2021 Fiat 500 Electric Icon vs 2022 MINI Hatch Electric Level 1

2021 Fiat 500 Electric Icon vs 2022 MINI Hatch Electric Level 1

The Icelandic singer Björk could have been singing about electric cars when she released her song “it’s oh so quiet”. Devoid of a combustion engine, all you’ll hear is a whirring of an electric motor, the rushing of air as you move away, and perhaps some sound from the tyres. Here we try out two of the latest baby electric vehicles, the Fiat 500 Electric Icon and the freshly facelifted MINI Electric Level 1.


Twin Test — it’s oh so quiet

This is the arena where electric cars arguably make most sense, with the Fiat 500 Electric fighting the MINI Electric in a battle of the electric babies.


DRIVING EXPERIENCE

  • Fiat 500 Electric 9/10
  • MINI Electri 9/10

BMW, at the premium end of the small EV market, launched its i3 model in 2012, and Renault, competing in the mainstream EV sector, has offered the Zoe since 2013, and both have been carefully evolved over the past few years. But it isn’t until last year that this pair have had any serious rivals, with the launch of the Peugeot e-208, Vauxhall Corsa-e, Honda e and the MINI Electric. Now, the sector is hotting up even more, with a new generation Fiat 500 Electric, as well as a facelifted edition of the MINI Electric.

And that’s only the beginning, as every car maker worth its salt with have a challenger within a couple of years. Cars at the dinkier end of the segment have it tough. It’s a fine balance between driving range and cost, and so there’s the £19,200 smart fortwo EQ that is capable of travelling up to 80 miles at one end, right up to the Peugeot 208 costing from £27,225 to £31,475, that can manage to squeeze 217 miles out of a single charge. And while the Pug is arguably one of the roomiest and most sensible small cars with an electric motor, this month’s twin test sees a pair of challengers from the more style-led end of the market.

While the Fiat 500 Electric is instantly recognisable, it sits on an all-new platform and has been comprehensively re-engineered from the ground up. Its cabin has been shifted decidedly upmarket and can more than hold its own in the company of the UK’s homegrown hit maker. The MINI Electric looks similar to its petrol-powered compatriots, save a smattering of yellow trim to signify that it’s been electrified, in a similar way that the Countryman PHEV features custard-coloured highlights.

A quick look at the vital statistics, and it’s obvious that the MINI has the Fiat licked, with acceleration to 62mph quicker by 1.7 seconds, 64 more horsepower and 37lb ft of torque. While the MINI’s performance is quite simply electrifying (sorry!), the 500 is a whole lot more pedestrian, but no less fun. The Fiat is quick away from rest compared to the average city car, and there’s a decent amount of overtaking muscle, for the rare occasions in this country that we can use it. The steering is responsive, though not quite as light as you might think, with tidy, grown up handling that is reassuringly planted.

There’s decent grip when cornering and not very much lean, which all adds up to a satisfying driving experience. Ride comfort is pretty good for a car with such a short wheelbase, soaking up the worst of the bumps quite well. There’s some road, tyre and wind noise to contend with at a motorway gallop, which might necessitate turning up the radio, though this could be because there’s no sound coming from under the bonnet and the noise is perhaps amplified. Three drive mode settings are named Normal, Ranger and Sherpa and we’re quite fond of the ability to drive with a single pedal, thanks to aggressive brake regeneration when set to Ranger. Sherpa is reserved for when you want to conserve power and you think you may not get home.

The comparison between a MINI and a go-kart is overused, and that’s because there are few other ways of describing what it’s like to drive. The steering is responsive and well weighted and makes the MINI feel utterly chuckable into bends on interesting back roads. Its chassis is fun and agile, yet feels totally planted for peace of mind. The suspension is sportily firm, which seems to underline the dynamism of the package, yet is pliant all at the same time. Road and tyre noise manage to find their way into the cabin at a motorway gallop, but wind noise is a mere light flutter. Squeeze the throttle when moving off and you’re catapulted along the road thanks to its generous 181bhp and 199lb ft of torque. While it’s simply badged as MINI Electric in the UK, in other markets it’s called the MINI Cooper SE, and that nameplate seems perfectly apt to describe its athleticism. A selection of driving modes allows you to tailor the driving experience, and like the Fiat, we like the ability to drive using one pedal, thanks to strong levels of brake regeneration.

