The New York Auto Show was pretty predictable for the most part; lots of model refreshes, trim lines and new engines. The stuff you would expect from a lot of auto shows. But there was one truly bizarre, inexplicable appearance: the Fiat 500 Electric.
For reasons unknown to us, or even to a Stellantis PR representative, the Fiat booth was not adorned with just one lonely 500X — which is currently the brand’s entire U.S. lineup — but there was also a pomodoro (tomato) red 500 Electric convertible and a pale pink metallic 500 Electric hatchback. Two cars that Stellantis has, since the model’s introduction a couple of years ago, said will not be coming to the United States. They weren’t roped off or on any fancy display. They just sat on the carpet like any other regular Stellantis product. And of course, we had to check them out.
And … they’re pretty great! We think Fiat should sell the 500 Electrics here. Here’s why:
First off, they’re wonderful designs. They’re still just as cute and retro as the 500’s gas-powered (and electric) predecessor, but with far more attention to detail. The headlights intersect with the hood, and the turn signals pop out from the belt line. Nifty recessed door handles sit below that line. Little tabs with the model name bump down from the window trim. The retro, grille-less fascia is natural and practical, and the whole car has subtly athletic curves. Plus, you can get it as a convertible, something the competition doesn’t offer.
The excellent detailing continues inside. The materials are certainly cheap (and admittedly, the doors sound a little flimsy on closing), but it pulls the same tricks that the Ford Maverick does. It has fun with the colors, materials and shapes to make it pleasant. It has a soft, curvy dash panel that can be covered in cool fabric or painted to match the body. The seats are available with the “FIAT” wordmark stitched all through the upholstery. And it has convenient controls to go with the bright and responsive touchscreen. Furthermore, that rear half-door on the hatchback is great for rear seat access. The rear seat is still tight, but you can get three adults into the car in a pinch (mind your heads and knees).
Basically, it’s an extremely stylish and chic machine, something that the electric car market could use more in the low-end segment. And it likely would sell at the low end. In the U.K., the 500 Electric starts at nearly 5,000 pounds (about $6,500) less than a Mini Cooper SE (which here in the U.S. starts at $34,750 including destination but before tax incentives), and it’s about 3,000 pounds (nearly $4,000) less than a Nissan Leaf with the 40-kWh battery pack (which starts at $28,425). While prices don’t usually directly translate, it would seem like the 500 Electric could have a shot at being the most affordable electric car on sale in America, assuming that homologation wouldn’t add too much to the cost.
And with that low price, the Fiat would not just bring lots of style, but impressive range. Its 42-kWh battery pack (with a usable 37.3 kWh) delivers a range of around 199 miles on the WLTP cycle. That would probably be a bit lower in the U.S. But since it exceeds both the Nissan Leaf and Mini SE’s WLTP ranges (168 miles and 145 miles respectively), we imagine it would beat both of them on the EPA cycle, too, where the 40-kWh Leaf is a low-cost leader with 149 miles of range. The Fiat also boasts available 85-kW DC fast charging, better than the Nissan or the Mini, not to mention the also chic, but low-range Mazda MX-30.
The Fiat’s not a class leader everywhere. Its 117 horsepower sounds meager, but it should still have plenty of low-range torque and feel spunky 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 notably larger than the old 500. It’s more than 3 inches longer and more than 2 inches wider, which should be more appealing to Americans. Cargo space doesn’t change, unfortunately.
There’s yet one more reason we could see the 500 Electric being a solid product for the U.S.: Fiat actually needs product. The brand sells one single model now, 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 new, stylish electric car would diversify the showroom, help show that Stellantis brands are serious about the switch to electric power, and maybe attract some buyers who wouldn’t have thought about Fiat otherwise.
Yes, we as car enthusiasts have the tendency to demand cars that don’t make sense in our respective markets. And there may be an element of that in our argument — we simply think the 500 Electric is neat. But that really isn’t all of it. The car has some genuinely impressive electric range available for similarly impressive prices. It also does it without looking boring or dorky. It’s also sized better now for America, and it would brighten up some sad-looking Fiat dealerships.
Come on, Stellantis, give the 500 one more shot in America.