Not long after introducing a charming modern-day rendition of the lilliputian Fiat 500, FCA (FiatChrysler) had a battery-powered version ready for sale, as a 2013 model. Despite maintaining the many virtues of the gas-engine model, with an environmentally-friendly powertrain, the 500e was made available only in California.

Pricing and Equipment

Base-priced at $32,795 (including destination charge), the 500e comes in a single well-equipped trim level, only in coupe form with a metal roof. Recharging can be accomplished in less than 4 hours at a Level 2 (220-volt) source. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates range in combined city/highway driving at 87 miles. Fiat claims a range beyond 100 miles, in regular urban driving. The 83-kW lithium-ion battery pack fits beneath the front seat, and an on-board charger is included.

Standard 500e equipment includes:

  • Automatic climate control
  • Data display for power range, energy meter, and energy usage
  • Six-speaker, 276-watt audio
  • Heated front seats
  • TomTom navigation
  • Aero body kit
  • Rear park assist
  • 15-inch alloy wheels

An optional eSport Package includes black headlight/taillamp accents and staggered Nero black wheels. A power sunroof also is optional.

Performance Pros

FIAT 500e
  • Acceleration is actually quite spirited, augmented by the utter smoothness of pure-electric operation. Despite some 600 pounds of added weight, performance comes close to that of the gas-engine Fiat 500.
  • Easy to drive, the regular Fiat 500 quickly became known for agile, nimble handling. The 500e delivers essentially the same brand of precise steering and joyful reactions.
  • As in most fully-electric vehicles, silent running is the rule.

Performance Cons

  • Manual-shift fans are out of luck. Electric cars don't use transmissions with gears.
  • Ride quality cannot be called wholly gentle, but it's far from harsh.
  • Concern about range is inevitable, as with every pure-electric car, and it varies depending on driving style, traffic, weather, and other factors.

Interior Pros

  • Front seats are comfortable and sufficiently spacious.
  • Entry/exit isn’t as difficult as might be expected.
  • A Uconnect radio with 5-inch touchscreen has been added to 2016 models.

Interior Cons

  • Like the non-electric Fiat 500 coupe, the 500e suffers from limited back-seat space. Getting back there can be a chore, too, at least for older and/or less agile passengers.
  • Instruments are stylish, but not the easiest to read.
  • Over-the-shoulder visibility is an issue, making standard rear park assist a welcome feature.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

If you manage to acquire a 500e, you get virtually all the charm and character of the regular gasoline-engine 500 coupe, but this one just happens to be battery-powered. Except for lack of a manual-transmission option, driving qualities nearly match those of the conventionally frisky Fiat 500, which ranks as my favorite contemporary car.

The Least Pleasant Surprise

Most electric cars are limited in availability, but not quite as restrictive as the little Fiat coupe. If you’re ready for a battery-powered version, you can only buy one in two states: California and Oregon. Furthermore, FCA (FiatChrysler) doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry to expand availability.

The Bottom Line

FIAT 500e

Even if it’s hard to obtain, the battery-powered offshoot of Fiat’s charmingly Italian-derived microcar demonstrates that electric automobiles definitely don’t have to be dull, either in appearance or driving qualities. More than most, the 500e retains the sporty character of its gas-engine cousin. Federal, state and other incentives can help lower the purchase price; but note that tax credits apply fully only if the buyer owes at least that amount in taxes.