2013 Fiat 500e at the 2012 L.A. Auto Show

  • Competes with: Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i, Smart ForTwo Electric Drive
  • Looks like: Fiat is entering the electric-car fray
  • Drivetrain: 111-hp electric motor and 24-kWh lithium-ion battery pack with one-speed transmission; front-wheel drive
  • Hits dealerships: Second quarter of 2013 in California only

Fiat enters the electric-car segment with the launch of the 2013 500e, an all-electric version of the brand's 500 subcompact hatchback that's expected to deliver a driving range of more than 80 miles before needing to be recharged, according to the automaker. It's destined to arrive at California dealerships in the second quarter of 2013. Pricing information hasn't been released.

The 500e is powered by a 111-horsepower electric drive motor that produces 147 pounds-feet of torque from a standstill. The estimated top speed is 85 mph. A 24-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is located in the car’s floor; it features a thermal-management system that circulates coolant through the battery to both cool and heat it as necessary to deliver a consistent driving range.

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On 240-volt Level 2 charging, Fiat claims it takes less than four hours to recharge a depleted battery (the car features a 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger). Level 2 charging is available at many public stations, and a system for the home will be sold through Chrysler's Mopar division. On a 120-volt household outlet, charging takes considerably longer — around 24 hours.

With a curb weight of nearly 3,000 pounds, the 500e is about 600 pounds heavier than the regular 500, and Fiat revised the suspension to accommodate the electric drivetrain by increasing the spring rates and giving the 500e specific front struts and rear shocks. The drivetrain contributes to the car's 57/43 front-to-rear weight distribution, which offers better balance than the regular model's 64/36.

The 500e's cabin retains the general layout of the gas-powered 500 with a few specific touches. Notably absent is a traditional console gear selector; in its place is a row of push-buttons for selecting Park, Drive and the transmission's other modes. The regular 500’s analog gauges have been swapped for a 7-inch full-color screen that displays driving range, vehicle speed and battery level, among other information points. The 500e also has a standard removable TomTom navigation system with EV-specific features like range projection, charging-station locator and charging-schedule management. Luggage capacity is down from 9.5 to 7 cubic feet.

Fiat also will offer free iPhone and Android smartphone applications that give owners the ability to remotely monitor and control the charging process, find charging stations and precondition the cabin’s temperature so less battery energy is used to heat or cool the interior when you're driving, preserving range.

While the 500e retains the 500's silhouette, the optional e-Sport Package gives the exterior a more aggressive look with tinted headlights and taillights, orange mirror caps and side stripes, and black-painted aluminum wheels with orange accents.

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