Fiat 500e electric hatchback review

Fiat needs you to fall in love with its new electric hatchback, because a decision to buy the 500e will be made with the heart, not the head.

Cuter than kittens, the nuova bambino has a retro charm that electric rivals cannot touch.

Few electric hatchbacks have a familiar face and companies such as BYD, GWM and Tesla can’t touch the decades of history woven into the Fiat’s instantly recognisable styling.

Soft lines, familiar shapes and doe-eyed headlights help the brand mine a rich vein of nostalgia that represents its unique selling point.

The sentimental approach continues in a cabin that serves up a two-spoke steering wheel inspired by the 1957 original and a skyline silhouette of the Italian city of Turin on its wireless phone charging pad.

It even plays a few notes of Italian opera on the first journey of the day.

Seats trimmed in artificial leather are quilted and bear Fiat’s logo, while the dashboard trim is woven from recycled ocean plastic.

The first new Fiat in years will only be sold with an electric motor.

Petrol-powered Fiat hatchbacks will remain on sale for a while but they won’t benefit from the fresher looks and updated tech of the 500e, which is built around electric hardware.

Longer, wider, taller and heavier than its combustion-powered cousin, the electric machine is still compact.

It’s an expensive proposition for a tiny two-door hatchback, priced from $52,500 plus on-road costs (about $55,500 drive-away).

That’s more than double the cost of an (admittedly ancient) petrol-powered Fiat 500 (yours for about $27,000 drive-away).

It’s the same money you’ll pay for a suave and punchy VW Golf GTI hatchback with more than double the power and it’s also about $15,000 more than the new breed of four-door Chinese EVs that are more practical and rapid than the Fiat.

The Italian hatchback combines a front-mounted 87kW/220Nm electric motor with a 42kWh battery offering a claimed 311 kilometres of range. A maximum charging rate of 85kW is about half the speed of class leaders.

Standard equipment includes a 10.25-inch touchscreen with smartphone mirroring and a fixed glass sunroof.

But it’s not as though Fiat has stuffed the 500e to the rafters with equipment to justify its asking price. It still has manual seat adjustment, an unbranded six-speaker stereo and single-zone climate control, while the lack of a driver’s vanity mirror is another curious omission.

Fiat’s three-year, 150,000 kilometre warranty isn’t good enough in an era when unlimited-kilometre five-year guarantees are the accepted standard.

A four-star ANCAP score further undermines its appeal. It was let down by sub-par driver aids and occupant protection.

It has six airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control and lane-keeping assistance but misses out on reverse auto braking, rear cross-traffic alerts and a centre airbag.

Fiat also missed a trick by importing the three-year-old 500e in a single hardtop specification. European customers can have it with a canvas roof that would have made it the first open-topped EV on Australian roads.

While we’re complaining, the 500e’s quirky looking cabin misses the mark ergonomically. The driver sits too high, has no left footrest and must be ultra-precise when using Apple CarPlay touchscreen controls that are much smaller than rival machines.

By no means overpowered, the little Fiat feels punchy at urban speeds and rides well on suspension tuned to handle the horrors of Italian cobblestones.

Occasionally floaty at speed, its light steering and soft suspension make for easy progress in town.

It’s less convincing on country roads, which expose a lack of body control, though we suspect the little Fiat is likely to stay close to urban centres.

After all, there are only nine dealers for the brand in Australia.

VERDICT

Two and a half stars

Fiat fans will love cute looks and a peppy drive, but a high price, low power, sub-par warranty and four-star safety count against the 500e.

FIAT 500e

PRICE: About $55,500 drive-away

MOTOR: Electric, 87kW and 220Nm

WARRANTY/SERVICE: 3-year/150,000km, $1250 for 5 years

SAFETY: Six airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring

RANGE: 311 kilometres

BOOT: 185 litres

SPARE: Repair kit

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