2013 Fiat 500e first drive review: Tiny footprint

2013 Fiat 500e

Fiat isn’t rife with models in America. As a matter of fact, it only has one: the 500. But this little subcompact has more variations than a teenager’s hairstyles. First is the coupe, then the cabrio, then the performance-oriented Abarth, then the Abarth cabrio, and then the 500L. Within those are also different trim levels. And for 2013, Fiat has added one more: the Fiat 500e, with the e for electric.

2013 Fiat 500eOverall, the 500e is still the 500. Some spotter’s guide clues include the lowercase “e” badge, the dot-matrix pattern on the sealed lower front fascia, unique 15-inch wheels paired with low-rolling-resistance tires to help with aerodynamics, and a handful of sculpting and drag-reducing features to bring the coefficient of drag down from 0.36 in the gas-powered model to an impressive 0.31 for the 500e. Some of those features include belly pans, rear roof spoiler, and streamlined sideview mirror caps.

The 500e features three exterior looks: Nero, Bianco Perla, and the e-Sport Package, of which the latter adds bodyside graphics, a blackout look and contrasting mirror caps.

2013 Fiat 500eInside, the 500e adopts an Italian mid-century modern look, or what the designers call Retro-futuristic. Imitation leather seating combines with a sport cloth that incorporates the dot-matrix pattern from the exterior, and then adds Arancio Electrico (bright orange) accents throughout. It will definitely keep you awake on the road, is fun and perfectly suits the small electric car.

The 500e utilizes the Thin Film Transistor (TFT) dash similar to the one used in the new Dodge Dart, and there’s an electronic information center that uses pictographs to display functions like the trip computer, tire pressure monitor and vehicle status data.

The Fiat 500e has just enough room up front for two regular adults, and a back seat that will do in a pinch, but since it’s electric, you don’t really have to worry about roominess on long jaunts.

2013 Fiat 500eThe one feature we didn’t care much for was the TomTom navigation that sits on a post and is literally “stuck” into the dash. Luckily it can be removed and stored in the glovebox when not needed. As a shorter driver, it felt uncomfortably positioned and limited some of the information coming in through the windshield. We were informed, however, that Fiat is working on incorporating the next nav system into the console where it belongs. Since the drive was local, we didn’t require the navigation help, which was good, since we noticed that it wasn’t 100 percent accurate, but most nav systems aren’t. The other odd package feature is the standard driver’s armrest in the center, but not one for the passenger, who, because the vehicle is so small, ends up using the driver’s, which means elbow dueling like in airline coach seats.

2013 Fiat 500eWith the beauty portion of the competition over, let’s move on to the next category: personality. The biggest difference between the 500 models and the e is the propulsion: electric. It’s powered by a 83kW three-phase synchronous drive-motor that generates 111 hp and 147 lb-ft of torque. The motor gets its juice from a 24kWh lithium-ion battery with its own liquid heating/cooling system for good battery life. The 6.6kw onboard charger delivers a full charge from full battery depletion in less than four hours on 240v charge (Level 2), or less than 24 hours on Level 1, (120v household current), so installing a 240 charge station is the recommended charge protocol. By the way, the charging station setup will be handled through Chrysler’s MOPAR performance division. Hard to wrap the head around that one. The battery has an 8-year/100,000-mile warranty, which is good but doesn’t beat the 10-year/150,000-mile warranty offered by some EV competitors.