The New York Auto Show was fairly predictable for the most part; lots of model refreshes, trim lines and new engines. The things you expect from a lot of auto shows. But there was one really bizarre and inexplicable appearance: the Fiat 500 Electric.
For reasons unknown to us, or even a Stellantis PR representative, the Fiat stand was not adorned with a single solitary 500X – which is currently the marque’s entire US lineup – but there was also a tomato (tomato) red 500 electric convertible and a pale pink metallic 500 electric hatchback. Two cars that Stellantis has, since the model was introduced a few years ago, said do not come to the United States. They weren’t roped up or on a fancy display. They just sat on the mat like any other regular Stellantis product. And of course we had to check them out.
And…they’re pretty awesome! We think Fiat should sell the 500 Electrics here. Here’s why:
First of all, these are great designs. They’re still as cute and retro as the 500’s petrol (and electric) predecessor, but with a whole lot more attention to detail. The headlights intersect with the hood and the turn signals come out of the belt line. Attractive recessed door handles are found below this line. Small tabs with the model name run down from the window trim. The retro grilleless fascia is natural and practical, and the whole car features subtly athletic curves. Plus, you can get it in a convertible, which the competition doesn’t offer.
The excellent details continue inside. The materials are certainly cheap (and admittedly the doors sound a little flimsy when closing), but it pulls the same tricks as the Ford Maverick. He plays with colors, materials and shapes to make it enjoyable. It has a soft, curved dashboard that can be covered in cool fabric or painted to match the body. Seats are available with the “FIAT” wordmark stitched all over the upholstery. And it has convenient controls to go along with the bright and responsive touchscreen. In addition, this rear half door on the tailgate is ideal for access to the rear seats. The backseat is still tight, but you can fit three adults in the car in a heartbeat (watch your head and knees).
Basically, it’s an extremely sleek and classy machine, something the electric car market could use more of in the lower-end segment. And it would probably sell at the low end. In the UK, the 500 Electric starts almost £5,000 (about $6,500) less than a Mini Cooper SE (which here in the US starts at $34,750 including destination but before tax incentives), and that’s about 3,000 pounds (nearly $4,000) less than a Nissan Leaf with the 40kWh battery (which starts at $28,425). While pricing doesn’t usually translate directly, it looks like the 500 Electric might have a shot at being the most affordable electric car on sale in America, assuming homologation doesn’t raise the cost too much.
And with that low price, the Fiat would not only bring a lot of style, but an impressive range. Its 42 kWh battery (with 37.3 kWh usable) provides a range of around 199 miles on the WLTP cycle. It would probably be a bit lower in the United States. But since it tops both the Nissan Leaf and Mini SE’s WLTP ranges (168 miles and 145 miles respectively), we imagine it would beat them on the EPA cycle as well, where the 40-kWh Leaf is a leader. low-cost with 149 miles of range. The Fiat also has 85kW DC fast charging available, better than the Nissan or Mini, not to mention the equally swanky but low-end Mazda MX-30.
The Fiat is not a class leader everywhere. Its 117 horses sounds lean, but it should still have plenty of low-end torque and feel brave in something so small. And speaking of size, it definitely has less space inside than the other three affordable EVs we’ve mentioned. But it’s significantly larger than the old 500. It’s over 3 inches longer and over 2 inches wide, which should be more appealing to Americans. The cargo space unfortunately does not change.
There’s one more reason why we might see the 500 Electric as a solid product for the US: Fiat actually needs product. The brand now markets a single model, the 500X. And it’s getting old. It has a fresher engine from its sibling the Jeep Renegade, but that only goes so far. Having a sleek new electric car would diversify the showroom, help show that Stellantis brands are serious about switching to electric power, and perhaps attract buyers who might not have thought of Fiat otherwise.
Yes, as car enthusiasts we tend to demand cars that don’t make sense in our respective markets. And there may be an element of that in our argument – we just think the 500 Electric is neat. But that’s really not all. The car has a truly impressive electric range available at equally impressive prices. It also does this without looking boring or stupid. It’s also better sized now for America, and that would cheer up some sad-looking Fiat dealerships.
Come on, Stellantis, give the 500 one more chance in America.