2013 Fiat 500eThe first thing just about everyone notices about the Fiat 500e is its brilliant orange paint scheme. It’s available in other colors, but it’s almost certainly going to be remembered for being orange and white. The color–Electric Orange by name–covers the exterior, and is spruced up with white accents. It’s carried over to the interior as well. The Fiat 500e is the fastest orange creamsicle on the road.

Look a bit closer, and the vibrant color’s not the only thing that’s going on with this car, however. The deep, dot-matrix style chin spoiler and bulgy aerodynamic side skirts hint at some significant changes under the skin, and that’s definitely the case. The 500e is Fiat’s foray into emissions-free vehicles. The battery-powered car is the first from the Italian manufacturer, and it’s built with the same style and lust for life that characterize the conventional 500. The aero upgrades to the front of the car are matched at the rear, where a new lower fascia and roof spoiler help to manage airflow over and around the car.

The fully electric powertrain consists of a 111-horsepower permanent-magnet electric traction motor. The 24 kilowatt-hour battery produces about 364 volts and is heated and cooled for more efficient performance in all weather. What’s really impressive about this car, though, is how normal and accessible it is. Like the smart fortwo Electric Drive, it’s quicker than the gasoline-powered version. With 147 pound-feet of torque available immediately, the 500e will chirp the tires at will. The 500e’s top speed is 85 mph, so it will keep up with traffic without effort. “Fuel economy” is hard to determine with battery-powered cars, but Fiat says the 500e will return the equivalent of 116 miles per gallon in the city. Range is over eighty miles, with over 100 possible with careful driving in the city, and Fiat claims a recharge time of less than four hours with a 240-volt onboard charging module.

2013 Fiat 500e

It handles better than the base 500 as well, thanks in part to the six hundred-pound battery that puts the car’s center of gravity several inches lower, and an aggressively tuned suspension that’s all too happy to take advantage of this. The 500e has been designed to be simple to drive and own, and so on the road it feels very similar to the gasoline powered version even though it’s several hundred pounds heavier. The regenerative brakes have the usual grabby feeling common to electrics, but otherwise the four-wheel discs are strong and confident. The power steering’s electronic, too.

This is a Fiat, of course, so the interior is as stylish as the exterior. It’ll be familiar to fans of the 500; the tallish, retro dash with its body-colored inserts and surprisingly elegant gauges are unchanged. A unique cream-colored “Steam” interior theme is unique to the 500e. A pushbutton electronic shifter is an immediate difference from the 500, of course, and the TomTom seven-inch navigation system’s display has been configured to also provide charging, range and power-flow information. The navigation system is standard in the 500e, as are automatic climate control, a premium audio system with satellite radio and stability control. Heated seats are optional.

The 500e is currently only on sale in California, but expect this to change as battery-powered vehicles (and charging stations) become more common in the rest of the country. Fiat’s offering some good deals on the 500e as well, including a $999 down, $199/month lease for 36 months. Fiat also includes a smartphone app that provides real-time vehicle status and charging information, as well as tracking energy use and locating nearby charging stations.