Second Look: 2013 Fiat 500e

Fiat gave us our first look at the new 2013 Fiat 500e electric vehicle earlier this month, but as the elettra-Cinquecento is now making its formal debut at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show, we now have a better idea of what lies beneath the skin.

An Electric Heart

Ever since it first showed an electric 500 concept at the 2010 Detroit auto show, Fiat has shied away from disclosing firm details on its electric drivetrain - but that's no longer the case. The 2013 Fiat 500e is propelled by a permanent magnet motor, which produces both 83-kW (111 hp) and 147 lb-ft of torque. The motor drives the front wheels through a single speed gearbox, and allows the 2013 500e to hit a top end of 85 mph.

Power itself comes from a 24-kWh lithium ion battery pack. Built from 97 individual cells, the pack produces close to 364 volts, and is both heated and liquid cooled in order to normalize performance in various climates. According to Chrysler, a single charge can provide up to 100 miles of travel in city traffic; that estimate drops to 80 miles in combined city/highway driving. An on-board charging module can fully recharge the 500e's battery pack within four hours when using a Level 2/ 240-volt supply; a full recharge from a Level 1/ 120-volt source takes nearly 24 hours.

More Than Meets The Eye

By packaging the battery pack into the floorpan, engineers not only avoided wasting passenger space (the 500e loses only four cubic feet of interior volume due to its electrification), but also gave the 500e better weight distribution than its gas-powered siblings. A new lower body structure, designed to incorporate the battery pack, also manages to increase body rigidity by ten percent. Weight, however, remains an issue: at 2980 pounds, the 500e is roughly 550 pounds heavier than a 500 coupe with an automatic transmission.

To help counteract the added mass, the 500e gains unique suspension tuning, complete with increased spring rates and stiffer dampers at all four corners. Front brake rotors grow from 10.1 to 11.1 inches in diameter, although most drivers will want to first use the car's regenerative braking system in order to recoup lost energy.

Orange Is The New Green

Fiat's original 500 electric concept wore a body kit ripped from a performance-tuned 500 Abarth. The production 500e doesn't follow suit, but does boast a number of unique cosmetic touches, both inside and out.

Although it doesn't look much different than other 500s, the 500e's exterior gains new mirror caps, a wrap-around rear spoiler, underbelly pans, new side skirts, 15-inch aluminum wheels with flush pocket inserts, and new front and rear fascias, complete with unusual "dot matrix" inserts. Each of these components is the product of extensive wind tunnel testing, and as a result, the 500e's coefficient of drag is 13 percent lower than a comparable 500 Lounge coupe.

Inside, the 500e resembles a well-equipped 500 Lounge model. Buyers will have their choice of either a black (Nero) or white (Steam) interior color, which is rolled into an attractive tri-tone scheme - the main color is used for the seating, dash trim, steering wheel, and door panel inserts, but a bright orange hue is applied to armrests and headrests. That same color is also used for an accent on the steering wheel and on the leatherette-clad seating surfaces.

Exterior trim accents are color matched to the interior hue. Opt for a Nero interior, and the front and rear fascia inserts are painted black, while the mirror caps and spoiler are matched to the body color. Order the Steam interior, and the fascia inserts, spoiler, and mirror caps are coated in a pearlescent white tri-coat. There's also a third option: if you order the Nero interior, you can also opt for the e-Sport package, which adds a little Abarth flair to the exterior. Head- and taillamp surrounds receive dark surrounds, while the aluminum wheels are painted black and decorated with bright orange accents. That orange color, which matches the interior accents, is also used for the mirror caps and for a unique dot-matrix stripe placed just above the rocker sills.

C Is For Compliance - And Costly

Fiat hasn't announced pricing, but we expect it to be somewhat expensive, as the electric Fiat appears to be very well equipped. Apart from the e-Sport package, a power sunroof, and a cigarette lighter, there are no options. Fiat's TomTom-based navigation system and a premium audio system - both options on other 500 models - are included as standard equipment. We wouldn't be surprised if the 500e stickers well above a loaded 500 Lounge, which tops out around the $25,000 mark.

As pricey as the 500e may be for consumers, it'll undoubtedly be more expensive for Chrysler itself. Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has previously indicated the automaker expects to lose roughly $10,000 on each 500e it builds. Why pursue such a project that's certain to hemorrhage cash? Because California mandates require automakers of a certain size to sell a minimum number of zero-emission vehicles in the state -- and no, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and other partial-zero-emission vehicles (PZEVs) don't count towards that total. Subsequently, the 2013 500e will only be sold in California - and, perhaps, a small number of states that follow in California's footsteps - starting in early 2013.

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