We navigate the northern Italian big smoke in the new 500 Electric before crossing the Med for relaxed island touring.

There is a belief that those who learn to drive on the streets of Rome will be well equipped to drive anywhere in the world. But the same could apply to the northern Italian cities of Milan and Turin, the respective homes of Alfa Romeo and Fiat. Our main focus on this trip was the new Fiat 500 Electric, Italy’s first mainstream EV, and our choice for a subsequent three-week tour of Sardinia. But there were endless distractions along the way, automotive and otherwise.

The first must-see after collecting the 500e in Turin was the former Fiat factory at Lingotto. The building has been brilliantly repurposed for the 21st century and the test track preserved with gardens and art installations in the infield. Only the occasional operation of electric vehicles is now permitted. In an exhibition space, Fiat presents the history of the 500 and we inspected the original drawings and solid mahogany model used to define the steel presses for Dante Giacosa’s 1957 design.

By the time we cross the Mediterranean, the electric 500 has made a strong impression with its intuitive controls, ease of use and very keen responses. We quickly click. Although instantly identifiable as a 500, this all-new model was engineered specifically for an electric age and feels much advanced. Dimensions and proportions are distinct from the modern petrol 500s that populate every Italian street but it remains very small at just 3.63m long.

Departing the southern port city of Cagliari and driving inland, it’s clear the 500 will be an ideal tool for the touring tasks ahead, feeling well equipped for a dynamic driving environment that demands constant attention. We’re being polite by saying some of the road maintenance and signage leave a bit to be desired, and that the locals drive everywhere with gusto. More frenzied are some of the sports and touring bike riders who are out in force on sunny days and angle to overtake the moment they appear. The next bend could easily conceal roaming livestock or a stricken campervan.

At least range anxiety does not factor. Sardinia’s land mass is less than a quarter the size of the North Island’s. The terrain is equally varied but because the new 500 promises (an admittedly optimistic) 320km of potential range from its 42kWh battery pack, every pristine beach, mountain-top village or archaeological site is well within reach of our central base, in Oristano. The consistent heat of late Spring enhances battery performance but the benefit is offset by air-con use being essential after 9am. That leaves recharging as the big unknown. Very low EV uptake in Italy suggests some charging challenges lie ahead.

But on the famed Costa Smeralda or in popular coastal towns like Castelsardo or Cala Gonone, charging bays are conspicuous and available. In fact, EV driving proves advantageous for both the prime parking and access to cheap energy. No doubt it also helps to be touring either side of the peak tourist season.

Otherwise the 500 Electric showcases the many driving attributes and onboard tech typical of EVs and subtly blends new design features with much-loved style. Comfort and equipment levels confirm a move upmarket. Improved assembly quality is evident. And the ‘planted’ sense of security you get from a 1365kg kerb weight and low centre of gravity is welcome.

Perhaps the real surprise was how comfortably the 500 Electric exceeded expectations. It was right at home on Sardinian roads, easily despatching 3000km in three weeks and delivering excellent performance, efficiency and refinement. It deftly smothered poor road surfaces with aplomb, was right-sized for negotiating mazes of narrow streets in historic town centres, yet proved stable and serene when cruising motorways. It represents a huge advance on the outdated petrol 500 but this is clearly reflected in the premium $60k price.




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