The all-new electric Fiat 500 is a properly committed effort by Italy’s small-car specialist. Though it riffs off the familiar 500 shape, it’s bigger on the outside, better on the inside, and totally differently powered.
It’s an all-new platform. Fiat’s CEO Olivier Francois says it will be used in other cars, most notably giving super-heavy clues a cheaper EV, with echoes of last year’s Centoventi concept.
“I’m still very bullish about the Centoventi approach. It’s an electric car that doesn’t cost much and is still profitable,” Francois explains. “It has modular batteries and so on. A minimalist, Panda-inspired car. It makes a business over the life cycle. That concept wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
“The new 500 is not a plan B, not a tweaked current car. Obviously, you don’t do that for only one car. We make the most of the investment, sharing with our other models and brands.”
So, he envisages both the 500, which will make profit by being well-equipped and expensive, and the Centoventi as a cheaper option with a smaller standard battery and less kit. For the 500, the critical figures are a 42kWh battery, enabling 320km of WLTP range. It goes from 0-100kph in 9sec.
Yeah, new cars always get their bosses excited. Francois is seldom anything less than ebullient. But he goes into total overdrive when talking about the new 500. His conversations loop around and around, bouncing off the rev limiter. Here’s one nugget that summarizes his claims: “Either you go big or go home. Match the best competitor, or don’t do it. The new 500 is all electric and only electric. It is cutting-edge in every detail. It’s going to be a huge hit. It’s forward-looking. It has driver assistance that’s unique for this class. It’s incredible to drive. An urban Tesla.”
And then a sermon about Fiat’s calling: “We have a duty to be of service, to attract people to electric. This drives people to electric because it’s so desirable. It’s a social mission. We are committed to a higher purpose. Really.”
Of course, other carmakers have done electric cars. Top Gear asks why Fiat is launching one only now? After all, in the past the company’s management has said it doesn’t believe in making ‘compliance cars’ to meet CO2 regulations. It has always said every car must make a profit. Will this one?
“This is one of the rare occasions where you have business objectives meeting brand objectives,” Francois responds. “The brand objective is relevance—a little car that’s totally relevant. The business aspect is to embed the cost of electrification into an intangible—premiumness. It’s a safe business equation, if we can sell it at the price we have in mind (£29,000 or around P1.74 million for the top-end La Prima cabriolet). We have proof, as more than a quarter of current 500s we sell are super-high-end versions.”
That said, the current 500, even after all 13 years, is still a mainstay for Fiat: “The electric 500 is not intended to replace one-for-one the 200,000 500s we sold last year. The existing 500 will go on as long as there is demand.”
And there won’t be a petrol version of the new 500: “It’s all electric and only electric.”
NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.