The Fiat 500e electric car is Chrysler's token entry for complying with California's zero-emissions mandate. In living with the 500e, it was clear that Chrysler engineers didn't just phone this one in; they actually sweated the details and came up with an EV that's fun and appealing.
The engineers tucked a large 24-kWh battery flat under the floor and sprang for a robust 6.6-kWh onboard charger that speeds up charging times. Range turned out to be about 80 miles—give or take. Fiat says charge times are around four hours with 240-volts. But the company didn't go for a quick DC charging port since a single global standard hasn't been agreed upon, yet.
The regular Fiat 500 is cheery and kind of fun to drive, but its modest power and choppy ride mar the experience. The e's battery added weight tends to tame the ride's choppiness. And no gas engine keeps things quiet. With its instant electric power delivery, the 500e feels punchy, smooth and effortless. Handling remains tossable and agile.
Some changes are noticeable inside, such as the shifter being replaced with a push-button selector. Four orange light bars atop the dash indicate state of charge, so you can monitor the charging progress from afar, glancing through the windshield. The range indicator in the instrument panel is always front and center, just where it should be.
Energy consumption is displayed in MPG Equivalent (MPGe), essentially converting miles-per-kWh DC. That measure tells what the car is consuming, not what energy flowed from your home charger, which is likely more. During our time, the display hovered around 100 MPGe, which is typical of EVs. The EPA estimates its consumption at 108 MPGe.
The 500e goes on sale this summer in California for now and only a few thousand of them will be built. That's too bad because based on our time with the 500e (borrowed for a fee), it is a fun, green, urban runabout and may arguably be the best Fiat 500 variation offered—even considering the personality rich 500 Abarth. Although the company is expected to lose money on each one of these, pricing is estimated to be in the mid-$30s before the $7,500 tax incentive.
See our Fiat 500 road tests.
Video updated: 3/6/13