Extended Review of Fiat 500e

I’ve now had my Fiat 500e for half a year and I thought it would be a good time to write up more about my experience with it.

Surprisingly, even as a hugh electric vehicle proponent, I underestimated how good it was going to feel to be driving without producing any environmental impact. In our case, this is especially true as we have installed sufficient Solar PV (Photovoltaic) to supply our house and car with all of their energy requirements. My wife, who is not nearly as excited about technology as myself, has been even more surprised about how good it would feel to be driving electric.

Range and Miles per Gallon Equivalent

Our Fiat 500e has performed quite well, generally getting well above the stated mpge often reporting a miles per gallon equivalent of over 134! I’ve been able to make it as far as Sacramento (from Berkeley, CA) and have also been able to drive to San Jose and back without charging. The later pushed my range to the absolute limit. As with any electric or fossil fuel powered vehicle, the faster one drives the worse the efficiency and therefore the range. I expect that if I drove slowly enough (45 – 55pm) I could exceed 100 miles of range without difficulty with nearly ideal conditions. That speed is, however, impractical on California freeways.

Critical Review of the 2013 Fiat 500e (and differences that come in the 2014 and 2015 versions)

Performance from 0-40 is exceptional, leaving virtually all other cars behind when the light turns green. Passing on the highway is just adequate, roughly comparable to driving a Toyota Prius. The car is zippy and go-kart like making it ideal for urban driving. It’s comfortable for longer distance driving on highways but the shorter wheelbase contributes to a bouncier than ideal feeling as the road rises and dips. This is likely less significant than in the gas powered 500 thanks to it’s increased weight, but is unavoidable with any car with a short wheelbase.

The seating position is comfortable with good control over seating height and position. Headroom is just barely adequate for me at 5′ 10″ but would be greater without the optional sunroof that we included. Speaking of the sunroof, it has a major flaw: rather than having a solid material to block the sun’s rays, Fiat elected to use a mesh fabric. This lets in a lot of heat and sun and heats up the car quickly. This isn’t bad in the winter but as summer approaches it becomes quite uncomfortable. I found a screen that can be inserted above the mesh to reflect the sun from a third party. This helps quite a bit in keeping the cabin cool, but comes both at additional cost as well as limiting the usefulness of the sunroof. I personally do not recommend the sunroof for the 500e given this hassle — it’s just not worth giving up comfort for the price.

The back seat is minimal but functional. It provides adequate space for my three year old and his car seat for even longer trips and friends have sat in the back without complaint, even for more extended drives. The rear seat would not be acceptable to anyone of above average height nor are they pleasant for longer drives. The audio system is more than adequate if a bit outdated especially in terms of the controls. Satellite radio is included and sounds good, and ipod integration is adequate as are the handsfree features. The included GPS is worth better than nothing but the mounting location is far less than ideal as it blocks vision of the road. The device itself is quite slow and has a smaller screen. I find myself leaving it in the glovebox while I used my iPhone to provide navigation instead.

Service and Maintenance

One item I haven’t seen mentioned in reviews is just how little maintenance is required for the 500e. It’s unlikely that any real maintenance will be required within the three years of our lease with the exception of tire rotations, fluid checks and the tightening of a bolt or two.

I’ve had to bring it in the shop once when the “Service SRS” light came on. Turns out the problem was do to an object damaging some wires under the passenger seat. The problem was fixed under warranty and while ti’s not a recall issue (and likely our fault) it seems like these important wires are a bit too vulnerable.

Summary

We love our Fiat 500e, it’s a great little car, and the bright orange color turns heads all the time. Fiat’s got a big winner here if they can just figure out how to make a profit by selling them!

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