Small Change

The new electric 500 is now available to order. Sorry, how much?

All images: (c) Autocar

While its FCA parent continues to negotiate the necessary regulatory hurdles around its forthcoming nuptials with Carlos Tavares’ Groupe PSA, life, while somewhat interrupted these past couple of months, rolls inexorably onwards; this week with Fiat announcing, a month ahead of schedule, the fixed roof version of its new fully electric 500e.

Built on, it’s said an all-new dedicated EV platform, the new generation of Fiat’s evergreen sub-compact was first shown in early March in convertible form, with a forthcoming 4-door model (Autocar says) still a remote possibility. Intended to have made its physical debut at the Geneva motor show, the advent of the viral pandemic and the ensuing shutdowns ensured that it, like so much of Geneva’s fare was lost amid more pressing health-related concerns.

But with most of Europe seemingly past the worst of C-19’s deadly swathe, Fiat has seen fit to announce the hard-roofed version. As with the convertible, while cleaving broadly to the styling of the current combustion engined car, the 500e is both longer and wider (by 6cm in each dimension), and also 4cm taller. Obviously, without seeing it in the flesh it’s difficult to be certain, but from the launch photos, it must be said (provisionally at least) that Fiat have conclusively failed to screw the pooch – from a stylistic perspective at least. Indeed to these eyes, it looks rather lovely.

Produced at Fiat’s Mirafiori plant, the 500e is being offered initially in a bells and whistles La Prima edition which comes with fripperies like a panoramic glass roof, LED headlights, 17in diamond-cut alloy wheels and will be offered with three exclusive paint colours. Inside, the new simplified cabin, launch models get eco-leather upholstery on the dashboard and seats, and the latest version of FCA’s infotainment system. Driver assistance includes adaptive cruise control, lane centring, intelligent speed assist and urban blindspot detection.

The 500e features a 42kWh battery which Fiat claim will offer a WLTP-certified range of up to 199 miles, and is fitted with a 85kW fast charging system that is said to provide an 80% charge in 35 minutes. Both convertible and hard-roof 500s are rated with a top speed of 93mph and a 0-62mph time of nine seconds, with 0-31mph coming up in 3.1sec.

All of which sounds promising apart from one likely sticking point. Its £26,995 UK price – after the government’s contribution – which also includes the installation of a 7.4kW wallbox charger. Yes, it’s well specified, but by ‘eck, that’s pricey. Needless to say, the convertible version costs even more – that’s £29,000 to you madam.

Nowadays it has become customary for carmakers to ramp up the sticker price for launch editions, since for some customers, the price for one-upmanship is one worth paying. Cheaper versions will undoubtedly be forthcoming, but certainly, it seems unlikely that any shade of 500e will come in under £20k of anyone’s money.

So while FCA/Fiat have brought a rather credible looking car to market, questions remain as to uptake, especially given the current distinctly febrile post-pandemic situation. Still, given the state of the FCA empire and the fact that future product execution remains somewhat dependent on the success of the upcoming merger, it seems rather miraculous that Fiat have brought this to market at all.

Nevertheless, as we enter a fundamentally changed reality, previously held questions over range appear likely to lose precedence over more pressing ones of outright affordability. It is this factor which may now act as the most pressing barrier to entry for an increasing number of potential takers. The new electric 500 looks a highly convincing product, and one which seems likely to enjoy a broad appeal throughout Europe’s urban centres. But not I fear at those prices.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

38 thoughts on “Small Change”

  1. Good morning Eóin. At first glance, the new 500e appears to be a more convincing effort than the MINI Electric, which has a battery energy capacity of 38.5kWh, a WLTP range of just 146 miles and a UK list price of £24.4k after the government grant. However, for just over £1k more, the latest Renault Zoe offers a battery energy capacity of 52kWh and a WLTP range of 245 miles. The MINI Electric is said to be compromised by a platform not originally designed for EV application, which is not the case for the 500e, so I’m slightly disappointed that the latter doesn’t have larger capacity batteries and a better range.

    As to the styling, while Fiat hasn’t messed it up, the new model is essentially a slightly enlarged facsimile of the existing car with slightly altered detailing. You’re right to reserve judgement until you see it in the flesh, but I think that it once again proves that retro design is a blind alley from which it is fiendishly difficult to escape. It would be interesting to see the two side by side, to decide which is the prettier.

