Fiat shakes up the 500

2012-11-29 13:34

Two new versions of the Italian-styled Fiat 500 are appearing at the Los Angeles, California auto show this week: the 500e is the brand's first all-electric model in the US while the 500L comes with four doors and significantly more room than a regular model.

The first 500 hit US showroomsin 2010, promising a stylish and fuel-efficient remake of the 1950’s original. Since then, at least four variations of the remake have rolled out.

The 500's expanding line-up mimics the successful strategy of another tiny car, BMW's Mini Cooper. The German automaker has broadened the niche car's appeal by offering spins-offs that target more tastes and lifestyles. The 500 also has tried that, offering convertible, luxury and high-performance variations.

The 500 needs to boost its allure in the US, where sales remain pint-sized compared with the rest of the world. Fiat has produced more than a million 500’s worldwide since the car's global launch in 2007 but acceptance has been slow in the US where just over 36 000 were sold in October 2012.

Highlight s of the car include:

UNDER THE BONNET: The 500e has a lithium-ion battery that powers am 83kW electric motor. The battery can be recharged in less than four hours from a 240V charging station. The car will be able to go 130km before its battery dies, perhaps 160km in city driving, according to Fiat.

Electric cars and hybrids, in general, have better range in the city because their brakes generate power to recharge the battery.

The 500L will have a 120kW 1.4 turbocharged four-cylinder engine. There's a choice of manual or automatic six-speed transmissions.

OUTSIDE: Engineers made the 500e more aerodynamic than the current 500, reducing its wind drag by 13%. The electric version gets sculpted new front and rear metal designed by using a wind tunnel. It also has a hatch-mounted spoiler. The 500e suspension is new for the electric car, giving it better handling. The L is 66cm longer and 1cm wider and taller than the current 500 and will come with four doors instead of two.

INSIDE: The 500e gets an 18cm data screen with graphics to show battery charge levels and other functions. The five-passenger 500L gets so much more interior space that it's considered a large car, the company says. The interior is 42% bigger than a regular 500, which seats four.

PRICE: Not announced yet for either model. The 500e will be sold only in California at first, starting in April of 2013. Chrysler won't say where it will go next. The 500L will come out in the middle of that year across North America.