2015 Fiat 500e Road Test Review


LOS ANGELES, March 1, 2015 — Now expanded into Oregon (along with California) markets, the 2015 Fiat 500e electric vehicle (EV) is perhaps the almost perfect zero emissions car in North America. Why almost perfect? Come along on a star-studded week-long road test in LA’s Hollywood Hills of an Abarth-style slate gray-and-bright orange 500e.

2015 Fiat 500e Orange Front View

Fiat has finally made its third generation, award-winning 2015 Fiat 500e available in its “studios” (aka dealerships) in both Oregon and California. And that’s a very good thing because the all-electric model of Fiat’s classic mini Cinquecento (the Italian word for 500 and its nickname since the 40s) Euro car is fast and gets an astonishing EPA-tested 87 miles on a full charge (or 108 MPGe). In fact, Fiat claims its 2015 500e has almost a 100-mile range in urban environment as the car’s regenerative braking system adds to its range capacity in stop-and-go traffic.

Plus, the 500e is affordable. A 36-month lease costs just $199 a month (with $999 due at signing). For buyers, the base MSRP of a 2015 Fiat 500e is $32,650 (includes $850 destination charge). Fiat claims some Californians could come away with a 2015 Fiat 500e “for as low as $20,600, after federal credits, state incentives and FIAT rebates.” Remember, the EPA has also estimated the fuel savings around $500 annually.

If you need to go on a long road trip, which extends way past your 500e’s driving range, it’s no problem as Fiat has a plan for that. It owns Enterprise Rent-A-Car and in addition, it has partnered with Alamo Rent A Car and National Car Rental to offer the Fiat 500e “pass program.” Anyone who leases a 2015 Fiat 500e gets up to 12 days of “alternative transportation each year for the first three years after the date of purchase,” so says Fiat. (See more details about Fiat 500e Pass Program below.)

Fiat 500e In the News

The 2015 Fiat 500e won a prestigious award this summer when it was named as “top electric vehicle” for the second year in a row at Portland’s Northwest Automotive Press Association’s Drive Revolution,.

“The Fiat 500e is attractive and fun,” says car reviewer extraordinaire and Drive Revolution Event Co-Chair Bengt Halvorson.

That seems to be the assessment of this screaming mighty midget not just from this automotive journalist, but from other knowledgeable road testers most of whom have tested the 500e’s top competition: Kia Soul EV, e-Golf, Nissan Leaf, Chevy Spark and even Chevy’s Volt.

“My vote would go to the Fiat 500e. Tons of fun,” quips Cars.com Detroit bureau chief Aaron Bragman.

About.com car reviewer and now AutoWeb reporter Aaron Gold concurs. “Fiat 500e is the most fun to drive (with Soul EV hot on its trail). e-Golf is the best family car. Haven’t driven a Tesla.”

After driving the 500e, Soul EV and e-Golf all for a week and in the same month, I agree with these top auto journalists. The 2015 Fiat 500e really is the most fun-to-drive EV available in California and now Oregon. (See performance section below for the 500e’s fun-to-drive characteristics on a Hollywood Hills and mid-Hollywood driving tour.)

500e Abarth-LIke Exterior Rocks LA’s Hollywood Hills

Did you know the Fiat 500 was born out of the need for poverty-stricken Italians to afford a fuel-efficient vehicle after WWII had devastated Italy’s middle class? So, the Cinquecento has always been aerodynamic and, therefore, efficient. This efficiency comes in handy with EVs where it is important to keep aerodynamic drag at a minimum.

But who cares about wind science technology when our chic sparkling slate gray 2015 Fiat 500e with the e-Sport package’s ombre orange accents was irresistibly attractive? Here in LA’s very urban, yet gentrified Hollywood Hills, Fiat 500s are on every tree-lined street and exclusive underground parking structure.

But this stunning Abarth-like 2015 500e stood out from a crowd of older and newer Cinquecentos. This design junkie especially enjoyed the almost terracotta finish to the “arancio electric” side mirrors while the smoldering orange gradient side door design and five-spoke bright “nero” orange wheels really captures the creative imagination (and looks from passersby).