    The R56 MINI was, I think, a successful update of the R50 with tidier detailing, but the F56 current model is, stylistically, a retrograde step. The Mk2 new Beetle’s profile, with its more upright windscreen, was actually more true to the original than the Mk1, but there will be no Mk3.

    When my partner and I eventually move to an EV, I think we’ll want it to be one that embraces the stylistic opportunities of the EV architecture, so would choose an ID.3 rather than an e-Golf, for example.

  2. I think very similarly to both Eóin and Daniel – it’s an attractive car and proposition which will be undermined by for many by the price. As such, it joins a small but growing band of sub-compact EVs in a similar boat. I struggle to understand how FIAT will get the R&D investment costs back on a car like the 500, where margins are tight, and the price makes high volumes unlikely which is the other lever for generating income to repay the investment. I read that a new Panda-like car will share the same platform, which will help, but it will face the same challenges and the two risk competing with each other.

    Looks-wise, I think there is scope for a more modern interpretation of the same theme, but they were never going to risk that in terms of giving punters another reason to be put off as well as the price and the limitations of the technology (range, charging, etc.). The interior looks more Lancia than FIAT, don’t you think? A four door sounds like it could help and maybe they could copy Mazda’s ‘suicide-door’ approach with its own EV offering (MX-30, I think it is called).

  3. The headline price is less important than the monthly finance plan, of course. Do the sums, and it could be that a 500e + requisite electricity from the wall box won’t be so much more than a 500 + fossil fuel. This will probably be for wealthy families as a second car, so could make a lot of sense. It is a larger and presumably more sophisticated product than the existing 500, after all.

  4. It’s hard to see how any of the first generation volume EVs will be anything other than loss-leaders for their manufacturers – with the possible exception of the PSA compromise models. Rolling out the platforms with models like the MINI or 500 makes a lot of sense: the EV cost premium doesn’t seem so relatively painful when it’s attached to an already expensive product, and the target demographic for these cars is fairly environmentally conscious.
    To my mind EVs won’t be truly mass-market ready until they can make a compelling alternative to a base model Fiat Palio or VW Gol in price sensitive markets like Latin America or Turkey.

    1. Hello Michael,

      You’re right regarding early vehicles being loss leaders. However, I think we’re now moving to a new phase where companies like VWG and Renault are getting in on the act and bringing prices down.

      For example, it looks like Dacia are planning an EV:

      https://europe.autonews.com/automakers/dacia-prepares-launch-first-ev-spring-mini-suv

      In that context, the 500 looks less viable. I wish Fiat would put the Centoventi concept in to production (I sound like a broken record).

    2. Charles, I think a version of it is coming, it’s the second model on the same platform as the 500e to which I referred.

  5. I meant to say in my earlier comment that I really dislike the ‘500’ badging on the nose and steering wheel boss – it’s a FIAT for goodness-sake and, in the context of small cars at least, the brand must still have some value.

    1. This is one of those cases where the model becomes bigger than the brand, no? That´s not a good thing. It is the sign of a weak brand not of a stellar model.
      The dashboard (in the photo) is something you might expect have expected from Lancia, I agree. It won´t be made as well though. The Delta 2 looked Lancia but was made to Fiat standards. This car is too.

    2. Thanks, SV. I hope they don’t dilute the Centoventi concept too much. I’ve seldom seen a fresher concept.

      In wider terms, aren’t PSA / OpelVauxhall / Fiat, etc, etc, due a massive sorting out / integration of platforms? I wonder where that leaves Fiat’s efforts, in light of what happened to the Corsa.

    3. Hi Richard. There is a Fiat badge placed centrally below the rear window:

      The 500 badging is much more prominent though, in the centre of the front end and steering wheel, places you would normally expect to see the marque emblem, not the model name.

    4. Richard – externally the only FIAT badge is on the boot and I think there is a personalisation option of lots of badges in a pattern which can be slapped on the roof. Inside, some of the seat trim options have FIAT embossed into them. When I first saw photos of the car, I thought FIAT had done what Rover Group did to the Metro, Maestro and Montego in the last 80’s. Then, the Austin badges were axed and an oddly blank, grey and burgundy version of the Rover shield badge was used in it place – effectively leaving the cars marque-less. This was a sad end to Austin (but then, BL etc. had no respect for so many of its historic brands, as you have pointed out in terms of the Acclaim never really earning its Triumph badging).

