Back in 1936, FIAT launched a car to get the Italian nation mobile. The “Topolino” was to not only satisfy thousands of drivers but it also paved the way to the ultra successful 500 which took to the road in the mid 1950s. This city car has become one of the most successful small vehicles of all time and it even had a special exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Now ready for the next motoring milestone, is an all electric version and already it has picked up a duo of awards; named Best Small Car and overall Car of the Year in the inaugural Electrifying Awards. The electric version is wider and longer; mind you, very slightly; however it adds to cabin space and choice is excellent with four trim levels; Action, Passion, Icon and La Prima and all bar the entry level model can be hatchback or convertible. The employment of 17 inch wheels further adds to the overall chunky looks of this very attractive Italian. Two power outputs are offered, 95 and 118 bhp from respective 24 and 42kWh batteries. Clearly the lesser powered Action version is primarily aimed at the city driver. Looking at performance, the sprint from rest to100kph (62mph) takes nine seconds and top speed is 150kph (94mph); if that is not enough then look in the direction of the cousin the Abarth 595. I feel that most buyers will be content enough with the performance offered by the 500 electric.
I am pleased to report that you can put fears of range anxiety to the back of your mind thanks to new technology which conserves the vehicle’s battery power, reducing its overall consumption. Similar to the low battery settings familiar to mobile phone users, the new 500 can automatically select its innovative, power-saving mode after detecting a low remaining driving range, about 48km (30 miles). Ensuring smoother and more gradual acceleration and limiting top speed to 80kph (50mph), this mode guides drivers to their destination by correcting behaviours which can lead to excessive energy consumption. It also encourages one-pedal driving, which contributes to a better use of the regenerative braking system and on an average urban drive, this feature can regenerate up to 30 per cent more energy than conventional braking. The software further optimises the remaining battery capacity by deactivating the climate control system, including the heated seats, windscreen and mirrors. Drivers tend to forget that these items take power from the battery.
FIAT has equipped their new city car with two additional driving modes: Normal and Range. All three can be accessed via the selector on the centre console and all three are designed to assist and enhance the driving experience. Selecting Normal mode is as close as possible to the experience of driving a petrol or diesel vehicle; in this mode you will enjoy the full responsive acceleration. Range mode offers a one-pedal driving experience combined with smoother acceleration, without limiting the top speed. In this mode, regenerative braking can be used to bring the car to a complete stop, helping to manage energy efficiency. While the power saving mode automatically activates when the car’s battery levels are low, it can be utilised at any time to help conserve the battery and extend a journey. There is also the choice to override the technology and select an alternative driving mode, or firmly press on the accelerator to override the 80kph (50mph) limit and automatically return to Normal mode. When you reach the nearest charging facility, the 500 electric requires only five minutes of charging to achieve a range of up to 48km (30 miles). Requiring more range then you can charge the battery to 80 per cent capacity in just 35 minutes, all good news. I like so many other drivers I have to admit been totally frustrated by some current electric models and their charging; certainly power saving mode in the new 500 electric should add an extra comfort to someone who is looking to buy their first electric car. In addition, being able to get 48km (30 miles) of charge in just five minutes is great news and the newcomer from FIAT according to official figures can travel to just shy of 329km (200 miles) and when used in the city the claim is a reassuring 400km (248 miles).
I was impressed by the build quality, the array of technology, comfort levels and the sheer enjoyment of being behind the wheel of this new model; however rest assured there are more conventional versions on offer in the 500 range. I would be the first to admit that I do not have all the answers regarding the electric car and a new book from Veloce and penned by Peter Henshaw has most of the answers to the questions you might have. “Electric Cars The Expert Q&A Guide” is a simple informative read. It concentrates on the practical aspects and answers many questions which are commonly asked regarding the electric car. An interesting section, the author looks at the exotic side of such vehicles and it is very much a comprehensive guide to the world of electric cars.