FIAT has unveiled the third generation of its iconic 500 city car – and this time it is all-electric.
So far confirmed only for Europe – including the right-hand UK market that will get it next year – the new 500 represents the first dedicated electric vehicle that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has put into production.
However, the Italian-American car-maker’s Australian arm has declined to comment on the model’s prospects for this market.
And at €37,900 ($A63,680) before incentives for the luxurious ‘La Prima’ convertible launch edition, it stands to be the most expensive 500 since the $70,000 Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari launched here in 2011 and followed in 2013 by the $60,000 Abarth 695 Edizione Maserati.
Seemingly identical to its predecessor at first glance, the new 500 is a ground-up redesign based on a new platform. It is 60mm bigger than before in both width and length, with an extra 20mm in the wheelbase plus bigger wheels and a broader track at each end.
As the original 500 of 1957-1975 had an air-cooled, rear-mounted engine, the retro-modern front-end interpretation arguably lent itself to an EV.
To this end, Fiat has subtly removed vents and cleaned up the third-generation model’s fascia to make it more aerodynamic and bisected the LED headlights with the clamshell bonnet.
Below a broader bonnet bulge, the nose badge has changed from a Fiat emblem to bold ‘500’ script.
Meanwhile its counterpart on the crisper, more integrated-looking rear cleverly incorporates the letter ‘e’ into the second zero.
With the new platform comes more technology, including Level 2 autonomous driving capability plus adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, speed limit recognition, blind spot monitoring, 360-degree parking cameras and driver attention monitoring.
It also brings FCA’s fifth-generation Uconnect multimedia system with a 10.25-inch touchscreen and wireless connectivity to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring plus a raft of online services, on-board Wi-Fi hotspot and conversational voice control.
The cabin has been given a more comprehensive visual overhaul than the exterior, as well as a significant step up in design and materials, without overriding all of the deliberately retro charm that went before.
It all results in a less cluttered design with full-width air-conditioning vent, the majority of controls accessed through the touchscreen and a row of buttons replacing the old high-mounted gear selector to give a spacious gangway feel to the front of the cabin.
The exaggerated hemispherical instrument cowling design remains, to give the impression of a large single dial but in fact housing a digital display providing the usual array of information – along with battery status.
Considering the previous-generation 500e – unveiled at the 2012 Los Angeles motor show – was only rolled out to US states that incentivised the use of electric vehicles, this new model signals a serious commitment to electrification by FCA.
The old 500e came with a 24kWh battery back and provided a 140km range, with a four-hour charging time possible using a wall box but no DC fast-charging compatibility.
This time, the 500’s battery pack is a relatively large 42kWh, providing a 320km range and capable of fast charging at 85kW, meaning it can be zapped from empty to 80 per cent in 35 minutes.
For comparison, a Nissan Leaf’s 40kWh battery gives a 270km range and its 50kW DC fast charging capability takes an hour to reach 80 per cent.
However, the Fiat’s 87kW electric motor output is only a small advance on the old 500e (83kW/199Nm) and looks weedy compared with rivals from Honda and Mini, as well as the 110kW/320Nm Leaf.
The rear-drive Honda e develops up to 113kW and 315Nm (a 100kW version is also offered) but its smaller 35.5kWh battery pack gives just 220km of range.
With DC fast charging at up to 60kW, it to go from empty to 80 per cent in 31 minutes.
The Mini Cooper SE sends a punchy 135kW and 270Nm to the front wheels but has an even smaller battery pack than the Honda at 32.6kWh, which yields a 185km range. It can be fast charged at 50kW, achieving 80 per cent in 28 minutes.
None come close to the 150kW/395Nm Hyundai Kona Electric that packs a huge 65kWh battery pack good for 449km of range and 77kW DC fast charging that can reach 80 per cent in 44 minutes.
Fiat has not yet disclosed a torque figure for the new 500 but claims it can accelerate from 0-50km/h in 3.1 seconds and 0-100km/h in 9.0s, which is 0.5s quicker than a 100kW Honda e but way off the mark compared with a Mini (7.3s), Leaf (7.9s) or Kona (7.9s). The 113kW Honda can do it in 8.3s.
GoAuto understands the existing 500 line-up will continue alongside the electric new-generation model.
Mild-hybrid variants of the second-gen 500 were announced in January, claiming to reduce emissions by up to 30 per cent over those which are conventionally powered.