      Charles – agree about the extreme opportunity for platform rationalisation at the new PSA-FCA combine (when it completes its navigation of the EU anti-competition police). I suspect there will be some unwelcome outcomes (I can’t see a rear-drive Giulia surviving into the next generation), as well as some opportunities.

    5. Daniel beat me to it – that’s the exact image I had in mind when I was describing the use of FIAT badges on the new 500’s exterior.

    6. Trying to look optimistically on the PSA/FCA merger*, I wonder if there’s any chance that the well regarded RWD Giulia platform might be used to underpin other group models? It’s probably a forlorn hope, but an RWD Peugeot 608 to rival the E-Class would be nice! (I realise that would require a stretch in the wheelbase.)

      * ‘merger’ in the sense that Germany ‘merged’ with Poland in 1939.

  6. Expensive? Nah, I think this is a price hike that we will have to get used to with every new car launch in the 2020s, the sub 20k €/ 18 k £ market is disappearing.
    Also, remember how much the modern 500 opened with in 2007 and what people’s reaction was? Pretty much the same – “it’s a nice car made by Fiat, but it won’t sell due to the price”. Still it sold in huge numbers – the 500e won’t rely on us, ol’ grumpy men who love reading motoring history books and collecting automobile memorabilia, but on young people (especially young women). And whilst every other car manufacturer axed their young people marketing, the 500 factories may just provide a chance for Fiat to make a comeback. Of course, that’s just my wishful guessing, the quality of the infotainment and connectivity systems will probably be more important to customers than things I can relate to, but it looks like a car that may be worth 2-3 years of savings for a young individual.

  7. I hadn’t realized that was the latest Fiat logo. It’s a bit nondescript for my liking, especially when you consider their heritage.

    As much as I like (absolutely love) the Centoventi concept, I’d flinch at paying £30k for it, as suggested in an article. I have a suspicion that manufacturers want us to get used to a new scale of pricing. However, given that battery costs have reduced by 90% over the last 10 years and are likely to reduce further, I don’t think that’s justifiable.

    On another topic, I’m still haunted by Richard’s phrase of the PSA group having a ‘rubbish heap of brands’. Very mean, and very funny.

    1. Hi Charles. The new Fiat logo is simply the FIAT letters in their classic script, but with no shield or wreath background. It’s probably a simplification to suit virtual applications better, like the new VW logo, apparently.

      Here’s the history of Fiat logos, excluding the latest iteration:

      I notice that Fiat’s UK website is still displaying the red shield logo.

    2. I was equally surprised and delighted when my theory that Fiat lost its way the moment the outstanding (and outstandingly modern) five bar logo was abandoned didn’t fall on deaf ears when I explained it to certain current and past Fiat designers. That logo was a masterpiece.

  8. With the second derivative of the 500 theme, FIAT went, as Sergio Marchionne said “500 it is a new brand” the DS route.

    Nice to see FIAT is going the BEY way with a new platform. Not so nice is to see the brand 500 is what Lancia should be.

    I´m out anyway. BEV is something for rich people with a suburb villa and able to mount a wallbox to the carport. (To install a wallbox at our inhouse parking space I would need the permission of all other owners – impossible. The closesd charging station is 2 km away, so I would need my wife and a second car or a bicycle to get the BEV charged. Thanks, but no thanks.)

  9. Another Fiat powered by RAM truck profits, which fact is, as usual, completely ignored by people commenting here, but is the harsh reality of the matter. The febrile state of FCA applies to Europe, not the USA. One of these days it’ll sink in to Europeans’ minds that PSA is interested in FCA for its US market share and profits, not FCA European operations. Will you ever “get” it? No luck so far.

    If FCA were a normal commercial company, they’d dump their European operations and concentrate on where they can make money. But history intercedes in favour of a continued Italian presence and that country needs all the help it can get, even prior to the pandemic.

