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Fiat 500 E EV : Electric Bliss

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As the latest wave of electric vehicles washed across our shores in response to the ardent chumming of the Federal Government, we began to take stock of the winners and losers on the beach. Despite the hopes of the most passionate EV supporters, the take rate has been low and only the excellent and innovative TESLA Model S can really claim to be a success, with Nissan's homely Leaf doing some business, too. The rest of the field have sold in the small numbers expected and largely served as PR greenwash for the manufacturers behind them. This is really too bad, as the current generation of EVs really do make sense and work surprisingly well. The public has just not gotten it yet in any significant numbers. But, get ready, EV's are going to catch on.

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One of the most unlikely contenders, and one of the most fun EVs, comes from Fiat of all people, who have reengineered the spunky little 500 with an all electric powertrain from Bosch and done a remarkably fine job of it. This sort of gas car converted to electric almost never works well, but this example proves the lie .. it's a great. little EV!

By the numbers, curb weight is up about 600 lbs to just under 3,000 lbs, there's a 111 HP electric motor with a generous dollop of torque - 147 lb-ft at the characteristic zero rpm, for plenty of ooomph off the mark, and a 24kWhr lithium ion battery pack promising a real world range of 80-100 miles for those with a light foot, more like 60-65 miles if driven with vigor, which it begs you to do. After a short period getting the feel of it, you'll soon drop the hammer and get nailed back in your seat by this feisty unit as it shows a tire chirp or two on its way to 60 mph in under 9 seconds (feels a lot quicker, by the way) and a top speed around 85 mph - more than enough for the California freeways. That's good, because California is the only state the 500E is being sold in at the moment.

Well, not exactly sold as the vast majority of deals on this EV are going to be leases .. with a very tempting payment of $199 per month with only $1999 down being the advertised factory offer. It is hard to beat that deal, and leasing something that may well be obsolete technology in just a few years certainly makes a lot of sense. Purchase price is listed at $32,500 before any of the federal tax credits and California rebates are taken out. That's few grand more than the current price of the Nissan Leaf, arguably a more practical four door hatchback, but an absolute snoozer to drive. With the lease deal, low cost of fuel, minimal maintenance etc. this EV is a solid value, no question. They also include 12 days use of a gas-powered rental car for each year of the lease. Neat.

Driving is believing and the 500 E delivers lively pep, sharp responses, and a ride that's actually smoother than the gas version .. not bad. It's a very small car to be sure, but comfort for two up front is fine and the back seat is usable by adults in a pinch for short sprints - which is all you are likely to take given the range. The interior and dash layout are pleasant and modern and the EV features are integrated into an available TomTom nav system in a clever and useful way. It is a thoughtfully designed and well executed car that someone sweated all the details on, not an EV compliance mash up. Cool.

As to ownership, the only real question is the range and charging equations and whether they can work for your needs. It's no Tesla, which offers up to 300 miles on a charge. To get your full 80 miles per charge you'll be on the 110 volt charger a full 24 hours, or on 240 volts for about 4 hours. Fine if you're logging 60 miles a day or so but not quite good enough for longer commutes, but in the same ballpark as the Leaf. If you can live with that, you'll have a functional. very fun and enjoyable green machine for a remarkably low overall cost. I loved it.

• dean seven



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