Electric Fiat 500 – long-term assessment – Report n°4 2022

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What is life with the Fiat 500 like beyond the city limits?

Strange, isn’t it? How one person’s EV experience can vary so wildly from another’s. After commandeering ‘BabyCar’ – before reading about Greg’s experience last month – for a photo op several miles away, as well as a trip around one of Britain’s most miserable motoring features – the M25 – to visit family, I was pleasantly surprised how easy the whole process was. It only made me like electric vehicles more. But the sad reality is that, for a potential first-time EV buyer, an experience like Greg’s is likely to set them back until their hands are done buying one.

So let me tell you about my positive experience instead. Now you don’t need me to tell you that the Fiat 500, with its maximum range of 199 miles (or, more realistically, around two-thirds of that), isn’t the best suited to long journeys. Especially not ones that involve 5:30 a.m. on a freezing morning. So, faced with an 86-mile trip to Salisbury, I decided that instead of having to recharge at the end of the day, I’d rather arrive early, find myself a fast charger, and enjoy a coffee to warm up (and wake up) myself. It’s all in the planning, you see.

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After purchasing a 50kW fast charger using the excellent Zap-Map app, I arrived with about 50% charge remaining. Now, I concede, one of the two chargers at the gas station I had pointed the GPS at was out of service, and if someone else had used the charger, my plans would have been ruined. But they weren’t, so we’re not going to think about that too much. £9.50 later and about 45 minutes later I was back to 90%. Results.

Shoot it, I’ve returned to my abode in South West London, where I too am lucky to have several Ubitricity 5.52kW streetlight chargers along my street (and neighbors too). But as is the case with Greg, the spaces aren’t VE-only, and the first two I tried were unlucky. Lucky third time and found (rose) gold. Once parked, I scanned the QR code, followed the simple instructions and drove home.

The next morning I returned to the now fully charged Fiat (priced at £8.62) with another daunting journey ahead of me. First a 40 mile trip around the M25 to Kent to pick up my mum, then through the Dartford Tunnel to Essex – another 33 miles – where we met the family for lunch. Would I have enough charge to bring it back? With range anxiety looming, I hopped on Zap-Map and discovered there were a few 50kW fast chargers in the public parking lot that I planned to use. Whilst one was busy when I arrived the second was free so with around 40% change left I hooked up, had lunch and £7.33 later went back to a ‘BabyCar’ fully charged. Results.

Once back in London, again no problem, plugged into a local street lamp charger, I fully charged the 500 (costing £7.47), before sending it back to Vijay. Peasy easy.

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Now I admit there is an elephant in the room. Cost. I calculated that I had covered around 318 miles at a total charging cost of £32.92, which using good old-fashioned math works out to around 10p per mile. According to the Ministry of Transport, the average cost per kilometer of a new petrol or diesel car is… 10 pence.

It’s worth pointing out here that the two fast chargers I used cost 31p/kWh and 45p/kWh respectively, and the local streetlight chargers 24p/kWh. With an entry-level Fiat 500 internal combustion engine starting at £14,005 compared to £23,385 for the electric model, if you rely on public chargers you are unlikely to recoup the extra expense you would pay for an electric model. However, off-peak (i.e. overnight) home charging using a wallbox can cost as little as a quarter of that price, while some companies are now installing charging stations at the workplace, which allows you to charge for free.

There is no denying that the Fiat 500 is better suited to city life. That’s what it’s designed for. But that’s not to say can not go further, and it will get easier as the charging infrastructure improves. However, with EVs supposedly cheaper to run than an ICE car, my experience points to a pretty big problem – for those who don’t have off-street parking, or live in rented accommodation, or any other reason that makes home charging impossible, what convinces cash-strapped first-time buyers to join the electric revolution?

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