“A quick look at the vital statistics, and it’s obvious that the MINI has the Fiat licked…”

INTERIOR AND COMFORT

  • Fiat 500 Electric 8/10
  • MINI Electric 7/10

You wouldn’t expect such diminutively sized cars to have much in the way of comfort, but you’d be hugely wrong. When Fiat electrified the 500, it tore up the previous design for the reborn 500 and created a package that is cute, comfortable and extremely homely. We love the Turin skyline that is embossed into the lining of the central cubbyhole, and the push button gear selector that is child’s play to use. The painted dashboard adds a dash of colour to proceedings and the push button door opener is a quirky, but useful touch. The seats may look flat, but they’re incredibly squidgy and remain comfortable on all kinds of journeys. The 10.25-inch touchscreen is feature rich and within easy grasp, and we love the rows of buttons underneath, neatly arranged. That said, there’s not a soft touch plastic surface in sight, with all of the materials hard, but that doesn’t seem to matter, as Fiat has really upped its game with the latest electric 500. The digital instruments are a model of clarity and deliver exactly the kind of information you need, without having to scrabble around in endless menus. We love the simplicity of the 500’s interior design, despite it being feature rich.

By comparison, the MINI interior feels a little contrived and overdone. Despite the huge circular housing, the display for the navigation and infotainment system is quite small. We like the way that you can control it via buttons on the centre console, using the steering wheel controls or by prodding the display, and we like the slimline digital instruments located behind the wheel. if you’re unfamiliar with the layout of a MINI cabin, you’ll find that the buttons are dotted around all over the place and not in a logical way. The starter rocker switch is situated low down on the console, though stands out thanks to being painted yellow. There’s a circular theme going on within the cabin, but it’s quite busy and totally at odds with the Fiat that is simple and elegant. You sit down low in the MINI, the view out is very much like looking out of a bay window, and you feel close to the action. The materials used in the cabin are top notch, with squidgy plastics used for the dashboard top. The seats hug you in all the right places and look and feel racier than the items in the 500.


SPACE, PRACTICALITY AND VERSATILITY

  • Fiat 500 Electric 7/10
  • MINI Electric 7/10

With both of these cars at the dinkier end of the car market, you aren’t going to buy them for spaciousness, however, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t well proportioned, even considering their compact dimensions. Even for the more generously sized driver, it’s easy to get comfortable in the 500. In many ways it feels the roomier of the pair, despite the measurements telling you otherwise. All of the controls are easy to operate and are within easy reach, making the Fiat a car that is easy to live with day-to-day. If the driver is of average or taller dimensions, then there’s no chance of carrying a passenger behind them, in common with all city cars.

Maybe it’s better to think of the back seats as additional storage, for a bag or jacket. In common with the MINI, there’s 50/50 split/folding rear seats on the 500, though the chairs don’t fold down completely flat. There’s just 185 litres of boot space with the seats in the upright position and 550 litres with them tumbled forward. Space for oddments is better catered for in the Fiat, too, with a large shelf below the touchscreen, decently proportioned door pockets, a large glovebox and a deep storage area between the front seats. Like the Fiat 500, you won’t be buying a MINI Hatch to carry lots of passengers, and we’re impressed at the amount of space that there is for front seat occupants.

A generously sized driver can sit very comfortably, even if the controls aren’t quite so user friendly. We found that the climate controls were mounted too far down, and checking which button to press meant taking your eyes off the road for longer than was ideal. This was exasperated by the dark, gloomy cabin that is largely made up of black materials. While all of them have a quality feel, some lighter surfaces would brighten the place up a great deal. It’s rare that the MINI’s boot could be described as roomy, but it is positively spacious compared to the one in the 500. There’s 211 litres with the seats upright and 731 litres with them folded down. They split in a 50/50 fashion, though disappointingly, like the Fiat, they don’t fold down flat. Oddment space is limited, with slot-like door pockets, a compact glovebox and space in front of the gear lever.


RUNNING COSTS

  • Fiat 500 Electric 10/10
  • MINI Electric 9/10

There’s plenty of encouragement from the Government to switch to pure electric, with a £2,500 grant available, called the Plug-in Car Grant (PiCG). This is available on cars with a list price that is under £35k, so both of these cars qualify. Then for company car drivers, there’s also another tax incentive, with Benefit-in-kind taxation at a super low 1% for the 2021/2022 tax year, rising to 2% for 2022/2023 and so on. There’s no vehicle excise duty to pay, either, and, of course, there’s free passage into London’s Congestion Charging Zone for pure electric vehicles.

The 500 has a third more driving range than its rival, with a maximum range of 194 to 199 miles in optimum conditions, compared to just 144 to 145 miles for the MINI. During our tests, we managed to achieve approximately 165 miles by driving sensibly in the 500, and around 120 miles in the MINI. Bear in mind that this was at the height of summer, and in the winter months, with lights and heating at full blast, the maximum range is likely to take a hammering, resulting in a really truncated driving range.

With an insurance rating that is five groups lower, it’s the Fiat that wins when taking out cover, with the 500 in group 17, with the MINI sitting in group 22. Charging will take longer in the Fiat, with a three-pin domestic socket taking 15 hours and 15 minutes for the Italian car and 12 hours on the nose for the British alternative. And it’s a similar story if you’re lucky to have one of the faster 11kW home chargers, with the Fiat taking 4 hours 15 minutes to replenish, while the MINI takes just 2 and a half hours.

