13 January 2021 Renault may be cheaper, but Fiat gives you more choice across the board
According to our dual tests of a Fiat 500 and a Renault Twingo, there's still a silver lining to conventional city cars. what is the secret electric motor!
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The luggage capacity of Twingo Z.E. it ranges from a minimum of 219 liters to a maximum of 980 liters. Humble, but luckily you can - optional! - Fold the back of the passenger seat flat. That way, he can still fit a bookcase in the little Renault. Headroom in the back seat is fine, but legroom is limited and the child can only fit properly here. The same applies to Fiat, which also faces the problem of difficult entry. After all, the Twingo has four doors, while the 500 only has two. The Italians offer a so-called 3+1 body variant, so you have an extra door on the right side. But with an additional cost of more than $5.5 million, it's an expensive option. Although the electric motor takes up less space than a gas engine, the electric 500 offers no storage space up front. Boot size is the same as the regular fuel version, which is 185 litres. There is no flat load floor if the rear seat backs are folded down.
The rebirth of the old Fiat 500 has been with us since 2007. Fourteen years on, the sales success has continued; there's a reason why the 500e's design hasn't been radically changed. Behind the wheel, however, you experience the Electric City Mini as a completely different car. Unlike its predecessor, which could only recline the seat, the driver's seat can now be raised or lowered altogether. Combined with a depth-adjustable steering wheel and uncluttered digital gauges, this creates extra living space on board. The Fiat also lacks a gear selector for forward or reverse: instead, buttons are used to select direction. The 500e we drove was equipped with the most powerful electric motor yet, producing 118 hp and 220 Nm of torque. In addition to being fast (the electric car accelerates from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour in just 9 seconds), the Fiat is also quiet, despite the sound of the electric motor that is not heard in other electric cars. Thanks to the sporty chassis setup, you drive firmly in corners, but you sacrifice the necessary driving comfort: the seats offer very little lateral support and the electric car is very supple. The steering is also a bit light.
In 2014, the French broke free from the shackles of the past with the third generation Twingo. The little Renault used to be a three-door mini MPV, but now it's a five-door city car. Thanks to a partnership with Smart, the engine is in the rear and drives the rear wheels. Unique in this segment of the market, but not an unalloyed delight: with more weight at the rear, the petrol version feels a bit light on the nose. No problem with this Z.E.: The electric motor weighs less than conventional power supplies and the necessary battery is hidden under the front seats. The lights from electric cars are very bright; mini city cars are also sensitive to crosswinds. Its electric motor produces 82 hp and 160 Nm of torque. In city traffic, the Renault is lightning fast; if you're driving on the highway, it's as (adequately) efficient as any other A-class car. The alternative drivetrain doesn't reduce the uncomfortable driving position: Above-average people hardly miss the left the leg, as a large part of the legroom is occupied by the wheel arches. The Twingo does offer a higher seating position than is typical in this market segment, which makes getting in easier.
The arrival of the Z.E doubled the Twingo's available power: Lately you could only choose the petrol version with 73 hp. Renault's battery size is 22 kWh; theoretically, it can travel 190 kilometers on a full charge. However, this was not enough to start our mileage test: the route - from the Hague area to Lelystad airport and back via motorway - takes around 220 kilometres. So we only use the Twingo for our commutes. After 121 kilometers in a row, the cake is finally finished. On our rides we averaged 15.5kWh per 100km. Fast charging isn't an option, but luckily the French offer a more powerful onboard charger. At public charging points, charging speeds can reach up to 22 kWh, which theoretically means that the battery can be fully charged in one hour. But if not, then you only have 4 sweet hours. By placing the automatic transmission selector in the "Brake" position, you can influence the extent to which the Twingo recovers braking energy. It also has a power saving feature, but both of these minor features seem to have little effect in practice.