2015 Fiat 500e Interior

This more masculine gray 500e with orange-accented e-Sport package may be design heavy, but the 500e also comes in six other exterior colors including the newly-launched-for-2015 “luce blu” (light blue with a pearl finish) and “celeste” (light blue).

Italian Interior Excites Yet Soothes

This “almost perfect” theme extends to the Fiat 500s interior. Why? Somehow, the Cinquecento’s interior just works and brings ever more fun to this almost perfect urban ride. While the design gives nods to its retro 40s origins with the circular motifs, minimalism and metal accents, the 500 is still futuristic enough for modern sensibilities.

Sitting in the driver’s cockpit, he 40’s style chair in the 2015 Cinqucento still has that plump feel and slight bounce. The steering wheel fits perfectly in the paws. The cabin is clean and airy. All is well with the world when poised to drive a 500e.

2015 Fiat 500e Orange Rear View

Disappointingly, Fiat has yet to equip its 500s with a big, fat infotainment screen such as you find in just about any new car these days let alone in advanced EVs.

Instead, Fiat has a retro-styled thin audio system (with fully integrated USB port) and has added a Tom Tom navigation system to the top of its rounded dash. Sure, it does the trick, but is it the same as having a killer infotainment screen on top of the dash? No.

Fortunately, the huge circular, full-color gauge directly behind the 500’s handsome steering wheel provides much of the information (see charging section below) a car’s infotainment system normally broadcasts.

It doesn’t take any time at all to get used to the 500e’s push-button “transmission,” which again shows up as circles within a larger circle. Want to go into reverse? Just push R. Drive? D. It’s as simple as that.

Considering the interior color scheme? There’s only two on the 2015 500e. The “steam” or white-on-white with bright orange accents is almost blindingly bright. The “nero” or black interior is more subtle as are the orange pops of color that only denotes this EV trim level.

Truly Zippy Fiat Performance

So what’s with all this “fun” when it comes to driving the Fiat 500e? Well, let’s start at the very beginning. Electric vehicles don’t have gears so there’s no transmission, which means there’s no drag from the moment your foot hits the accelerator. On the opposite spectrum, there can be tremendous drag in EVs the moment you lift off your foot even a tad (to re-energize the regenerative or “regen” braking system) from the “gas” pedal and coast.

Most car companies keep the drag very tight (or a heavy slowing down feeling like when shifting down gear too fast) for maximum regen. Fiat claims its electric motor engineers have delivered what they call “blended braking” to provide “world-class handling and braking” so this mini machine “drives like a Fiat 500 that happens to be electric.”

After a weeklong road test, that pretty much sum up the Fiat 500e driving experience. The 500e’s 83 kW electric motor produces 111 hp of no-transmission acceleration fun. Slapping down the “gas” pedal in my slate gray road test model, my daughter and I gleefully felt like we were being spit down Sunset Boulevard in a tiny, yet handsome Italian rocket.

In fact, the only problem with the truly world-class driving dynamics on the 500e is the car was actually too fast to handle quick turns well. Yes, the 500e playfully wobbles noticeably on its orange-colored wheels through fast turns from LA’s small streets to its fast-racing boulevards. Other than this tail fishing on fast turns, Fiat’s 500e is a joy to drive for its near perfect steering, handling and suspension.

What about Charging?

Charging has been the most challenging part of everyday living with any electric vehicle (#EV). The 2015 Fiat 500e, however, was one of the easiest to charge for several reasons. Firstly, Fiat’s charging technology is superb.

Located on a huge circular, eye-popping digital display, the 500e charging tech gauge gives you loads of information such as how long it would take to charge to full on either a 1) 120-volt “trickle” or three-prong household outlet (level 1); 2) 240-volt outlet or charging station (most public chargers these days are 240 volt or level 2); or 3) the elusive “direct current” or DC “fast” charger (level 3).

While this may not seem life changing, it actually can be critical info for EV-only drivers. Say you normally don’t go far from the Hollywood Hills, but you need to attend a red carpet event in Playa Vista (near LAX) that evening. How long will it take to charge it for that 40-mile, door-to-valet roundtrip? The 2014 Fiat 500e tells you plainly how many hours and how many minutes it would take depending on all three charging systems above.