    This new 500E looks like a reasonable upgrade effort over the original 500E sold in the USA from 2013, of which Marchionne complained in 2014 he lost money on every one, so don’t buy it! It was a conversion of the 500 made in Mexico, and rather better received than the 500 itself which has since been pulled off the market. That original 500E was very professionally done, just with a limited range of 84 miles because that was seven years ago and things have moved on.

    https://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/a15092098/2017-fiat-500e-review/

    https://www.caranddriver.com/fiat/500e

    1. Ah yes, that old saw. Eurocentric myopia. I think the needle’s stuck again.

    2. Bill, you seem very grumpy.

      Not really sure what you are complaining about. The fact that FCA has been surviving off truck sales, a reasonably healthy Jeep brand, and hiving off Ferrari is not really disputed by anyone on here. They’ve now finally got their mega-merger, and the omens don’t look great for FIAT, one of Europe’s true innovators.

      Why the beef?

    3. I propose the following AutoFill options:

      ‘Fiat’ -> ‘Fiat, a failing European brand only kept alive by its previous CEO’s canny takeover of American pick-up and SUV makers, RAM & Jeep, which have since become profit centres,’

      ‘FCA’ -> ‘FCA, standing for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (although, ironically, it is neither one of these brands, but non-mentioned marques RAM & Jeep – both from the US – that keep the company a going concern)’

      Maybe not the most elegant solution maybe, but certainly unambiguous enough.

    4. How about something more pithy:

      FCA = Fleecing Cash from America?

    5. There’s some truth in this view, but it’s also part false accusation. When walking past the Pandas and Doblós at a Fiat dealership it doesn’t gives me the impression the European arm of this company is living off a rich American uncle’s wallet. Both Fiat and Lancia saw minimal investment in the past decade, they remained in “crisis-mode” ever since the Fiat-Chrysler merger with strictly limited budgets. Actually the sale of Magneti-Marelli and the split of Ferrari was able to generate enough cash to cover any losses that may have been made on European operations or to cover the development costs of models such as the new 500e (although the situation is not that bad actually, it’s still a sustainable business).
      The elephant in the room is really called Alfa Romeo – I imagine the cost to develop the Giulia was 4-5, but maybe even 10-times more than what a basic EV like this costs. Not to mention they are spending 50 M € on Formula-1 marketing per year (something other Fiat brands couldn’t even dream of), whereas the income side is close to 0.
      Also – aren’t they making profits on Jeeps now because contemporary models relate more a Fiat Punto than to the awful off-roaders of the past? I rarely see that mentioned.

  10. This is a 500E I’d rather be discussing at the moment:

    Still, I assume even Bruno Sacco wouldn’t be ashamed of the way Fiat executed the design of the ‘500e’ logo (with the ‘e’ embedded into the second Zero, on the 3rd photo in Eóin’s article).
    It deserves at least a minor mention here, and works as a reminder
    that there’s still some cheerful spirit in their design department.

    It even reminds, somehow, of Osvaldo Cavandoli’s finest, and in the haze of a late morning it stirred my imagination to the possibility
    that they might’ve used Carlo Bonomi’s surreal voice in their infotainment audio-interface ‘Choose your virtual engine
    sound’ selection menu.

    As to the styling itself, I am not that convinced that the small alterations to Stephenson’s original design are entirely benign:

    in the front three-quarter view (the opening photo in the article),
    it is rather obvious that in spite of the physically increased width,
    they seem to have done something with the front end (cannot fathom exactly what it is) that renders the cabin part of the car visually much narrower, in an unpleasant way. Whereas the original
    is spot-on and radiates a meaty, stable-looking stance from most all angles. The unpleasantly narrow-looking cabin even looks
    a bit first-gen Audi A1 in that aspect, doesn’t it?

    Although it is the new headlights’ shape and vertical positioning that are probably the biggest contributors to this effect, I am suspecting (don’t take my word, this is prima vista) that the windshield height (length?) is increased, too, which might
    be crucial to this new ‘squeezed’ effect it creates.

    It makes up somewhat in its admirable detailing, though, trying
    rather hard to justify the posh positioning that the BEV
    layout inEVitably brings.

    Still, it’s a pity that the front view, which was a masterstroke
    on the Stephenson’s original, is somehow not that
    appealing to look at anymore.

