Flashback: Fiat 500e Video Review from Last Year

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On the eve of the arrival of my long-awaited Chevrolet Bolt EV, here’s the finished version of a video review I did on the Fiat 500e EV last April. Unlike my normal one-week test period, I got a three-month loan of this cute little all-electric car. Thanks again, Scott Brown of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Little did I know when I got my Fiat test car on January 19, 2016 that a year later I’d be starting a new, longer-term EV adventure. But driving this car for three months gave me an appetite for gasoline-free motoring. I named the little blue hatchback Fidelio, and he was a faithful ride.

There are lots of posts on Fidelio on this blog from January through April 2016 to read. Enjoy my wrap-up in this video.

 

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Should I Get My EV Now or Wait?

Recently, with lease deals on EVs running at around $79/month (with a few thousand dollars down), I’ve been thinking about picking up one to use when I’m not testing other cars. After my three-month loan of a sweet little Fiat 500e earlier this year, I want to drive electric today, both because  it’s the right thing to do for the environment, but also to practice what I preach. Advocating for a move to carbon-free transportation is fine, but sometimes you have to walk the walk, too.

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I believe that the upcoming Chevrolet Bolt, with its 200-mile range, vast dealer network, and attractive purpose-built EV design, will be a game changer for the non-wealthy like me. But I suspect that there will be no deals on Bolts, at least a first. There’s plenty of pent-up demand and they’ll have the only game in town–for a while, at least.

So, I’m focusing on the Volkswagen e-Golf again, as well as the Fiat 500e and maybe the Kia Soul EV.

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The process of elimination removed Tesla from consideration right off the top. It’s way out of my price range, and there are no cheap deals to be had anyway. Others cut from the list include the Ford Focus. It’s a regular car that’s been electrified, and has only a 76-mile range. There’s the worthy and pioneering Nissan Leaf, which was built as an EV from scratch, but is looking long in the tooth with minimal changes since its 2011 debut. The availability of a bigger battery with 107 miles of range in the 2016 model is a small consolation. The Chevrolet Spark EV is cute and has great torque, but it’s kind of tiny. The Mercedes-Benz B250e and BMW i3 are appealing, in different ways, but are not as affordable as the three vehicles I mentioned at the top of this paragraph, if low price of admission is the goal.

In any case, is it time to grab something now or to wait? I’m struggling with impatience but also with the knowledge that as with all things technological, the next improvement is right around the corner. You know that when you take home that new laptop, next week there’ll be one with a better screen or more memory or some amazing new feature.

Here’s what you get if you wait. The new Focus is going to jump to 107 miles of range with the ’17s. The all-new Hyundai Ioniq is arriving this fall with 110 miles of range. The Bolt looms ahead appealingly. The Kia Niro will offer a hybrid in a crossover shape–and perhaps a pure EV someday. What will the next Leaf be able to do? We’re on the edge of a whole new generation of attractive options.

To top it off, as I entertain a deal on the ’16 e-Golf with its 83-mile range, I just read that the ’17 is supposed to get about 125 miles of range with a new, larger battery. So, suddenly waiting a few months seems like a great idea, as long as I don’t need the car right now.

The only down side is that the cheap lease deals may dry up once the next gen cars are out. Who really believes that a $79/month lease is realistic in 2016, anyway? It’s just a way to sweeten the deal on a car that retails in the $30,000-plus vicinity and has limited range. The  companies are willing to move them out at a loss or minimal profit just to comply with regulations and maybe pick up some green cred for doing so.

Perhaps, if you’re really eager, you could take advantage of a deal now on the shortest lease term you can get (24 months?), and save up for the big transition two years from now, when you may be able to snag a Tesla Model 3 that someone ordered on spec or that fell through the cracks. Or, grab a second- or third-year Bolt with the all the bugs fixed. And the new Leaf will be out by then.

As an EV cheerleader, and soon-to-be participant, that may be the best way to get in now at minimal outlay and plan for a long, enjoyable electric car future.

But I remain perplexed. It does feel like sooner is better for the earth, but I want to have the best car for me, too.

Fiat 500e – The Cutest EV in Town

[Note: This article will appear in the San Leandro Times and Tri-City Voice newspapers soon. It’s exactly the size and style of car reviews I’ve written weekly since early 1992 (more than 1,150 of them). But this little car was special to me, both because I kept it so much longer than the others but also because I loved almost everything about it, from the color to the design to the carrying capacity to the total avoidance of gas stations.]

