Petrol Fiat vs. Hybrid Honda & Electric Golf: Surprises & Conundrums

Electrification is becoming an ever bigger part of our motoring lives. Even down here in the load shedding capital of the world. But how effective are electric cars – and hybrids, especially in the price-sensitive entry parts of the market? Faced with that conundrum, we gathered together a hatchback example of each genre to figure it out. We put the Fiat 500 Twin Air against the Honda Fit e-CVT Hybrid, and the Volkswagen e-Golf.


Some may say that our choice is a bit of a mismatch, but we think that it’s a fairly decent representation. We chose the Fiat 500 because it’s still the coolest small car out there after all these years. Bar none. 500 is a premium entry level car that promises economy as much as it does style. Which is necessary in this context. Both the others are big on those aspects. So better we bring a competitive petrol car along to this little street fight.

Our Italian example was recently upgraded. This slick 500 has LED headlamps, neat bespoke 16-inch alloys and chrome accents. The Fit Hybrid subscribes to Honda’s principle of the beauty in objects perfected over time. ‘Fit’ for purpose, so to say, it’s a cool, compact monobox city car that cuts a chic pose with premium LED headlamps and a refined roof spoiler.

You cannot buy this Volkswagen e-Golf. It’s a pilot model here to grow the electric vehicle brand ahead of VW’s full battery ID range going on sale soon. The e-Golf thankfully lacks the idiotic styling that’s become the electric car norm. In other words, it doesn’t wear a daft electric party hat to make everyone inside look like a fool. It’s rather just a regular VW Golf. We like that!


Moving inside, they’ve mixed up the Fiat’s cabin colours and added cool diamond stitched leather pews. There’s a slightly larger infotainment touchscreen with DAB Radio, Apple, Android and Bluetooth tech and voice recognition too. 500 has 50/50 split and folding rear seat to expand its functional triangular boot’s surprisingly large, wide floor. Well stacked, 500 packs seven airbags, ABS braking, stability control, a hill-holder and a speed limiter too. Add optional TomTom 3D map HD Navigation.

Austere, practical and functional, the clever and uncluttered Fit’s durable soft-touch finishes highlight its inherent quality. Comfy seats get better lumbar support and central armrest height-aligned with the door rest. It has an easy to read TFT dash and smartphone-style 9-inch HMI Auto and CarPlay central touchscreen infotainment. Which happily also features buttons and knobs. Fit has class leading rear legroom. A broad tailgate accesses a flat 309 litre boot that expands to 1210 litres via a handy rear Magic Seat.

The Volkswagen e benefits the last generation Golf cabin – and all its practicality in toto. Besides new electric tabs in the familiar touchscreen, there’s nothing to suggest you’re driving an electric Golf. We prefer this beautifully finished older school, and more user friendly dash to the step too far Golf 8 solution. The electric car also carries the Golf 7’s superb interior quality, all the necessary infotainment, and the rest across.


On the road, Fiat may have recently stolen the 500’s sixth gear, but that makes little difference with all that TwinAir grunt. The splendid state-of-the-art 63 kW 145 Nm 875cc turbo petrol twin pays homage to the original 1960s two-pot. TwinAir is a splendid and torquey little engine with a wonderful, classic twin cylinder burble.

The Fit Hybrid introduces Honda’s lightweight, compact and efficient e:HEV two-motor powertrain. A lithium-ion battery powers a pair of compact, powerful electric motors. They work together with a 1.5-litre DOHC i-VTEC petrol engine via an innovative CVT transmission. It seamlessly switches between three electric EV, mixed Hybrid, or petrol Engine drive modes to power the front wheels.

The Fit Hybrid uses both the engine and regenerative braking to recharge the battery via a separate e-motor generator. Producing a total of 80 kW and 253 Nm, its biggest party trick is how it maximises the strengths of its driving modes. To ensure optimal urban driving efficiency, the electric motor uses free battery energy to pull away and accelerate. Areas where the petrol engine uses the most fuel. Conversely, the electric motor is less efficient at higher speeds, where the petrol engine is at its best.


The Volkswagen e-Golf is a far simpler device. It packs a 35.8 kWh lithium-ion battery under the front and rear seats. To power its 100 kW 290 Nm single permanent magnet electric motor. And drive the front axle via single-speed transmission. Electric motors produce enough torque not to warrant a conventional gearbox. You can also adjust e-Golf’s regenerative braking to drive single-pedal and stretch out that range. There’s an Eco+ mode for really economical battery use at reduced pace without air-conditioning.

Well stacked, even in this company, the little Fiat 500 TwinAir returns a claimed 4 litres per 100 km. A certain boon in these trying times with our record petrol prices. We regularly manage low 4 numbers in real life, which translates to close to 900 km on a full 35-litre tank. So all good on the combustion front. Honda claims that the Fit Hybrid will do 3.7 litres per 100km. We easily achieved a real world 3.9 per 100 after a week and over 500 km of mixed driving. Which means over 1,000 km on its 40 litre tank.

Which leads to the first hiccup. Volkswagen promises the e-Golf will drive 230 km on a full charge. How far you travel in an electric is directly proportional to how you drive it. So rather rely on 170 km as its real world range, because the range meter is optimistic too. That distance may seem inadequate versus five or six times the range the others will achieve on a tiny tank of petrol. But not too bad when compared to electric rivals, like the Mini Cooper SE we drove recently.


