2013 Fiat 500e First Drive

The 2013 Fiat 500e allows you to bounce around town without using a drop of gasoline

What It Is
The perfect errand running companion, that doesn't require an ounce of gasoline.
Best Thing
Unlike the vast majority of electric vehicles available today, the 500e drives like it runs on gas.
Worst Thing
It's only available in California.
Snap Judgment
If you live in California, spend your days running errands in a crowded city, and can't stomach $4+ gas prices, then the 2013 Fiat 500e is worth looking at.


A brief history lesson before we get started. California was admitted to the Union back in 1850 as the 31st state. In that 163 year timespan, California has become the most populated state in the U.S. with over 38 million residents accounted for as of the end of 2012. So, it would make sense for a state with a population of that size to actively be looking at alternative ways to fuel the vehicles clogging its infrastructure on a daily basis. Here's where the 2013 Fiat 500e, which will only be available in California once it goes on sale later this year, comes into play.

The 2013 Fiat 500e is Chrysler Group's first ever all-electric vehicle available for mass consumption. The Fiat 500 has always been small in stature, and that may have played into the lukewarm reception it got upon its return to the North American market a few years back. However, the tide has turned for Fiat in North America with the addition of models like the 500 Turbo and Abarth. Now you can add the all-electric Fiat 500e to that list. With its range of 87 miles and the cinquento's compact size, you have a vehicle designed for urban transportation. That's may help explain why the 2013 Fiat 500e will only be available in California when it goes on sale later this summer. When it does go on sale, the starting price of $32,500 may hinder some people's commitment, but after some state rebates and other incentives, that can be knocked down to $20,500 (the same price as fully-loaded 500 Lounge). We're fresh off spending some wheel time with the 2013 Fiat 500e, here's what we thought about it.

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Walkaround

From the outside, you would have no idea that the 2013 Fiat 500e runs exclusively on electricity. All of the normal styling seen on a gas-powered 500 is present on the 500e, both inside and out. It's not until you take a closer look at the Fiat 500e that it becomes evident this isn't your everyday Fiat (or Chrysler Group product, for that matter). From behind, you'll notice that a tail pipe is conspicuously missing and instead, a drag-reducing dot-matrix styled rear diffuser stretches the width of the 500e. Other aerodynamically friendly add-ons to the 2013 Fiat 500e include 15-inch aluminum wheels that sit flush to the vehicle's body, underbody pans, side sills, mirror caps, and a rear spoiler. The "500e" badging is also different to that normally seen on a Fiat product. Now, a red "e" sits on top of the usual "500" logo indicating that this is an electric model.

Sitting Down

Inside, the 2013 Fiat 500e looks just like every other non-Abarth model with one major exception: There's no gear selector. Instead of the usual shifter knob, four buttons sit horizontally in the space normally used to operate the transmission. These four buttons include a function for park, reverse, neutral, and drive (in that order from top to bottom). The instrument cluster is also different than the one that ordinarily sits in the 500. The 2013 Fiat 500e features an Electronic Vehicle Information Center for an instrument cluster which focuses on things like drive range, how much juice remains in the battery, and the state of charge. The usual suspects like the mileage odometer, outside temperature, and a speedometer are present on this thin-film screen electronic instrument cluster, too.

Many electric vehicles are forced to sacrifice interior space in lieu of a battery pack but that's not the case here. Fiat strapped the Bosch-supplied 24-kWh lithium ion battery pack to the 500e's chassis, and as a result, its presence is barely noticeable inside. The battery's placement also boosts the 500e's rigidity by 10 percent over the regular, gas-powered models; that extra rigidity affects the 500e's driving mannerisms for the better.

There's no denying that the 2013 Fiat 500e, like the rest of the 500 lineup, is smaller inside. Obviously, that's part of the appeal to the 500 though, and Fiat took the liberty to carve out some places to stash all the essentials needed for your daily commute. There are map pockets on both doors, another one below the center console, and two more spots to store a cell phone and other odds and ends in the instrument panel. The 2013 Fiat 500e assigned to shepherd us around on our test drive was equipped with the optional TomTom navigation unit as well. The navigation unit itself, while helpful (it's programmed to beep three times when you're approaching a traffic light with a camera), proved to be more of an obstacle as it was right in our line of sight. Everything else inside of the 2013 Fiat 500e mirrors that of the non-electrified models. The window switches still book end the shifter buttons, and if you've driven any other current Fiat products before, you'll feel right at home inside the 500e.

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Driving

It's becoming all too common nowadays. Hybrid vehicles tend to drive and feel drastically different then their gas-powered counterparts. The brakes bite down way too hard the moment pressure is applied to the pedal and acceleration is slow to the draw at best. The 2013 Fiat 500e, though, isn't plagued by these issues. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Hopping into the driver's seat of the electrified 500 is just like any other Fiat product. Like its gas-powered siblings, the tiny Fiat EV starts up with the turn of a key, signaling for everything inside to come alive.

Mash the throttle and the 500e does its best gas-powered impression as it takes off with surprising vigor. Even if you accelerate normally, the 2013 Fiat 500e takes off easily with ample amounts of torque being sent to the wheels instantly. The electric motor whirls away as you get up to speed but it's easily ignorable if you simply turn on the radio or open a window.

With the added weight from the battery pack (617 extra pounds, to be exact), the 2013 Fiat 500e feels planted when creeping along a crowded city street or going along with traffic on the freeway. As to be expected, you feel it when going over an obstruction in the road but the suspension is soft enough to absorb most of the impact. Then there's the regenerative brakes. Unlike other hybrid and electric vehicles equipped with this feature, the 2013 Fiat 500e enables the driver to summon stopping power smoothly before the brakes bite down hard.

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Summary

Before the introduction of the 2013 Fiat 500e, Chrysler Group was the lone remaining American automaker not to bother with hybrid or all-electric vehicles. Even with the addition of the 500e, Fiat and Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne has said he wishes automakers had more freedom in choosing alternative fuels for vehicles. Marchionne and company stand to lose a whopping $10,000 per every 2013 Fiat 500e sold. Nevertheless, in order to satisfy U.S. government requirements on Zero Emissions Vehicles in California, the first EV to come out of Auburn Hills for mass consumption will live on.

With all that said, the 2013 Fiat 500e is a solid electric vehicle for those living in the city, especially if your commute is under 50 miles roundtrip a day. Chrysler Group's first real EV does a good job impersonating the gas-powered Fiat 500 right down to the ride feel and acceleration. In addition to the rebates and other incentives, Mopar, Chrysler Group's in-house parts division, can come to your house and install a high-speed charger. Mopar will also provide aftercare for said charger if you decide to go with this optional service. When drawing power from a 240-watt source, the 2013 Fiat 500e can be fully recharged in less than four hours.

The majority of this niche' segment possess similar driving characteristics to that of an enclosed golf cart and offer up similar (minimal) storage space. However, this is where the 2013 Fiat 500e separates itself from the pack due to all of the aforementioned features and drive feel. If you're in the market for a subcompact vehicle that runs solely on electricity, there are a few options you can choose from, but the 2013 Fiat 500e should be at the top of your list.

Basic Specs

Three-phase AC synchronous motor and a 24-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, 1-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive, 111-hp, $32,500 (before rebates and incentives), 122 mpg city/108 mpg hwy

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