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Most people understand that we are facing a climate crisis. Much of global warming comes from burning carbon, which creates CO2, which accumulates and, thanks to the greenhouse effect, keeps more of the Earth’s heat in, leading to rising temperatures, and all the consequences.

Driving an electric car is a positive response to this crisis. The Fiat 500e is one of the most affordable ones, and it’s a joy to drive.

It’s certainly the cutest electric car out there. The retro design is based on the 1957-1975 500, which served as Italy’s VW Beetle or Mini—an affordable and beloved people’s car. The gasoline model arrived 2011, and in 2013, the all-electric version debuted.

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Fiat graciously sent me the Celeste Blue model with the black and steam (white) interior I ordered for a three-month test. When the car was delivered, I photographed it, and a rainbow came out. That was a good omen.

The driving experience has been wonderful. With 600 extra pounds of batteries over the gas version, the 500e sits firm and stable on the road.

The old-fashioned dash panel brings a smile. Chrome circles surround the gauges and controls, and the white plastic panels emulate the original car’s painted metal surfaces.

But this is no retro ride. It’s got full climate control, loads of airbags, heated seats, a navigation system, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Bluetooth, and much more. The white leather steering wheel gives an upscale look and feel, like something from Coach.

The 83 kW motor puts out 111 horsepower and 147 lb.-ft. of torque. It moves the nearly 3,000-pound 500e along like a mini rocket.

The standard gasoline version has more horsepower (135) but much less torque (97), so the 500e is more fun. The one-speed transmission (no shifting needed with electric motors) is a set of four push buttons on the console.

The 500e’s 24 kWh lithium-ion battery is rated at 84 miles per charge, although with careful driving, I often charged it up to a reading of as much as 109 miles. The battery comes with an 8 year, 100,000-mile warranty.

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For electrics, the EPA uses the MPGe calculation in place of MPG (no gallons). The 500e earns 121 City, 103 Highway, and 112 Combined. I averaged 138.2 MPGe driving 2,829 miles. The Smog and Greenhouse Gas numbers are both top-score 10’s.

I took my little Fiat everywhere, except on longer trips. I didn’t want to risk running out of charge. It easily handled my 18-mile-each-way commute every day and went on a variety of errands around town.

Thanks to the folding rear seats and hatchback, I carried my upright bass to orchestra rehearsals and concerts. I schlepped Blues band gear to shows. I hauled loads of groceries.

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I did most of my charging at work, on a nice set of six ChargePoint units. I plugged in when I arrived, and by late morning, the ChargePoint charger sent me a text that the battery was full. I went down and unplugged, so another EV driver could charge up.

We have an informal community of EV drivers at work, and people are excited about their cars and want to talk about them.

Charging at 240 volts (Level 2) at work takes only a few hours. At home, at 120 volts (Level 1), it takes overnight and then some. If you own an EV, you should look into installing your own Level 2 charger.

Driving is blissfully silent, with minimal road or wind noise, which means great music listening.

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The simple instrument panel features a center round gauge that prominently displays digital speed and range. On the left, there’s a graphical and numerical display of battery charge. On the right, you can monitor driving behavior with colors on a curved bar. Eco—green—is normal driving. Power—red—is when you’re accelerating hard for passing or entering the freeway. Charge—blue—indicates regenerative braking, which helps recharge the battery without plugging in.

My daily charge at work cost about $2 to $2.50. Electricity would be cheaper at night at home. The window sticker states that the estimated annual fuel cost is $600, a $6,000 savings over the average car. And maintenance costs are very low for EVs, with no oil changes and fewer moving parts to break.

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My car retailed at $33,190. However, most of these cars are leased, and some amazing deals are available. Federal and State rebates help make it affordable. Gas-powered 500s start at just $18,490.

I fell for my baby blue Fiat 500e, and named him Fidelio. I’ll truly miss having him around. He was totally charming, relaxing to commute in, and handled all my normal driving needs. And for longer trips, we just took the family car.

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Goodby to Fidelio, My Fiat 500e

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April 22 wasn’t a day I was looking forward to. After just over three months, it was time to turn in my test Fiat 500e, Fidelio. But, I did what I had to do, and handed over the keys.

I’ll publish the article that will appear in my newpaper venues and their websites in my next blog post. All of these blogs have been part of my day-to-day life with an all-electric car.

