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Fiat 500e near perfect

| Friday, March 14, 2014, 8:57 p.m.

I thought it might be a good time to provide feedback at 5,000 miles on my electric car experiment. In October, I leased an all-electric Fiat 500e, as the cost of the lease was less than I was spending each month on gasoline to drive my conventional vehicle.

The Fiat's battery range of 80-90 miles presents an occasional concern, but actually gets it done for about 90 percent of my daily needs. There have been a few times I've arrived home after work and there wasn't enough time to charge the car sufficiently to head back out for an extended evening adventure. Or while I could easily make the 50-mile trip to San Francisco, I couldn't be assured I could find convenient or available charging there so I could make the trip home. Availability of electric vehicle plug-in locations is still spotty.

I love this little car. It's a blast to drive, with very peppy acceleration and crisp handling paid for with a choppy, firm ride. And it's surprisingly roomy inside. My wife and I are continually amazed at how many groceries or home-improvement items you can cram into the rear with the useless back seat folded down. An illuminated “hatch ajar” light is a frequent source of amusement, telling us we have truly filled it. I've only forgotten to plug the car in once, requiring me to drive the oil-burner SUV the following day. My 5,000 mile average is 136 mpg-e, almost 10 times the efficiency of our oil-burner.

The blending of slingshot acceleration, deceleration energy regeneration and brakes is done magnificently — it appears to be 100 percent regeneration until you drop below 8 mph. During firm braking at speed, it's amazing to see it packing up to 75,000 watts of juice back into the batteries. Everything about this car is flawless, except for one silly, one annoying and one truly awful feature.

The included TomTom navigation unit is a joke, plugging in atop the instrument panel in the worst possible place, obstructing vision. It lives, unused, in the glove box. The Bluetooth phone merging is delightfully convenient, but clumsy. About once every seven times, it misinterprets my crystal-clear, increasingly snide requests; drops the link to the phone; or dials the wrong person.

My really serious beef is with a feature called Auto Park. This well-intended fiasco is supposed to prevent me from stepping out of the absolutely silent vehicle if the shifter is accidentally left in drive. This may be great if you live on a salt flat, but for folks who park or stop occasionally on slopes, it's a disaster. Let's say you remove your seatbelt and crack open the driver's door to untangle your coat tail, or in my case get out to open and close a rural driveway gate, the car will violently slam into park if the car creeps slightly or is still moving very slowly as the door is opened. It will sometimes slam into park as I release the brake pedal to move forward upon re-entering the vehicle. And never, ever turn off the key while still moving. In addition to the whiplash, there's a good chance the transmission may someday end up on the ground in pieces.

Fiat considers this normal operation, even after I told them several times, “Either Auto Park goes or the car does.” Well, Auto Park went away, once I took matters into my own hands. It was a challenge to outsmart the system without any available wiring diagrams, but I'm now in complete driving bliss.

Brad Bergholdt is an automotive technology instructor at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, Calif. Readers may send him email at

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