La Dolce Vita: A Sweet Drive in Fiat’s All-New, All-Electric 500e

‘Bambina’ legacy of Italian automobile tycoon

Thu 14 Mar 24


Scusami if I introduce a little Italophilia this week, but I have just driven Fiat’s new all-electric 500e La Prima .

Bellissimo! Ti amo!

Italy still worships the “Bambina”, a word often use to describe the 500 series introduced in the 1950s.

“I want to die like an old soldier, on his horse” (or in a Fiat?), the great Italian automobile tycoon Gianni Agnelli told his wife Princess Donna Marella Caracciolo di Castagneto.

This, as it turns out, was one of the few wishes denied him at the end of a brilliantly flamboyant, mercurial and indulgent life, one navigated by charm, cunning, vast wealth, and, above all, a ruling aesthetic sense that never failed him.

Agnelli’s life had all the trappings of an entertaining – if slightly implausible – airport thriller. His 81 years passed in a whirl of fast cars, Hollywood starlets, family infighting, personal tragedy – and lots and lots of money. But Agnelli was more than a playboy. Taking charge at 45 of the firm his grandfather founded in 1899, he dragged Fiat out of its Mediterranean obscurity into the global big league.

It is fitting that as the fallen king of Fiat he should, the day after his death on January 24, 2003, lie in state in a blond-wood coffin in a room above Lingotto, the former Fiat plant in Turin, which was Agnelli’s hometown.

Now his beloved Fiat 500 has been updated to inspire people once again by becoming totally electric without compromising its iconic Italian flair and spirit, along with some cutting-edge technology and advanced safety features.

Mind you, we could ride further on Agnelli’s horse – the 500e runs just shy of 310 km on a 42kWh battery. That’s OK if you’re driving from Turin to Livorno, but not Mungallala to Gogango. On the ‘plus’ side it has a maximum charge rate of 85 kW in just 35 minutes – if you can find a charge station along that central western trek.

Fiat claims the 500e will dispatch the 0-100 km/hour sprint in 9 seconds.

From the driver’s seat, the Fiat 500-e cabin is light and airy thanks to large side windows and large (standard) sunroof. (Photo Credit: Supplied)
From the driver’s seat, the Fiat 500-e cabin is light and airy thanks to large side windows and large (standard) sunroof. (Photo Credit: Supplied)

The Fiat 500 has never been a huge seller here, but parent company Stellantis reckons it might inspire Australians, especially women, more than the petrol-powered 500 range has achieved, even with a starting price of $52,500 plus on-roads.

The 500e is one of the first electric cars to offer a new driving experience using the right-hand pedal to both accelerate and decelerate. Any time the driver lifts the right foot from the pedal the car slows down and stops, then converts and recovers kinetic energy to generate electric power and recharge the battery. .

Standard features include full LED headlights, 15 to 17 in. alloy wheels, ‘eco’ leather trim, electric front seat adjustment, self-dimming rear-view mirror, 10.25-in. Uconnect 5 touch screen infotainment system, and a 7-in. digital instrument cluster and wireless phone charger.

Designers took inspiration from the original Fiat 500 (dating back to the 1960s), so there are plenty of round dials and curvaceous lines throughout the interior.

Like a lot of modern EVs, this Fiat 500 ditches a regular transmission lever and adopts a button-only approach for gear selection, to help with packaging and space inside the cabin.

Similarly, there are no regular door handles; instead, it’s the push of a circular button on the door trim, much like a Tesla. And the 500e misses out on electrically-adjustable front seats, which are fully manual. And it’s more a two-plus-two than a four-seater with a very snug second row. The back seats are best for kids only or for adults on short trips, or simply for luggage.

The old circular headlights have been switched for a more stylistic treatment featuring two semi-circular lights, the top half comprising daylight running lights shining through a curved hole in the bonnet, and the bottom half housing the main beam lamps. From the driver’s seat, the cabin is light and airy thanks to the large side windows and large (standard) sunroof.

Safety features extend to adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane centring assist, traffic sign recognition, and ‘Level 2’ self-driving capability.

Fiat Australia is adamant it won’t introduce the more affordable 500e City Range variant (with a smaller 24 kWh battery), as seen in the UK, instead focusing on the 500 La Prima.

A convertible 500e also appears to be off the cards for the time being, although Fiat has confirmed the higher-performance Abarth 500e is on its way.

The old-but-still-cute petrol-powered Fiat 500 remains on sale locally after receiving an update that allowed it to meet ADR side-impact regulations that went in effect for all passenger cars on sale in Australia in November 2021.

And that face! The 500e’s smile is alluring. Think Anita Eggberg’s midnight clothes-clinging emergence from the waters of Rome’s Baroque-era Trevi Fountain in Federico Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece La Dolce Vita (‘the sweet life’) then squeezing into a pint-sized Fiat 500 with Marcello Mastroianni. (No apologies from this movie buff’s life-long interest in old cinema classics).

A study by a Florida State University researcher has confirmed, through a complex statistical analysis, that many people see human facial features in the front end of automobiles and ascribe various personality traits to cars — a modern experience driven by our prehistoric origins.

Researchers, product designers and, of course, filmmakers, have long toyed with the idea that cars have faces, but this study is the first to investigate the phenomenon systematically. The study, first published in the Human Nature Journal, has confirmed with some rigour what many people have already felt – that cars seem to have consistent personality traits associated with them similar to the way people perceive facial expressions.

Take another look at the Fiat 500e published here. A smile, and did you see her wink?


  • Orson Whiels

    Orson Whiels has been a motoring writer for many years and was motoring writer at Queensland Country life in the 1960s-70s and then motoring editor at Australian Timberman.)


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