Fiat 500e charging in Ashland, NE

Our Fiat 500e: One Year On

Report on our first full year owning an all-electric car

BYLINE: Bill Moore

Today, May 10, 2020 is "Mother's Day" here in quarantined and confused America. It was exactly one year ago that a car transporter pulled up in front of our suburban home in Nebraska and a sporty gray -- with orange trim and sunroof -- 2016 Fiat 500e rolled off the trailer and into our ownership. At last, after more than 20 years of reporting on developments in the EV world for, we finally owned our first all-electric car, a decision we have had no regrets making.

This is not the first 'electrified' automobile we've owned. In 2000, we bought one of the first Honda Insight Hybrids to roll off the production line, serial number 984. I drove it for a decade, enjoying an average of better than 50 mpg. But as I aged, I found getting in and out of the low-slung Insight increasingly difficult, so we sold it and replaced it with a 2009 Toyota Prius, which we still have, by-the-way. It was one of a handful of Priuses to be converted to a plug-in by Kim Adelman and for several years, until the NiMH batteries began to quickly degrade, it was my wife's commuter car and often, in the early months, operated almost exclusively in EV mode since her commute to Omaha Steaks was only 5 miles one way, well within the range of the 6.1kWh battery pack Kim and his colleagues had engineered. Last year, that battery back was replaced by a stock Prius battery, which seldom now even gets exercised.

Instead, we now tend to make most of our local trips these days in the quick, nimble, if less than spacious, 500e, which I now regard as the ideal boomer generation city EV. Of course, since both my wife and I are "officially" retired, neither of us has to commute anywhere on a daily basis. Shopping, the hairdresser, One Million Cups Omaha, the monthly game developer's meeting, planning meetings for Sierra Club and the local Democratic Party, and the odd trip to the bottle recycler (we usually have a glass of wine with most diner meals) pretty much sums of most of our monthly trips.

Why did I decide on the Fiat 500e and not a Nissan LEAF or Chevy Bolt? Several reasons starting with the selling price.

I began the search on, finding hundreds of late model, recently off-lease, EVs, the most prevalent being the Fiat 500e and Nissan LEAF, both priced roughly comparable, though the 500e tended to be a thousand or so cheaper for similar mileage. While LEAFs were available pretty much anywhere in the country, the Fiats, due FCA marketing decisions, were restricted to California, but there were a lot them! At last check, the company had manufactured more than 27,000 of them and leased them only in California, which of course meant they probably would be road salt-free with batteries not overly stressed by either extreme heat or winter cold.

The Southern California dealer I ended up buying the car from told me he to moved, on average, 80 500e's a month! While he handles the odd Volkswagen Golf EV, virtually all of his inventory is concentrated on the little Fiat electric. We communicated by email and telephone. I made my decision largely on the couple dozen photos of the car available online. Based on Carguru's "Good Deal" comparison and the fact the car, (26,300 miles) had a sunroof and sport trim package -- orange accents on the rims and sideview mirrors -- I ordered it. All of the paper work was done online and the dealer arranged for transport, which cost me an added $1,100 to ship to Nebraska. When all was said and done, the car and shipping cost us $11,000, not including Nebraska sales tax, plates, and registration fee.

In the year that we've had the car, I have put just over 4,000 miles on it. Now that the weather has warmed, the battery reading shows better than 90 miles of range. In the middle of winter, parked in our attached garage, which never gets below freezing, the display might read 70+ miles range at 100% state of charge, but that's with the cabin heat turned on. That's ample range for the typical driving we do these days, which is way down now during the pandemic lockdown.

Speaking of battery range and charging, I have not yet installed Level Two (240V) charging. For the last year, we have relied solely on the Level One (110V) charger that came with the car. I plug the car in at night before going to bed and that's sufficient to give us a full battery next morning. I think once or twice we depleted the battery down to around 20% state-of-charge. Most of the time, we seldom go below 40%, meaning it 5-7 hours the car is recharged.

One of the "silver linings" of owning an EV is we don't have to use public gas pumps and risk contracting the coronavirus. We "refuel" at home using American generated energy, often 50% of it coming from wind farms on our regional power pool. As I edit this, wind is contributing 32% of our power, more than coal, natural gas or nuclear.

While it is feasible to seat four adults in the car -- and we've had up to three -- if you're a growing family, the Fiat 500e would not be my choice for the "family" car. As a dad or mom or teen commuter, it's ideal. It is both nimble, amazingly quick with something like 8.4 sec to 60 mph acceleration) and cheap to own and operate. There are few gas-powered cars you won't leave at the stop light when it turns green.

The only quality complaint I have is early on the rubber seal over the rear hatch release came out and I finally had to resort to taping it back in place. And while the passenger doors have a good solid feel, that rear hatch seems flimsy. Also, for some reason, the radio can actually drift off frequency as you corner the car. The Bluetooth phone-to-car connection seems to work most of the time, but at least once it has failed to connect and I had to reset it. Finally, a year on and I still haven't gotten the App on my phone to work with the car; also the control button on the display won't cycle through to let me retrieve the ID number.

These are really minor complaints and haven't interfered with the operation or the enjoyment of the car.

FCA has decided to cease North American manufacturing (the car is assembled in Mexico) of the 500e, but they are working on a new model, apparently for Europe with improved performance and range. Whether it will come to the US remains to be seen.

As a testament to my "faith" in the car, I would like to build a "subscription" service around it to affordably introduce first time EV drivers to the delight of going electric. Check out the website.

Overall, I am very happy with our choice of the 500e. It's the right car for the right time in our lives, even more so during the pandemic. Hopefully, a year from now I can issue an equally positive review, one in which we have left the coronavirus far behind in our rearview mirror.

Fiat 500e Lithium photos

First Published: 2020-05-10

Pages Viewed: 564

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