Fiat 500e proves to be classy, thrifty commuter
After evaluating several very neat hybrid, alternative-fuel and electric vehicles at the Western Automotive Journalists' Future Cars-Future Technology symposium two weeks back, I was struck by how darn fun the little Fiat 500e was to drive. After learning more about this little electric car and the inexpensive lease deal available in California, I began to ponder the possibilities.
With some number-crunching, I discovered I was an ideal candidate for an electric vehicle: My work commute was long enough that I was spending a small fortune on gasoline but was still within the 90-mile EV range. In fact, I was spending more with my V-8 guzzling gasoline each month than the entire cost of the Fiat lease and electricity needed to drive it – about $1 per day for electrons.
I obtained one of the in-demand 500e's and have enjoyed a huge learning curve and some interesting new challenges. I just get by using the supplied 120-volt charging device, called electric vehicle supply equipment or EVSE. With this simple but very slow EVSE, I recharge at night, when electricity rates are cheap. A better solution is the optional $800 220-volt fast-charge EVSE, which needs a dedicated 30-amp wall outlet or a public plug-in fast charger where available. The 220V EVSE takes 4 hours from empty to full.
I found it's easy to do better than the 116 miles-per-gallon-equivalent mileage rating, unless I use the heater or air conditioning extensively – either zaps about 10 miles from the 90-100 mile estimated range – or ascend lengthy hills. Fiat did their homework on this car; most folks would have no idea this thing runs on electrons. Acceleration is brisk, braking regeneration is imperceptible, steering and handling are crisp, and it's surprisingly roomy inside for two full-size adults, despite the tiny exterior dimensions.
My last Fiat was many, many moons ago, and I can safely say this car is from a different planet. Fit and finish are Honda-like, it's loaded with cool features, and the warranty will run out well after the lease ends.
I have a hunch the attractive lease terms on many EVs may be a short-lived strategy to get these cars on the road to meet California emission mandates and build green-car credits. My hope is battery technology will improve such that greater range and lower cost will get here in time to keep me EVing continuously. These cars drive magnificently.
It is an acquired chore to plug in, unplug and search for outlets – the EVSE plug-in device comes along, just in case. I'm sure my enthusiasm will dampen slightly along with rainy weather coming. Daily range will also fall with more headlight, heater, and defroster use.
Each day I try new routes to work and experiment with accessory use. I've found this car loves slow-speed city driving – the more stoplights, the better. On the way to work at zero-dark-30, with lights, bun warmers and defroster blaring, running with the big dogs on the freeway at 75 mph, I average 120 mpge. Using surface streets during mild daylight hours on the way home, I can squeeze 145 or more mpge. Each 20-mile trip gradually drains between 17 to 23 percent of projected battery capacity. The projected range reading on the non-glitzy but cool instrument display is clumsy but appreciated.
Miles per gallon equivalent is a reasonably calculated comparison of tank to wheel and wall plug to wheel operating costs. For those with a simple two-way commute and another vehicle for longer trips, EVs are worthy of consideration.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Brad Bergholdt is an automotive technology instructor at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, Calif. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org; he cannot make personal replies.
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