that affects the 500’s comfort is one that will be familiar to drivers of older small cars but can still be startling when stepping into the Fiat from something bigger: that you can feel exposed among traffic here, in a way you won’t feel in full-sized modern superminis. The Fiat’s perched driving position and the closeness of both the passenger door and the end of the bonnet contribute to that sensation. The 500 scored four stars in the most recent Euro NCAP test, showing that it is perfectly safe, but the subjective impression of vulnerability when driving it may still be a factor for some.


1 Fiat 500 electric 2022 road test review lead

The cheapest electric 500, the Action, which always has the smaller battery, starts at £23,495, or £21,995 with the plug-in car grant. Save for the Smart EQ Fortwo, that makes it the cheapest new electric car (discounting the Renault Twizy and Citroën Ami) on sale in the UK since the Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo were both discontinued. And compared with the Smart, the Fiat offers significantly more space, seats and range.

Compared with petrol versions of the Volkswagen Up and Hyundai i10, or even superminis like the Seat Ibiza, the Fiat is still very expensive, of course, but that’s the case for most EVs.

CAP predicts a strong first year for the Fiat but a drop-off after that. The premium appeal of the Mini Electric endures.

At the upper end of the model range, with top-level versions priced in the low-£30,000s, the Fiat is slightly cheaper than an equivalent Peugeot e-208 (which offers more space and more range), while a Vauxhall Corsa-e or Renault Zoe are similar money. A Mazda MX-30 is cheaper still but offers less range.

Speaking of range, Fiat’s claimed 199 miles was made to look optimistic during our testing, to say the least. With some motorway usage, 140 miles proved to be a more realistic estimation of available range during test driving in admittedly fairly cold weather. If you stay within the city and if the weather’s ideal while you’re doing it, you might eke out 160. Frustratingly, the range indicator tends to be optimistic, too, when you set off with a full charge.

Charging speeds are decent, but no more. The smaller battery tops out at 50kW, while the bigger battery can charge at 85kW, which means that a 0-80% charge takes 35 minutes. That is consistent with our experience.


24 Fiat 500 electric 2022 road test review static

It has been a long time since Fiat has been at the top of its game, but with this new electric version of the 500, it has finally produced a winner. The exterior as well as the interior design are still as recognisable and cute as ever, but despite the retro bent look thoroughly modern. And for something as style-forward as the 500, that’s most of the battle won right there.

But it goes further: it’s also a convincing prospect to own and to drive. There are EVs with more power and more range, but the 500 isn’t entirely left behind on that score; and thanks to its tiny dimensions and tight turning circle, it fulfils its primary purpose as a city car, too. Although it can’t completely cover its city car roots, the Fiat is remarkably good to drive when you venture out onto the open road. The wide spread of prices also makes it viable both as a relatively affordable EV and as an ever-fashionable premium small car.

The 500 is the most unexpectedly hilarious car I’ve driven in some time. Small dimensions, a responsive chassis, decent traction and instant electric torque meant I could drive it as hard as I liked on the country lanes around where I live – safely and within the speed limit.

Not all EVs have to be two-tonne behemoths, clearly. Fiat has joined the ranks of those showing that small electric cars can be viable, and can also be fun – to look at, to sit in, and to drive.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.

Fiat 500 Electric First drives