2013 Fiat 500e: EV Ownership Made Simple

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Innovative Italian automaker Fiat has made its first all-electric vehicle (EV) simple to own and drive. And that’s quite refreshing for those who are considering getting off the petro dollar and into a truly zero emissions, zero petrol, 100% electric car. Plus, on a weeklong road test around my hometown of coastal Orange County, CA, I discovered the 2013 Fiat 500e is just plain fun to drive.

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Why is the Fiat 500e such an environmental wonder car? Well, don’t just take my word for it. The Northwest Automotive Press Association recently awarded it the Top Electric Vehicle in its first annual “Drive Revolution” green car competition. After testing 17 alternative energy production vehicles – including EVs, plug-ins, hybrids and “clean” diesels – the group granted the Fiat its top prize. "The Fiat 500e is an electric car with sex appeal," said Drive Revolution co-chair Bengt Halvorson.

What about price? Actually, the Fiat 500e competes well with other EVs such as Nissan Leaf. Only available for the time being in California, a 2013 model can cost as low as $20,600 after Fiat rebates, state incentives and federal tax credits. The base MSRP is actually $32,600 including an $800 destination charge. For those considering a lease, the payment is $199 a month for 36 months with $999 due at signing.

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So, let’s get down to what EV owners really want to know (besides price). How many miles can this mini EV go before stopping dead in its tracks? In EPA tests, the 500e had an 87-mile driving range (that’s equivalent to 108 mpg or MPGe) purely on battery power. Fiat claims their 87 miles of driving capacity surpasses all production EVs on the market today, including the best-selling Nissan Leaf. The EPA also estimates the annual cost to power this all-new EV is just $500.

However, what about long road trips? Fiat has solved this real life problem by providing the “Fiat 500e Pass.” In partnership with the Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Alamo Rent A Car, and National Car Rental brands, 500e owners can rent a conventional car (such as the gas-powered Fiat 500, Fiat 500L, Dodge Dart or Chrysler 200) for up to 12 days each year for the first three years with unlimited mileage. How cool is that?

Another cool innovation in the 500e is the accompanying smartphone app. During my road test of a bright white Cinquecento electric, I was highly impressed with the app, which is compatible with both iPhone and Android phones. I found the 500e app easy to use and provided truly useful information such as real-time vehicle status reports including energy usage, miles left to drive and a charging station locator, among other awesome features. In fact, I was able to check the status of my charging right from my house while the vehicle sat in the driveway. The app also allows owners to remotely lock and unlock the doors and start the air conditioning in advance of actual driving.

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As for navigation, my road test Fiat 500e came outfitted with a TomTom perched atop the dashboard. And while that may sound lame for such a technological wonder car, I am actually a big fan. Why? TomTom’s software is constantly being updated and includes helpful features such as speed limits, easy-to-view lane graphics and searchable points of interest.

Charging really couldn’t be easier in the Fiat 500e. On my test, I just pulled out the charging cord from a “secret” well inside the trunk, plugged it into an electrical outlet and then latched the other end into the 500e. Voila! Instantly, the car began juicing. The 83 kW electric motor charges in just four hours on a 240-volt (level 2) outlet to deliver 80+ miles of driving with zero tailpipe emissions. Fiat claims its Cinqucento EV can go up to 100 miles on one charge in city driving conditions. As previously noted, the iPhone was able to start and stop the charging as well as calculate how many miles the car could drive at any point during the charging process.

Now let’s get down to performance. In short, the Fiat 500e is super fun to drive! Not only did this professional road test reviewer totally enjoy the thrilling electric acceleration, but the world-class handling, braking and suspension made driving the Fiat 500e an utter joy both on city streets and fast-moving California freeways.

Fiat’s retro-yet-futuristic interior was also a pleasure for all the senses. My 10-year-old daughter thought so too. Each time I pulled up to school in this hot mini car, she let out a coo of delight. “This is the coolest car,” she would say and happily pop in the über comfortable white-and-orange striped passenger seat. I’m a sucker for retro interiors as well as tiny cars, so it isn’t surprising that I fell in love with the 500e’s all-white theme (also available in black) with shocking orange accents on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, dashboard buttons, side door panels and aforementioned cozy seats. The driver’s cockpit was a feel-good, ergonomically correct space for zooming around tight corners and flying down the highway. I especially enjoyed the round instrument gauge directly behind the steering wheel, which popped with crisp graphics and loads of real-time information from power flow to mph to driving range stats. The metal dash really brought a 40s theme to the vehicle while the audio, climate and other function buttons were easily accessible. The Fiat 500e’s round design motif continued to the push-button electronic shift. At first, I found the four-button transmission selection to be a bit off-putting, but after driving around for a week, I certainly got used to selecting a simple button for park, drive, reverse or neutral. I also truly enjoyed the simplicity of the 500e’s smartphone niche and two cupholders, which sits just under the transmission panel. While this design looked simple enough, it was truly an ingenious way to hold your smartphone in place while driving or a coffee mug with handles. Bravo Fiat! Unfortunately, the Fiat 500e’s back seat certainly does not have leg room to fit adults, although the front seats have more than enough head and leg room for even tall passengers.

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What about cargo room? The Cinquecento’s trunk is also rather dinky making it large enough only for a weekend trip or a medium-sized shopping trip. This mini car’s small cargo room is another reason with the Fiat 500e is best used as a city car and not a big-time hauler for long road trips or super store shopping trips.

Ready to go totally green with the Fiat 500e? The time has come for Americans to stop adding to the global problems with big oil and to embrace EVs so we can save our planet. And what better way to do so than driving around in a hot Italian mini car?

For more information on the Fiat 500e visit www.fiatusa.com.

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