In Brief Fiat 500e

30 Апр 2014 | Author: | Комментарии к записи In Brief Fiat 500e отключены
Fiat 500e Electric Cars

In Brief: Fiat 500e

Damning with Faint Praise

Praise

Thanks to instant-on torque that results in nearly effortless acceleration, 500e is far more entertaining than the standard Fiat 500 or even 500 Turbo

Boxy lower front bodywork quotes the famous Fiat Abarth race cars of the early 1960s

500e might benefit from optional performance tires to replace the hard ECO tires—500e is in fact the first widely available electric sport compact performance car, or even a micro-EV muscle car

Regenerative braking is remarkably effective—it’s wise to subtly drag the brake pedal on every downhill stretch to boost the battery charge

On the Pacific Coast, enough educated, prosperous people want to believe in a bold new future, and they want EVs—give them what they want

Damnation

Air-conditioning is dubious at best, horrendous at worst. In hot weather you’ll stew in your own juices—as currently configured, the 500e is best suited to the soft, cool air of beach towns

Accelerating hard from a stop sign, torque steer tugs the steering wheel, but also adds to the excitement

Highly addictive full-throttle acceleration will draw down the battery quickly and limit effective range—so only drive it in the neighborhood, use the power aggressively and you’ll ALWAYS have a smile

There really isn’t 93 miles of range, but there’s a legitimate 65-75 miles of range

Thanks to the batteries, 500e is porky, tipping the scales about 500 lbs. heavier than a 500 Turbo, and the low-slung weight is felt when cornering

IMAGINE AN ELECTRIC VEHICLE (EV) with the performance traits of the HO-scale slot cars of childhood. Remember pressing the control plunger down with your thumb, the slot car instantaneously responding with incredible acceleration all to the tune of a humming electric motor? That is exactly the character of the Fiat 500e, an EV sport compact car. It begs the question why the Masters of the EV Universe, Nissan and Infiniti, have not yet offered a damn-the-range high-performance EV sport compact for the Pacific Coast market.

In marketing EVs, California might as well be considered a separate country.


Built to meet California Air Resources Board’s legally imposed vision of a Utopian zero-emissions future, 500e was tossed together by a group of Fiat-Chrysler engineers who undoubtedly were having a hell of a good time, fully exploiting the instant torque of an electric motor. The engineering team did not overtly torque-manage power delivery with an overactive traction control system: tramp the accelerator at a stoplight and the front tires break loose, squalling and chirping for a second or two until the hard tires gain traction. The steering wheel wiggles back and forth for a few seconds with torque steer.

These are only endearing traits to those of us who believe cars should be amusing, entertaining…fun. Even devout owners of petroleum-powered performance cars will find the 500e’s acceleration addictive when running around the neighborhood.

Roll-on acceleration in town is arguably the car’s most endearing trait, as one can leave conventional gas-powered cars in the dust. Process when the light turns green? Carefully build speed across a boulevard intersection, staying even with the CUVs and big sedans that tower over the 500e, then as you are nearly across the intersection, squeeze down hard on the throttle to stream away. Having avoided the 500e’s torque steer and tire squall, the car will simply glide forward, surprising other drivers. Stay on the throttle up to 45 or 50 mph, and then check the mirror to see how far the pack of cars has been left behind.

When a lane opens in a pack of cars cruising down the boulevard, acceleration from 30 mph up to 50 or 60 is simply remarkable, often startling those being rapidly passed and left behind. At the next red light, other drivers will stare at the car, not sure what to make of it.

Until physics and the extra 500 pounds of batteries intervene, the car handles and steers reasonably well. The 500e feels portly only when hustled too aggressively around corners. That s OK because the battery weight is placed relatively low and does not create ugly handling traits; it simply limits cornering capability.  500e is analogous to a talented ballroom dancer who’s put on weight; perhaps not so agile and lithe as in the past, but still elegant in motion within certain bounds. We’ve called this the first-ever EV sport compact car.

You can also think of it as a micro-EV muscle car: fantastic in a straight line, with competent, predictable, but limited cornering. When pushed, the 500e will ably communicated that it’s not happy on the dance floor and ask you to slow down a notch.

Which leads to an interesting product planning question. Though greater cornering grip might lead to a scarier transition once the cornering limits are discovered, Fiat-Chrysler should consider offering this car with optional summer performance tires. No, really, I’m not kidding.

Or at least a slightly grippier tire. The hard tires might be more of a handling strategy than an economy strategy, just as the Scion FR-S uses a variant on the hard tires originally developed for the Prius: a harder tire has lower cornering limits, and clearly telegraphs to the driver that he’s pushing a bit too hard. Considering 500e’s fat underbelly, perhaps it should wear sensible shoes.

Maybe the engineers went with hard tires to ensure that no owner ever seriously over-drives the car’s abilities.

