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Fiat's iconic 500 makes the transition to an all-electric future.
15in wheels, air conditioning, electrically adjustable door mirrors, height/rake-adjustable steering wheel, rear parking sensors, electric front windows, LED daytime running lights, radio and USB port, 7 airbags
95hp with 23.7kWh battery, 117hp with 42kWh battery
Action, Passion, Icon, La Prima
No one knows for sure what the future holds for Fiat in the UK, but the amalgamation with PSA (including Opel and Vauxhall) to form one of the biggest auto firms in the world surely can't do it any harm.
You would also imagine a three-year-old with an abacus could work out the fiscal advantages associated with developing the 500 city car range, and the arrival of an all-new, all-electric 500e appears to confirm that the merger and acquisition grown-ups are aligned with that strategy.
From a distance, the 500e's toyish good looks are strikingly familiar, but closer inspection reveals this is a radically different car.
It's based on an all-new platform, which accommodates a battery pack capable of giving the 500e a theoretical range of up to 199 miles, and there are also a Cabriolet and cheaper, more modest power output versions with a less impressive 115-mile range. The advantage of the smaller battery is that it can replenish 80% of its capacity in around 30 minutes from a typical 50kW motorway charger, which is quicker than the more powerful battery can manage.
Although we're obviously not talking supercar levels of performance here, whizzing away from the mark in the most potent model feels far brisker than the bald figures suggest, and the one-pedal driving aspects are easy to judge thanks to progressive motor braking, so it is all the more disappointing that the pedal reactions when reversing can be rather jerky.
The 500e is light years ahead in terms of powertrain refinement than its forebears, but overall it is still not the most cultured device. Undoubtedly, a lot of this is due to the exclusion of powertrain noise making the levels of wind and road noise seem all the more intrusive, especially on the motorway.
Although mostly quiet and controlled, the suspension is inclined to stutter over rougher surfaces, and the body will pitch a fair bit when encountering sudden changes in road camber.
The steering is also incredibly light, all of the time, which is great when in town but less desirable as speeds build. If you are willing to drive relying solely on the reassuring levels of grip, however, you'll be pleasantly surprised at just how elegantly you can coax this car through a series of winding corners.
All versions get autonomous emergency braking, and the range-topping variant comes with level two autonomous driving functions (there are six levels in total, starting from zero), including active cruise control with speed and distance regulation, and lane-keep assist. Undoubtedly, emergency braking is a brilliant invention, and its ability to prevent collisions with pedestrians and cyclist is truly laudable, but as with all lane-keep assists the Fiat system is reliant on its camera's abilities to detect road markings. Given the white lines in this country are often sketchy, it came as no real surprise that the system kept cutting in and out on our test drive.
The biggest change inside is the fully digitised instrument binnacle and a reimagined central real estate plot. This can be populated with a basic smartphone cradle, a 7.5in touchscreen, or a larger 10.5in landscape tablet, which comes with satnav as standard and includes all the usual phone connectivity features.
As it is wider and longer than its predecessor there are tangible gains in interior space. Along with more shoulder room, a lower seat starting point, and increased levels of movements, vertical adjustments for the steering wheel are now supplemented by telescopic adjustments, allowing a greater range of body types to dial in a comfortable driving position.
The transition to more grown-up dimensions has seen a certain amount of retro charm lost in the process, however - most notably, the pool ball gear-shifter (the 500e has no gears and drive modes are selected by punching dash-mounted buttons), the grandmother clock analogue speedometer, the big rotary heater controls, and the chromed, door-release levers have all been consigned to the annals of history.
Curiously, the door releases have been replaced with electronic switches, which seems all the more bonkers when you consider they are supplemented by a pair of release latches so that people can exit the car manually should an electric failure occur. Well, it wouldn't be a proper Fiat without some level of eccentricity, would it?