Fidelio performed just as he had to, and took care of all of my needs, except one. His range, at 84 official miles and a little more in reality, was perfect for commuting and errands, but just not enough to make him a car for all reasons. Would that be enough to keep me from running out and buying a twin of this sweet little car? Maybe. For now, I have lots of happy memories. He was completely charming and ran flawlessly.

Stevegoesgreen.com will continue to cover electric and hybrid (and alternative fuel) vehicles. Stay tuned!

His last photo.

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Hooray for Public Chargers!

As I ascended the hill on the way to Pleasanton yesterday, I looked down at my range indicator and saw that it might be a little risky making it home on the return trip. The number was in the 20’s, and with the climb back, I got a little nervous. The solution? Public charging!

Because I’ve been organized around charging at work and occasionally at home, I haven’t really used public chargers. But I was set up for it, and that’s what I did.

First, I consulted the Plugshare app on my phone. It showed me two options within a couple blocks of my brunch destination.

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I pulled in behind the old Library on Main Street, and there was a single Chargepoint station, ready for me.

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I backed in, and plugged in and that was that. With Plugshare, I was able to check in, and even post a photo of Fidelio getting his electricity.

We had a relaxed brunch at Nonni’s Bistro, a favorite destination, and walked around a bit in downtown Pleasanton, a place that deserves its name. I checked the progress of my charge using the ChargePoint app. Notice at the bottom, the progress–miles of charge–is displayed.

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By the time I got back to the car, it was 100% charged. Now that’s the way it’s supposed to work. And it cost me $1.00 an hour.

It was a happy story, but I wondered what would have happened if the charger was occupied? What if there wasn’t one nearby? We need to build out the infrastructure as more and more EVs hit the roads, just for this purpose. Charging at home and at work is great, but sometimes you need it on-the-go.

 

Fidelio the Fiat 500e — Coming Soon to Video

There’s one week left on my little blue Fiat 500e’s visit, and what better time than to record a video review!

It’s going to take some time while Chet Wehe, master videographer, edits the rough take down to a perfect final version, but you can count on seeing a link to it here soon. Here’s Chet setting up the shot.

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You can see some of my old video reviews on Youtube. The ones with me in them there are my work from 2013.

Standing in the back parking lot off the community golf course on a warm Spring morning, I got to say what I think–out loud–about this car. I love it, and am sad to know it’s going to be gone soon. Unlike a weekly press car, this one has made itself at home. My goal of living with an EV has been accomplished, and I know how great they are for me.

Electric cars are wonderful for short trips (up to 30 miles or so), because of their charging and recharging limitations, but life is good when you’re cruising down any road under electric power. No vibration, little sound, strong torque, and a sense of just moving forward, not of forcing an engine to do it. Motors are like that.

I gave Fidelio a bath for his movie debut, and enjoyed removing the accumulated dirt from his little blue body.IMG_4636

As I say in the video, this is certainly the cutest EV out there. Turns out it’s a really effective one, too. No problems, plenty of comfort, generous carrying capacity (despite its diminutive size), clear and full audio, fine brakes. The controls connect you directly to the tires, so you sense where you are. Who would have thought it would be so much fun?

I need to consider what to do next. I’d love to own a 500e, but should I hold out for a car with more range? Do I really need another car? Is it important that you love your car? (I certainly think so).

 

Enough Charge for that Extra Trip

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Part of the deal with using your EV for daily commuting is that you know you have enough charge to get home. But what if you need to take an extra side trip?

Yesterday, I got a chance to meet up with a favorite former boss–but it was 24 miles away–in the opposite direction from my house! I headed south on Interstate 101 from San Mateo to Santa Clara in precommute traffic with a full charge, and was pleased to see 85 miles on the range counter sit there for quite a while. Even with mostly free-flowing traffic, I got to my destination with a comfortable cushion.

Heading north along Interstate 880 later, I completed my 33-mile homeward trip and pulled into the driveway with 22 miles left on the clock. Whew.

What this meant was twofold: First, I had enough to get where I needed to go, and second, I had to make sure to put my Fiat 500e on the home charger ASAP to be sure there’d be plenty of charge for tomorrow. And that’s what I did.

While the major downside to most EVs is limited range, it doesn’t have to be a big deal–if you charge when you can, and for the longer trips–take your other car. It didn’t limit me yesterday, for which I’m grateful.