Servicing is required every 12,000 miles with the 500, but thanks to condition based maintenance, it’s up to the MINI when it requires a mechanic to take a look. The condition based regime will assess wear and tear on the serviceable items and will inform the driver accordingly by way of a message on the instrument binnacle. When new, each of the cars have a three year warranty, though this is restricted to the first 60,000 miles on the Fiat, compared to an unlimited mileage arrangement on the MINI. The battery packs on both cars are covered for eight years and 100,000 miles, which seems to be the industry norm.


EQUIPMENT AND PRICE

  • Fiat 500 Electric 9/10
  • MINI Electric 8/10

With a price tag that is a whisker apart, there’s just £5 separating the Fiat 500 Electric Icon and the MINI Electric Level 1, with the former pegged at £25,995, and the British-built car costing £26,000. But it’s the cheaper of this pair that offers a more generous equipment list, including wireless Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Bluetooth smartphone connectivity (the MINI only offers wireless Apple CarPlay and Bluetooth), a larger 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen (the MINI’s system is 8.8-inches in size), rear parking sensors, driver drowsiness detection, keyless entry and start, lane keep assist and traffic sign recognition. Fiat’s designers have also thought about the car’s sustainability, with a faux leather steering wheel in place of the traditional leather item fitted to the MINI.

The British car counters with an alarm system, fancy ambient lighting, a pair of extra speakers, making a total of six, dualzone climate control (the Fiat has regular climate control) and LED headlights. Each of these cars get the basics right, though, with 16-inch alloy wheels, autonomous emergency braking system, cruise control, six airbags, an emergency e-call system and LEDs for the daytime running lights and taillight clusters. There’s a drive mode selector, automatic headlights, rain sensor, electric and heated mirrors, electric front windows and an electric park brake.

Both cars have digital instruments, DAB radio, USB connectors, voice control and steering wheel controls for the infotainment system. The seats fold down in a split 50/50 fashion in both the Fiat and the MINI and the upholstery comes trimmed with cloth.

Our researchers attempted to squeeze a discount out of dealers and brokers, and largely struggled. At the eleventh hour, online car brokers CarFile (www.carfile.net) managed to secure a £279 discount off of the MINI, bringing the asking price down to £25,721, equivalent to a 1% saving. By comparison, all of the Fiat dealers stayed strong, refusing to offer a single penny off the 500 electric. Of course the Government plug-in grant is applicable in both cases, saving buyers £2,500, though all of our prices have already taken that into account.

“…the 500 is a whole lot more pedestrian, but no less fun.”

VERDICT

  • Fiat 500 Electric 9/10
  • MINI Electric 8/10

Two of the biggest names in small cars clash in this electric baby shootout. Priced within £5 of each other, the packages are surprisingly very different. The Fiat has a larger battery pack but a less powerful electric motor and ends up with a driving range that goes a third further than that of its rival. It does take longer to charge up, however, and there’s less power and not as much torque. Equipment levels are more generous, and we love the 500 for its characterful nature and the fact that it’s just so comfortable. It’s like an old pair of trainers that you look forward to putting on after a week of wearing work shoes. By comparison, the MINI is like a pair of running shoes. It’s more athletic, the cabin is sportier and it’s a whole lot busier and more highly strung. It’s got a bigger boot, but despite the 22 centimetres of extra length, we’re hard pushed to notice any extra interior space compared to the compact 500.

There’s soft-touch plastics for the cabin, we love the ambient lighting and the pillarless doors give an extra layer of sportiness. When it comes down to it, the longer driving range, the better equipment levels, cheaper insurance and more comfortable cabin make it a winner in our eyes. It’s a win for the Fiat 500 Electric.


ALSO CONSIDER

  • BMW i3 It’s the wild card here, because it’s more expensive than all of the opposition in its cheapest guise, despite measuring around four metres in length. It has evolved since it first went on sale in 2013.
  • PEUGEOT e-208 One of the most popular small electric models on sale, the Peugeot e-208 is good looking, has a striking interior and good quality. It also has a price tag starting from a little over £27k.
  • RENAULT ZOE The Zoe is the oldest electric car to be featured here, first arriving on sale in 2012. It has been thoroughly overhauled though and the technology and design evolved over the past nine years.

