It’s hard to understand why Fiat has taken quite so long to create the Fiat New 500, an all-new pure EV version of the classic retro-modern city car. The company created an electric version of the first-generation Fiat 500 back in 2013, the 500e, but it always felt like a compromise when compared with the brilliant simplicity of the conventional car.

In fact, the late Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, once told an American conference that he’d prefer it if no one bought the 500e, as the cost of manufacturing the car meant Fiat lost around $14,000 per unit. 

Fiat New 500 Prima Edition
Fiat’s New 500 in Prima Edition trim

The days when CEOs could complain loudly and vociferously about EV quotas and the legislated death of the combustion era are long gone. With so much at stake – economically as well as environmentally – the case for electric vehicles has never been stronger.

This is particularly true in the 500’s segment, the compact urban/suburban car. We recently raved about the new Honda e, which effectively stole the soul and thunder from the original Fiat 500 by being friendly, small and exceptionally well put together. 

Fiat New 500 Interior
The interior of the Fiat New 500 is cosy but well put together

As Marchionne discovered to his cost, there was no efficient way of electrifying the award-winning design of the original, based on Roberto Giolito’s 2004 Fiat Trepiùno concept, and subsequently shaped for production by a team led by Frank Stephenson. Fiat took the overall shape of the 1950s-era Fiat 500 and inflated it to accommodate modern mechanicals and safety legislation. The car had a mild facelift in 2016 and continues in production today. 

Fiat New 500 EV: zippy in the city

The New 500 exists alongside its conventionally powered older sibling. It is a tad larger in every direction, but also sleeker, with some finely wrought graphic and trim details. With an official range of 199 miles, and even more promised if you stick to short urban hops, it doesn’t quite fall into the category of a ‘fill and forget’, range anxiety-free vehicle, but it comes pretty close and will certainly take you further than the Honda e, or its other close competitor, VW’s e-Up!

Design details of the Fiat New 500
Every design detail of Fiat’s New 500 has been carefully considered

The Fiat is pretty delightful to drive, in the way that only small cars can be; zippy acceleration, plenty of space on the road and good visibility. Interior tech and trim is a strong point, especially in the top of the range ‘Icon’ edition. On the basic models you’ll be using your own smartphone for navigation and entertainment, but the New 500 Icon adds a 10.25in widescreen display.

There are other self-conscious design quirks, like the push-button door openers and the little musical phrase you get when you switch the car off. It sounds suspiciously like Italian circus music, a musical cue to have a cute and surprising day?

Fiat New 500 Cabriolet
Fiat New 500 Cabriolet
The Fiat New 500 Cabriolet: the first open-topped EV

Fiat’s New 500 perhaps has more in common with the 1950s original than its retro forebear. For a start, it’s Italian built (with a little ‘Made in Torino’ graphic to bolster its cred), unlike the Polish-made ICE 500. That car has its engine up front, in contrast to the original’s tiny rear-mounted two-cylinder unit. Of course, the New 500 can do away with all these oily bits altogether, hence the smooth, stubby front end treatment makes a lot more sense. There’s even a cabrio version – at time of writing the only electric open-topped car you can buy.

The New 500 might not take any giant design or technological steps forward, but it plays to the established strengths of a modern classic and delivers just the right mix of delight and function. §