The electric 500 is equipped with two different electric motors. If you prefer the more powerful model, you will have the largest battery with a capacity of 42 kWh. There's also a 23.7 kWh model, but that battery is reserved for the base model, which also produces "only" 95 horsepower. Of course, the range in this case is also more modest: 180 kilometers instead of 320 kilometers. You might keep a few thousand euros in your pocket, but with the cheaper 500e, you'll spend extra time on a (fast) charger: instead of 85 kW, this version charges at 50 kW. To see how far an electric Fiat can really go on a charge, we put the city mini through a fixed range test. Such a ride would not be possible with the cheaper version. With a temperature of 6 degrees outside, using a larger battery was out of the question: after driving 223 km, we were stuck in port view. When we set off, the Fiat still had 260km of range on the onboard computer and the city mini was charged overnight at a charging station. Average energy consumption during our test was 16.0 kWh per 100 km. The 500e can be charged at any possible charging point. Depending on the outlet you choose, you could be on the go for anywhere from 35 minutes to 15 hours (!). To charge as little as possible, the 500e offers a choice of three driving modes to get the most out of the battery charge. In normal driving mode, the Fiat can barely recover braking energy. On the other two points, the City Mini does, although the regeneration level doesn't quite get you there in every case. If you engage Sherpa mode – named after the Tibetans who guide mountaineers up and down the Himalayas – the heat is turned off and the Fiat only needs 80km/h. The 500 will select this drive mode on its own if you have less than 25km of range left. You don't want to be driving on the freeway when that happens!
We drove the 500 hybrid last year because it's still available in addition to the electric Fiat. We complained in that test drive that there was little extra safety equipment. In this respect, the 500e is a world of difference, because an electric car can drive autonomously on the highway: something unprecedented in the city car segment. Unfortunately, some driver assistance systems overreact. We have had several instances where the emergency braking system screeches when another vehicle is smoothly passed. On a rainy night, the blind spot protection will even hit due to water droplets on the side windows! Some safety equipment is optional, by the way; the Fiat at least comes standard with emergency braking, active lane assist and traffic and fatigue detection. You can tell from the meager safety equipment that Renault has been around for years: the French comes standard with Crosswind Assistant, and you can opt for Lane Assist. However, the assistance system only works by sound; if you accidentally change lanes, the Twingo won't automatically steer you back.
Both Renault and Fiat offer apps for your phone so you can monitor if the battery is full from the comfort of your chair. You can also turn on the heating in the morning: electric cars are better off using charging stations than their own batteries. Unfortunately, no electric city car offers the necessary storage facilities for charging cables: in both the 500 and the Twingo, the charging cables end up in the already small trunk. Thanks to the clever placement of the power point, in the middle of the central tunnel, you can charge your phone from anywhere in the Renault. The front passengers of the electric 500 have a wireless opportunity and it also graces the skyline of Turin, the birthplace of Fiat. Each city minifigure has its own quirks. For example, the Twingo's rear window cannot be lowered: you have to push it out. The 500 has a button on the door - from the inside! - Electrically unlocked doors. However, the Italians don't seem to believe much in technology, as we also find mechanical options in the map section.
The Twingo Z.E. it comes in different styles, but the city mini always comes with a 22 kWh battery under the passenger seat. Externally, the Renault is virtually indistinguishable from its gasoline siblings. You really only see it on the sign. Or, of course, you should opt for the version of the Vibes we drove: a trim level offered only on the Twingo Z.E. available. Prices start at €20,590, which is £8 more than the petrol version. At Fiat, the price difference is almost 10,000 euros: the cheapest 500e costs 24,900 euros. Italian cars are also more expensive for private hire: Fiat Netherlands costs at least €375 a month, while at Renault you can already get behind the wheel of an electric Twingo for €299.
For a long time, the outlook for the Grade A market was bleak. The smaller models must meet the same stringent environmental and safety requirements as the larger models - and they are more expensive! - car. Few manufacturers still care, but with the addition of an electric motor, there is light at the end of the tunnel again. You can now drive a brand new electric car for less than £21. You have to manually open the windows in the more basic Twingo Z.E., but you get all the hardware right away, which is also the most expensive trim level at €24,790. At Fiat, you get fewer patents for an initial price. Then, we don't mean those mediocre wheels or just a phone case on the dash for nearly £25. It's mainly the limited charging speed and range that fools you. We drove a mini city, with a price of 30,600 euros. You can see this as a weakness, but we see it more as a strength. Fiat could use this 500 with the Twingo Z.E. Compete, like with mini electric cars. That way you can even score a well-invested sandwich in the A-Class.
Also see our individual driving tests for these candidates:
Fiat 500e icon
Atmosphere Renault Twingo ZE