STANDARD EQUIPMENT

MINI Electric Level 1

16-inch alloy wheels with 195/55/R16 Hankook Ventus Prime 3 with tyre repair kit

50/50 split/folding rear seats

Alarm system

Ambient lighting

Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist

Automatic headlights

Autonomous emergency braking

Cloth upholstery

Cruise control

DAB radio and navigation with 8.8-inch touchscreen, 6-speakers, USB socket, voice control and steering wheel controls

Digital instruments

Drive mode selector

Driver, passenger, side and head airbags with passenger de-activation

Dual-zone climate control

Electric and heated mirrors

Electric front windows

Electric park brake

Electronic stability programme with traction control

Emergency e-call system

ISOFIX child safety seat fasteners for front passenger and rear outer seats

Leather steering wheel

LED daytime running lights

LED headlights

LED tail lights

Rain sensor

Remote central locking

Tyre pressure monitors

Wireless Apple CarPlay and Bluetooth smartphone connectivity

What’s Hot

Larger boot, both with the seats up and down. Faster to recharge, and quicker acceleration to 62mph. More powerful battery back with additional torque. British built. More generous warranty with unlimited mileage cover over three years. For business users, electric vehicles are incredibly cheap to operate. The interior has bags of character with colourful ambient lighting at night. Fun driving experience, with great agility and rapid acceleration.

What’s Not

Marginally higher list price and doesn’t quite have as much standard equipment. Smaller battery pack and more expensive to insure. Driving range is inferior by around a third. Latest facelift, particularly the front bumper, has divided opinion. Joystick-like gear lever is fussy and sometimes difficult to engage gear. The climate controls are mounted too low on the central stack. Interior very dark. Space in the back for rear passengers is virtually non-existent, especially if the driver is average height or taller. Too many piano black surfaces that attract dust.


Fiat 500 Electric Icon

7-inch digital instruments

16-inch alloy wheels with 195/55/R16

Goodyear EfficientGrip with tyre repair kit

50/50 split/folding rear seats

Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist

Automatic headlights

Autonomous emergency braking

Climate control

Cloth upholstery

Cruise control

DAB radio and navigation with 10.25-inch touchscreen, 4-speakers, USB socket, voice control and steering wheel controls

Drive mode selector

Driver, passenger, side and head airbags with passenger de-activation

Driver drowsiness detection

Electric and heated mirrors

Electric front windows

Electric park brake

Electronic stability programme with traction control

Emergency e-call system

Faux leather steering wheel

ISOFIX child safety seat fasteners for rear outer seats

Keyless entry and start

Lane keep assist

LED daytime running lights

LED tail lights

Rain sensor

Rear parking sensors

Traffic sign recognition

Tyre pressure monitors

Wireless Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Bluetooth smartphone connectivity

What’s Hot

Cheaper list price, longer driving range, and larger battery pack. Cheaper to insure. Longer list of standard equipment. Low benefit-in-kind taxation. Larger touchscreen with sophisticated interface. Love the simplicity of the push button gear selector. Convertible edition optionally available. Colour coded dashboard looks smart. Front of the car is surprisingly roomy, despite compact size. Push button electric doors are neat. Excellent turning circle. Feels swift and agile along back roads. Gas struts on the bonnet is a premium touch. More interior storage than the MINI.

What’s Not Smaller boot. Takes longer to charge up. Slower to accelerate to 62mph. Less power and lower torque. There’s virtually no space in the back for rear occupants, even if the driver isn’t particularly tall. Some of the interior buttons need a second prod to make them work on occasions.

FACTS AND FIGURES

Fiat 500 Electric Icon MINI Hatch Electric Level 1

£25,995 Price (after PiCG) £26,000

Mirafiori, Italy Built in Oxford, UK

Project 332 Codename F56

tba Platform UKL1

3-door hatchback Body style 3-door hatchback

Front-wheel-drive Layout Front-wheel-drive

87kW Electric motor with

42kWh lithium-ion battery pack

Powerplant

135kW Electric motor with

32.6kWh lithium-ion battery pack

1-speed automatic Transmission 1-speed automatic

117bhp Max power 181bhp

162lb ft Max torque 199lb ft

93mph Top speed 93mph

9.0secs 0-62mph 7.3secs

0g/km CO2 emissions (WLTP) 0g/km

194 to 199 miles Range 144 to 145 miles

15 hours 15 minutes

-

4 hours 15 minutes

-

35 minutes

Charging times:

AC Domestic socket

AC 7.4kW Home charger

AC 11kW Home charger

DC50kW Rapid charger

DC 85kW Rapid charger

12 hours

3 hours 12 minutes

2 hours 30 minutes

36 minutes

-

17 Insurance group 22

1% BIK rate (2021/2022 tax year) 1%

3,632/1,900mm Size (length/width with mirrors) 3,850/1,928mm

185/550 litres Boot space (min/max) 211/731 litres

1,365kg Kerb weight 1,365kg

0kg Max towing weight 0kg

Not yet tested Euro NCAP rating

3 years/60,000 miles Warranty 3 years/Unlimited miles

8 years/100,000 miles Warranty (battery life) 8 years/100,000 miles

No/no/no/no/yes

Wheels (Full-size/spacesaver/run-flats/self-sealing/repair kit)

No/no/no/no/yes

Article type:
Review
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