There’s always a price for addiction. In the case of the 500e, the 93+ miles of range promised on the gauge pack when the battery is fully charged is a faerie tale, at least 10-15 of those miles comprised of electrical effervescence, bubbly charge that the battery really cannot hold for long. We dropped from 93 miles of freshly charged range to about 78 in the course of a four-mile drive. Hmmm. However, once range read in the 70s, it stuck there for a long time.

On a 14-mile twilight journey over boulevards and grand streets, we gained two miles of range—in spite of the fact every stop sign was treated as excuse for full-throttle acceleration.

If you drive sensibly, the battery draws down at a rate like, say, your iPhone on a long call with all other apps closed. But if you become addicted to electric acceleration, the batteries lose charge more like an iPad running a movie on the Netflix app—you’ll make it through the movie, but you won’t have much charge left.

Hard tires or not, 500e can thread the needle in any sort of parking or in-town maneuvering, from narrow alleyways quirky two-lanes. On a visit to one of the last curated men s shops in Pasadena, located on a particularly strange confluence of multiple narrow streets, we executed U-turns and J-turns up and down the block while trying to find a parking spot not occupied by a nice lady’s Mercedes GL or Audi Q7.

Fiat 500e Electric Cars

How do you access all this slot-car acceleration while executing crazy parking maneuvers? Where one might expect to find a shift lever in the center console, there’s a flat blanking plate adorned with four simple round buttons: Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive. Push the button that correlates to your desired direction, and step on the throttle. It’s a recycled idea, much like the push-button transmission of a 1960s Renault Dauphine or Plymouth Valiant, and entirely simple. It sends a subconscious message that this car is all about steering and pressing the go-pedal, and little else.

You don’t have to think all that hard, or have much driving skill to access the amusement.

THE ONLY DOWNSIDE

Europeans seem to think sweating in summer is fun, cleaning out the pores. Michiganders often don’t understand Californians, apparently thinking we all drive around in the blazing sun with convertible tops down, when in fact we keep the tops up to protect our skin and run the AC till twilight. The 500e’s only significant flaw, and one easily fixed? The air-conditioning is at best dubious. During the Los Angeles heat wave that hit during our week with the car, the AC proved entirely useless.

Driven in mid-July around Greater Pasadena, home of the Rose Bowl, any of our midday trips in the neighborhood could be a chapter in a 21 st century adaptation of Dante’s “Inferno.” Suffocating heat.

Sure, sure, AC cuts into EV range. But that s just not an acceptable solution if the Tiffany cufflinks and OJ Edition Bruno Magli loafers are on—and it s 97F.

This trait is all the worse because the nicely executed leatherette seating surfaces turn sweaty when the AC fails and the large side windows must be rolled down—in 97F weather. A shame, because otherwise the seats are handsome, and smooth leatherette does not damage fine clothing.

The answer? Fiat can add a far better electric AC compressor, with logic that dramatically cuts down its draw on electrical charge when the weather is pleasant, but that delivers ample chilled air when placed in MAX AC setting. Who cares when your planned errands will only cover six or seven miles? Fiat should give owners the option to trade range for comfort.

With MAX AC, if the 500e only has 45 miles of range, that’s OK.

Another option? Live at the beach, where summertime temperatures are consistently 12-15 degrees cooler than temps a few miles inland. Anyone from Sausalito and San Francisco to Carmel, Malibu or Laguna will rarely ever know the AC is horrendous because they’ll rarely turn it on.

That’s about the only complaint we can muster. The car’s dynamic flaws—torque steering, squalling tires under full throttle, relatively low cornering limits—are exactly what make it so much fun to drive. Any quick run to the store became an adventure, an excuse to stay out for an hour or more, driving for the sheer pleasure of the acceleration and cool air.

Only the utterly soulless would grow tired of this little car.

Fiat has an app for the car—what car doesn’t have an app?—but we found it fiddly and not entirely effective. It did not always lock doors or turn on the AC remotely as requested. It needs work.

THE FUTURE

In Europe, Fiat-Chrysler markets the 500 with a two-cylinder engine dubbed TwinAir. We wonder if Fiat-Chrysler has enough engineering depth to develop an extended-range EV-Hybrid as a next-generation 500e. They will need a lightweight high-strength steel body structure that allows them to employ more than one sort of powertrain, as Toyota accomplished with the gas-powered Scion iQ and subsequent iQ EV.

If nothing else (and Fiat-Chrysler won’t like this comment), the 500e proves one thing: if it has any of the impish character of the Fiat 500e, BMW’s upcoming i3 EV will be a cult hit up and down the entire Pacific Coast, the first EV from a major company that is completely clean sheet, a total rethink of transportation, with a prestige badge and desirable design and functionality. Fiat would be foolish not to consider packaging a TwinAir for an extended-range hybrid, their cuddly Italian answer to the supreme technology of the upcoming BMW i3.

Fiat 500e Electric Cars
Fiat 500e Electric Cars
Fiat 500e Electric Cars
Fiat 500e Electric Cars
Fiat 500e Electric Cars
Fiat 500e Electric Cars

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