How cool is that? What’s not cool is when EVs literally stop when out of juice. Getting a tow in the middle of the night on LA’s gritty boulevards is not on anyone’s fun list. (Don’t worry, Fiat. This happened in a Mercedes-Benz B-Class electric drive and not the fast-charging 500e.)

Fiat claims its 500e charges “in less than 4 hours with its 6.6 kW on-board charging module (OBCM) connected to a Level 2 energy source (220 volts).” On our charging tests at LA’s many public charging stations, we happily discovered the 2015 Fiat 500e is one of the easiest and fastest EVs to charge on the road today.

And if that isn’t enough, Fiat has a smartphone app (for iPhone and Android). On a previous road test, this auto journalist used the 500e app with much success. The app is truly easy to use and provides real-time vehicle status as well as being helpful for managing charging, tracking energy use, locating the vehicle and nearby charging stations and sending text messages and emails alerts. How cool is that Fiat?

2015 Fiat 500e Safety Tech

The 2015 Fiat 500e comes equipped with loads of standard safety equipment such as advanced air bags, traction control and electronic brakeforce distribution plus a “rear park assist” system, brake assist and pedestrian alert.

Although the 500e electric vehicle version of the 2015 Cinquento hasn’t yet been crash tested, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded the 2015 Fiat 500 with an overall four-star safety rating.

More on 500e Pass Program

Of course, most buyers considering an EV purchase wonder how they are going to navigate longer road trips. What about going to grandma’s at the holidays and what about that annual Vegas road trip? Fiat has thought about that too with its exclusive “pass program.”

Valid at any of more than 6,200 Enterprise, Alamo or National car rental locations in the United States, the aforementioned $199 a month lease program provides 2015 Fiat 500e drivers with an account number and access to gas-powered Fiat 500, Fiat 500L and Dodge Dart (with additional flexibility to upgrade to a larger vehicle, minivan or pickup truck). Fiat says “for the first three years after purchase, each unique customer account will be allocated enough credits on the anniversary of their purchase date to provide 12 days of alternate transportation based on an average standard car rental. The Fiat 500e Pass includes unlimited mileage on eligible vehicles.”

Fiat says as long as the Fiat 500e lease chooses an “eligible vehicle and the expense of the vehicle including applicable taxes will be covered subject to the terms and conditions of the program.” That sounds like quite the creative way to make sure Fiat customers don’t stop short on the way to life’s important events.

Still Considering an EV?

This mighty-yet-compact zero emissions vehicle works well for busy singles and couples with small children (or dogs) and live about 30 miles or so from their daily destination and have the ability to fully charge the vehicle just about every evening.

For those seeking to resist the violent petro dollar and go sustainable, the 2015 Fiat 500e is an excellent, affordable, every day driving machine that will knock your socks back every time you sit in the plush Italian sofa-like seat. Ciao Cinquecento!

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  • David

    “this tail fishing”? Oh, please.

    First, you mean “fish-tailing.” Jeez!

    Second, nuh-uh. Fish-tailing occurs when application of excessive power to the rear wheels in a curve causes them to lose their grip, so the rear end swings wider than the curve defined by the front wheels, which tends to make people overcompensate, forcing the car’s read end to swing in the other direction: back and forth, like a fish’s tail. The 500e is a FRONT-wheel–drive vehicle, though, so fish-tailing simply cannot occur.

    In fact, my 500e handles curves at high speed, even in the Portland rain, better than my ’03 Cooper S and every bit as well as my ’61 MGA.

    Other than that, not a bad review of an awesome little car.

  • Dennis Tivey

    This article makes several misstatements. To set the record straight:
    1. The Fiat 500e is not compatible with Level 3 fast charging.
    2. The lease terms have changed. The current lease deal is $1999 down, $199 a month.
    3. The ePass program providing free rental cars for longer trips, is no longer offered. It ended April 2015.
    The car remains a great deal and a hoot to drive regardless.