    1. Alex,

      this is not intended to diminish your viewpoint in any way, but I feel obliged to correct you regarding the ‘original’ (as in: Nuova Nuova) 500’s design’s authorship. For Frank Stephenson had nothing whatsoever to do with that car. He didn’t pen a single line, didn’t sign off on a single detail.
      Similarly to Peter Schreyer and the Audi TT, Stephenson just happened to have been appointed chief designer at a point in time that he was required to present the car to the press, who obviously thus believed the design was ‘his’. Unfortunately, a great many designers’ careers are founded upon such misconceptions, with Stephenson’s being among the most prominent cases.

      The reality was that the 2007 Fiat 500’s design was overseen by Roberto Giolito and – this is no secret – heavily influenced by the Trepiùno concept, whose main exterior designer was Turi Cacciatore (also working under Roberto). If you want to credit anybody specifically with the 500, I’d kindly, yet emphatically suggest you refer to these people, rather than Mr Stephenson.

      (As a side note: Stephenson claims authorship of a great many cars other than the R50 Mini. Some of these he oversaw in supervisory capacity – Fiat Bravo, and, in the most remote of ways, Ferrari F430 & certain McLaren models -, some he had nothing whatsoever to do with, like the 500, Maserati Quattroporte V, BMW X5 and others. His alleged CV has been repeated ad nauseam and is hence considered factual by 99,99% of the members of the automotive press. But DTW specialises in representing the 0.01%, which is why this kind of self-promotion mustn’t be repeated here.)

  11. Christopher,

    thank you for pointing this out. Whilst being fully aware of Giolito’s
    massive credentials for the 500 Nuova design, I also tend to appreciate what is commonly accepted, hence wouldn’t mind offending someone only to be true to my own beliefs (not intentionally offending, of course).

    Automotive styling IP debates are crucially important when discussing History of automotive styling. They are totally useless, though, when discussing Automotive styling. which I think is what we do here (at least in the comments section).

    And History is usually a blind path (but that’s already philosophic territory).

    Anyway, as I generally despise the disclaimer-culture in any writing-for-enjoyment exercises, did not feel obliged to insert
    a disclaimer reference for the ‘eternal debates’ in my comment. Stephenson’s name was used purely as a reference to the original design, without any intention to re-open those debates.

    Nochmals, danke fuer das Coaching!

    1. I’m afraid I don’t quite get your point.

      If you’d referred to the BMW 7 series (E65) as ‘the Bangle Siebener’, I’d have spared myself the effort of typing. For in that case, the attribution was basically correct, even though Adrian van Hooydonk was responsible for the actual exterior design. But in the 500’s case, giving Stephenson any credit is simply incorrect. This is why I felt compelled to write what I wrote. I wasn’t trying to coach/reprimand anyone, but simply stating facts that are -somewhat frustratingly – usually overlooked.

      If you prefer to continue referring to this car as the ‘Stephenson 500’ for some reason, please feel free to do so. I have an issue with people’s careers being based on fundamental misunderstandings, but if you don’t, then that’s obviously your privilege.

  12. Fair enough.

    Had I knew beforehand that you (or anyone) is allergic to mentioning F.S. and ‘500’ in a single sentence, I would’ve avoided
    referring to that design as the ‘Stephenson 500’. Now I know
    it could hurt someone. Point taken.

    Unless one is a pedantic researcher of the History of automotive design, it’s just a ‘pointing out’ reference, not worthy of hurt
    feelings or such.

    1. Gentlemen, I would like to take this opportunity to nip this little exchange in the bud before it escalates any further. Please respect the other diners, who are enjoying their meals…

      Graciously yours, The Editor.

  13. Great Wall Motors offer the ORA R1, which looks a bit like the Honda e, from the front at least. Fully Charged have reviewed it; the blurb says:

    ‘The ORA R1 is the first all electric car offering from Great Wall Motors and, at around £7,000, is one of the most affordable electric cars in the world. Elliot Richards takes this compact city car out for a drive to see if its no-frills yet functional design could switch the mass market onto electric cars.’

    I’m sure that Fiat would argue that they are in a different market; even so…

    1. Another shameless copy cat though. Here, they seem to have fused the front of a Honda E onto a Renault Twingo.

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