New Fiat electric

baby is a charmer

Fiat 500e, full frontal
Fiat 500e, side action
Fiat 500e, front action
Fiat 500e, front action 2
Fiat 500e, front action 3
Fiat 500e, rear static
Fiat 500e, dashboard
Fiat 500e, dash detail 2
Fiat 500e, boot
Fiat 500e, rear seats
Fiat 500e, front seats
Fiat 500e, dash detail 1

CHARGING for an electric car means more than a confusion of cables and a public charge point that's decided to go on strike just as you need more juice to make it home tonight.

There's also the charge to the bottom line; electric cars don't come cheap, even if motor industry pundits predict petrol power sill soon cost as much as plug-in cleanliness.

Which brings us to the new Fiat 500e. It's very obviously - and equally intentionally - styled to look like a bigger version of the tiny car that put Italy on powered wheels from 1957 and which is now rightly judged a milestone in minimal motoring.

It also, equally clearly, looks like a slightly larger offshoot of the current and petrol powered Fiat 500, which continues on sale for buyers with shallower pockets and no imminent desire for a pure electric drive.

But Fiat has clearly decided the future is electric and predicts that approaching half of all new 500s will now have a battery under the floor instead of an engine under the bonnet.

So it's good to see that the car's maker hasn't been over-bold in pricing its new (growing) baby, which starts at £20,495 after you deduct the £2,500 plug-in grant.

That may be many thousands more than a petrol powered model but looks keenly positioned against the obvious opposition from the likes of the Honda e (from £28,215) and MINI Electric (from £26,000).

That will buy you the entry level Action model with a battery that officially runs to 118 miles. Most 500e buyers are expected to upscale to a car with bigger battery and 199 miles potential (up to 285 miles with city use only) and most of them will take a well equipped Icon three-door at £25,495.

At the top of the range is the 500e La Prima (meaning 'the first') and its £27,495 bottom line brings things like six-way adjustable seats with embossed Fiat logo embroidered on the seat pads, wireless mobile charge pad, electrochromatic rear view (self-dipping) mirror, six speaker sound system leather steering wheel and a panoramic sunroof.

On the outside, 17-inch alloy wheels are standard, as are LED headlights with automatic high/low beam.

La Prima drivers can also take advantage of safety and technology elements with autonomous level two driving which includes intelligent adaptive cruise control and lane centering (easily defeated, thank goodness), combined with blind spot warning and a rear view parking camera with 360-degree vision.

For another £2,650 you can lose the metal roof and opt for a 500e convertible. Ideal for when the British summer arrives (hah!) and you can spirit the fabric roof away to let in the sun at the push of a button.

Whichever one tempts you it will be a good looker. Fiat has been so, so careful not to mess with the 500's basic shape and the result is a car that looks utterly up to date but still obviously genuflects to a car that got it so right first time.

Inside, it's the same story only perhaps more so. There's a little more room for people, but it's still tight in the back. Putting the battery under the floor means no compromise on boot space, with the same (modest) 185 litres of volume as on the non-electric 500.

The driver of a 500e will delight at a dashboard that looks bang on trend with touchscreen and digital inputs but is as clear and driver friendly as you could imagine. Enough actual physical switches remain to make setting cabin temperature a fuss free function and the Icon's big navigation screen responded promptly to a finger press - too many don't.

Set off for a drive - in near silence at walking pace - and this first fully electric Fiat smoothly answers a right footed demand for more performance. It will hit 62mph in a respectable 9.0 seconds but, as with all electric cars, skips away from rest with even more alacrity. Top speed is an academic 93mph.

Smooth steering and a ride only occasionally disturbed by big 17ins alloy wheels make this a satisfying machine out of town and a charming companion in a crowded street, where its modest floorplan makes for stress free progress.

Versions of the 500e above entry level Action features 85kW fast charging, so recharging the battery to 80 per cent range takes 35 minutes, or to 30 miles takes around five minutes. Or you could hook up at home at night, of course and enjoy much cheaper electricity.

The entry-level 500e Action is fitted with a 70kW (94bhp) motor, accelerating from zero to 62mph in 9.5 seconds and with a top speed limited to 84mph. It is available as standard with 50kW fast charging. But as noted already, not many of us are going to buy this one.

You might conclude that buyers of the new Fiat 500e don't mind digging deeper for a nicer model. They won't be disappointed.

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