It's hard to find a vehicle that combines driving enjoyment, fuel efficiency and a charming look, but that's exactly what the 2014 FIAT 500e promises. In fact, it promises even more than that, touting the style and driving experience of a standard FIAT 500, plus a fully electric motor that uses absolutely no fuel at all. Sounds perfect, right? Unfortunately, there are a few catches.
The biggest one is that the FIAT 500e is only sold in California, a slap in the face to FIAT loyalists elsewhere who want to flex their green-car muscle. And while we wouldn't be surprised to see FIAT offer the 500e in other markets, that hasn't happened yet. The other issue is pricing: The 500e comes in above $32,000 with shipping, which makes it twice as expensive as a standard FIAT 500.
The good news? The 500e does indeed harness the standard 500's looks and driving experience, combining them with electric power in an impressive package that boasts a stellar 87-mile range. And the hatchback's price can be softened by a series of state and federal tax breaks that make it cheaper to buy an electric car. So if you're in California and you're looking to save some fuel, the 500e might be worth adding to your shopping list.
What's New for 2014?
After making its debut last year, the 500e's only update for 2014 is the addition of a standard armrest for the passenger seat.
What We Like
Great handling; subtle styling changes keep the 500's look but still shout EV; excellent range; lots of standard equipment
What We Don't
Only sold in California; surprisingly pricey; nowhere near as practical as most rivals
The FIAT 500e offers one engine: an 83-kW electric motor with a single-speed transmission. Power is rated at 111 horses. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the 500e's fuel economy at 122 mpge city and 108 mpge highway, with mpge standing for miles per gallon equivalent. More importantly, the 500e boasts an 87-mile range and a 4-hour recharge time when using a 240-volt power supply.
Standard Features & Options
The 500e is offered in just one trim level, which starts around $32,800 with shipping. Standard features are generous for a subcompact car. They include keyless entry, a navigation system with a 4.3-inch touchscreen, leatherette upholstery, automatic climate control, cruise control and rear parking sensors. Options include a sunroof and an e-Sport appearance package, which gives the 500e a sporty look.
The 2014 FIAT 500e boasts several standard safety features, ranging from 4-wheel anti-lock brakes to side curtain airbags and a driver's knee airbag. The 500e also includes stability control and rear parking sensors.
In federal government crash tests, the FIAT 500e has yet to be tested. But gas-powered 500 models, which should perform largely the same, received four stars overall, a figure that breaks down to four stars in front and rollover tests and five stars in the side impact assessment.
Behind the Wheel
From behind the wheel, the FIAT 500e seems to make no major compromises for its all-electric capabilities. It's surprisingly quick off the line, maybe even better than a standard 500. Sure, it's no 500 Turbo or high-performance Abarth, but we weren't expecting that. The 500e is also surprisingly composed in turns, offering a tight, sporty feel, especially for an electric car. The biggest difference is, not surprisingly, in engine noise, since the 500e has none.
In terms of appearance, the 500e is also highly similar to a typical FIAT 500. There are only a few distinctive upgrades on the outside, while interior revisions primarily revolve around added standard equipment and the addition of four center-mounted buttons in place of the gear lever. There's also an instrument panel readout for battery level, power flow and other important EV items.
Other Cars to Consider
Chevrolet Volt -- It's not fully electric, and its range is only 30 miles. But once you run out of juice, the Volt's gasoline engine kicks in to eliminate range anxiety and improve practicality.
Honda Fit EV -- To create the Fit EV, Honda took a normal Fit and added an electric motor, much like FIAT and the 500e. The Fit EV is better equipped and more practical than the 500e but also more expensive.
Nissan Leaf -- Nissan's fully electric Leaf is only rated at 84 miles, compared to the 500e's 87, but the Leaf offers a lower base price and more practicality thanks to four doors and larger back seats.
We happen to like the FIAT 500e, so we're disappointed that it's only offered in California. There's only one model, so that's the one we'd get, and we'd skip the unnecessary e-Sport appearance package.