The big departure for the new 500 from the 500 Classic is the powertrain, as out have gone the tiny petrol engines and in has come a t-shaped battery under the floor of the car and an electric motor to drive the wheels, as well as some other very complicated electronics you won’t find on any other Fiat at the moment.
The significance of the Action trim level compared to the others is that as well as being the most basic surface spec you also get a smaller battery and electric motor. The Action uses a 23.7kWh battery, which offers a range of 115 miles and can be charged with a 50kW fast charger, and the total power output is 95PS, or 70kW. The other models however get a 42kWh battery, which is 108kg heavier, offers a range of 199 miles and can be charged with an 85kW fast charger, and produces 118PS, or 87kW. Zero to 62mph takes 9.5 and 9.0 seconds respectively, and the top speeds are 84mph and 93mph in turn. We were driving a 42kWh Icon.
So, how does the new 500 drive? Well in some ways just like a regular Fiat 500. There’s certainly no impression from behind the wheel that this is a larger car and the view out of the window is exactly the same. In other respects the 500 is notably different. Electric power makes you realise just how loud conventional petrol engines can be, and nipping through towns and even out on more open and faster roads this is a very quiet car. You can feel that more of the car’s mass is lower down, too, and that there is more mass.
The ride is good, with suspension that’s fairly firm and controlled with a healthy dose of small car lean thrown in, but if you ask the car to brake over a series of bumps things start to get a little choppy. The poke from the powertrain gives the 500 that nippy electric car feel, and accelerating in a straight line on slightly damp roads there’s the occasional chirp from the tyres in protest. It’s the steering that lets the 500 down dynamically. There’s just no sense of what the tyres are doing at all. You can feel the movement in the tyre through your backside, for want of a better explanation, and you can feel when the tyres run out of clinging power, but through the steering? Nada. Is it the end of the world? No, not really, but a greater feeling of connection wouldn’t go amiss. Maybe there will be a new, electric 500 Abarth one day that’ll help with that.
It’s worth touching on the car’s drive modes, of which there are three, namely Normal, Range and Sherpa. Normal is, well, normal; Range ups the level of regenerative braking so you can drive more or less with the throttle pedal only (just make sure you leave enough space to brake); Sherpa is the ‘I really should have planned a stop’ mode, and limits the car’s top speed to 50mph and turns off unnecessary systems like the air conditioning (this can be overridden).