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Muddy drives: the new Fiat 500 La Prima

The iconic Italian car re-imagined for the 21st century – all electric and with an impressive 199 mile range

Allegra Stratton, No 10 press secretary turned the PM’s climate spokesperson, may ‘not fancy [an electric car] just yet’ (preferring to stick with her polluting diesel) but after test driving the new Fiat 500 La Prima via Vale Motors in Wincanton, we certainly do. It’s cheap to run, super fun to drive and doesn’t harm the planet.

At university we used to zip around in a flatmate’s vintage Fiat 500 or cinquacento called Bugsy. You had to pull out a choke to start the car and double clutch to change the gears. This brand new Fiat 500 shares the same ancestry as Bugsy and some of the brand’s trademark characteristics – the eyebrow over the main headlights and the grinning grill – and it’s still a nippy little number.

fiat 500 La Prima

THE BASICS

The Fiat 500 Convertible La Prima 87 KW 118HP is a super mini, a three-door cabriolet (ie soft top convertible) automatic with front wheel drive and – most importantly – an 42 kW battery under the chassis and a stainless steel encased motor under the bonnet instead of a nasty, carbon-emitting fossil fuelled engine.

fiat 500 La Prima

Six way, manually adjustable front seats in the front – which feels luxe with the cream leather and Fiat logo stitching – with storage and masses of leg room even for a lanky six foot plus teen in the passenger seat. It’s light and airy with great visibility all around (though slightly less at the back, inevitably, when the soft top is fully open and concertina-ed down).

fiat 500 La Prima

As you’d expect in a super mini, there’s less leg room in the back, so probably more of an occasional four seater for adult passengers. Handily, the 50:50 split folding seats allow you to create extra storage.

At first sight, the boot isn’t huge (185 litres) but we easily fitted in a weekly shop and I reckon there’s room for a couple of overnight bags or sports bag, no sweat.

All the usual electronically controlled gadgetry – and some. So you get keyless entry, one-touch electric heated windows, electronic buttons to open your doors from the inside, electric door mirrors, auto lights, rain-sensing wipers, air con, LED lights, 360 degree parking sensors, rear view camera, emergency SOS, blind spot sensors – plus that super cool electronic soft top which slides back at the touch of a couple of buttons above the rear view mirror.

THE DRIVE

Smooth as silk and as silent as a lamb. You don’t hear or feel the car going up through the gears – there aren’t any. With light steering, plenty of grip on the road and a lot of omph, it’s a pleasure to drive.

fiat 500 La Prima

There are three driving modes. ‘Normal’ does what it says on the tin, you use the throttle and the brake to control the car as in a regular automatic car. ‘Range’ uses the one pedal system to drive the car and regenerate the battery. Whenever you take your foot off the throttle, the car brakes – sounds weird but is extremely easy to use and once you start, it’s addictive – which also charges the battery. You can see the electronic guage using up the power or charging the battery as you drive. The third mode ‘Sherpa’ limits the air con and speed to maximise the range even further.

The car’s Level 2 autonomous driving features make this the closest I’ve ever been to a self drive car, with adaptive cruise control (you input your top speed and the distance you want to keep from the car in front and off you go); lanes assist or centering keeps you in the middle of the lane (a weird sensation when it first kicked in); traffic jam assist brakes and accelerates for you in, well traffic jams. The car will even warn when you’re feeling fatigued and in need of a break.

THE TECHY BITS

0 to 62 mph in 9 seconds and a top speed of 93 mph. Engine 87kW 118hp.

fiat 500 La Prima

Euro NCAP safety ratings results are still to be officially announced but word on the ground is that the car’s coming out as one of the best in class (watch this space).

I was surprised by how far a single charge could take me. The manufacturer’s bumpf says that this model, with its 42kWh battery, can achieve a 199 miles on a single charge. You’d need to be employing the various battery regenerating/conserving modes to achieve that yet I still notched up an impressive 166 miles driving in ‘normal’ mode.

According to the RAC, there are around 20,000 charging points around the UK and what’s clever about this little car is that your touchscreen will not only tell you where your nearest charging points are and direct you to them to them but they’re always highlighted along any route on the navigation system.

With 85kW charging capability, you can recharge the battery from 0 to 80 per cent in 35 minutes. Charging is free in up to 25% of charging points and you can also charge via your household supply (15 hours or overnight – costing around £6) but if I bought this car I’d keep it topped up throughout the week and maybe think about installing a super fast charger at home, as one of my neighbours has.

COOL STUFF

The whole car is pretty cool, let’s face it.

The touchscreen and voice recognition (say ‘hey Fiat!’ to activate) infotainment system with navigation/weather/speed cameras/charging points/traffic info is super easy to use. It’s big – at 10.25″ – with a six speaker sound system and wireless car play.

fiat 500 La Prima

Pop your phone into the small space for wireless charging.

Pretty hard to find yourself out of juice as you can call up all the nearest charging points along your route or just get directions to your nearest one.

This car was way too clever for me. I kept using the central locking but it kept opening again. Turns out it recognises the key from a few feet away and opens up for you. You just have to lock it, walk away and trust in the technology.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Zipping around town, obvs, but comfortable enough and great fun to drive on longer journeys and on country roads, too. As a main car for singles, couples, people with younger kids; as a second car for anyone else. Would I buy it? If I had the dosh – in a heartbeat.

Not for: Families with teenagers as a main car.

£££: The Fiat 500 La Prima ranges from £27,495 to just shy of £34k, depending on extras (the model I was driving was £33,720). This includes the government’s plug-in grant for electric vehicles (you don’t have to apply for these grants, the dealer automatically deducts it from the price).

Test drive the Fiat 500 La Prima yourself at FJ Chalke & Vale Motors Ltd, Saxon Way, Wincanton Business Park, Wincanton BA9 9RT. Tel 01963 34034.

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