Looking at performance, we strapped our VBox to all three cars. Each made it to 100 km/h in around nine seconds. In fact these three were surprisingly evenly matched right across the performance spectrum. From the quarter mile to overtaking elasticity, there really wasn’t much at all in it. The electric Golf however tops out at 150 km/h, while the petrol Fiat and hybrid Honda will sail past 170 km/h without much of a problem.

How they do it however, feels completely different. The good old manual Fiat purrs along as you’d expect from a trick little engine and a manual box. The Honda is either in CVT mode, so delivers a long petrol rev. Or its silently getting on with it in electric mode. Although heavy, the e-Golf drives well, but makes almost no noise at all. So take care when approaching pedestrians and even animals that would normally react to the sound of a combustion engine. At all times in the Golf and when in e-mode in the Fit.

Living with both the Fiat and the Honda is pretty normal. You fuel them up at any gas station and drive. The Volkswagen however demands a whole new routine and driving lifestyle. It needs to be plugged in to charge up, and that takes time. And planning. Home charging times depend on the charger you use.


Plugged into the garage socket, e-Golf’s 3 kW 3-point granny charger needed up to 20 hours to fully charge. Eight hours of charging gave us 50 km. And don’t mention load shedding! A 7 kWh charger will do it in six hours, but a 50 kW fast charger will slash e-Golf’s zero to 80% charging time to just 40-minutes. All of which may leave you scratching your head.

The electric car is however significantly cheaper to run. These most frugal hybrid and petrol cars use 3.6 litres per 100 kilometres at about R20 per litre. Their respective energy cost is 77 and 79 South African cents per kilometre. Charging the e-Golf costs a little less. Twenty-four cents per kilometre, to be precise! Taking this a step further, if your home is off the grid, you can effectively achieve a zero energy cost for your driving. Ponder that for a second…

Slashed energy costs are not an electric car’s only advantage. They also benefit reduced servicing and running costs. With a tiny fraction of the reciprocating parts, no heat and various other advantages, electric cars are basically service free beyond tyre and brake costs. Which will however be a tad higher than a combustion version. Electric cars are by nature heavier and that takes its toll on those bits. On the road, the electric car is just as easy to drive and to operate. And just as practical as its petrol or hybrid kin.


So, if you need to drive long distance, city to city and across the Kalahari and Karoo, then forget about the e-Golf. Or any other electric car, for that matter, for now. You’d simply need to choose between something like this Honda hybrid or the petrol Fiat.

But if you only drive 150 km a week, which many people do, and you’re armed with a decent charging point in your garage, or a fast charger conveniently close by, then an electric car can be an excellent choice. And a great car for the average daily commute or trip to work and back.

There is however one, final moot point. And one that may kill your goose that lays the electric egg, for now. That’s the cost to acquire these cars. The Fiat, while premium as a small car, is a bargain versus the Honda. The Fit’s complex systems and technology, and that battery, significantly add to its selling price. The electric Golf by our estimation, would add another 25% more. Most of that borne by the price difference to a petrol version.


That’s the biggest challenge to both the hybrid and the electric car at the lower end of the market. They are just too expensive at this point in time. There is of course the argument that you’ll save in energy costs over three years. But to be honest, that won’t amount to much more than a R50K. A like-for-like hybrid adds double that premium. And an electric car costs three times that difference more than a petrol version.

It’s different story at the top end of the market. R3-million electric and hybrid cars are far more price competitive with their fossil fuelled rivals. But down here in the hatchback real world, pricing is a sensitive subject

So, while electric hatchbacks cost a third of combustion and hybrid rivals do to run, are just as quick, just as stylish, practical and is easy to live with, they are just not viable enough to acquire. It’s an electric car problem that’s far greater here at the bottom of the car market than it is on top. And it’s a challenge the industry must overcome if every day electric motoring must become viable. People just won’t pay that much more for the privilege. That premium really is a problem – Michele Lupini

Testing & images: Giordano Lupini

SHOOTOUT    Fiat 500     Honda Fit e  Volkswagen
            Sport        CVT Hybrid   e-Golf
Output:     63kW 145Nm   80kW 253Nm   100kW 290Nm
Engine:     0.9-litre I2 1.5-litre    Electric
Type:       Turbo Petrol Gas Hybrid   Battery
Trans:      5-speed man  CVT auto     Direct
Drive:      FWD          FWD          FWD
0-60km/h    4.67 sec     3.92 sec     4.01 sec
0-100km/h:  9.53 sec     8.95 sec     9.00 sec
0-120km/h:  13.63 sec    12.87 sec    12.68 sec
400m:       17.9s @ 128  17.3s @ 134  16.5s @ 136
80-120km/h:  8.20 sec    6.77 sec     6.53 sec
VMax:        173 km/h    175km/h       150km/h
Fuel:        3.8 l/100km 3.7 l/100km   N/A
CO2:         88 g/km     88 g/km       N/A
Energy Cost: R0.79/km    R0.77/km      R0.24/km
Range:       880 km      1,075 km      230 km
LIST PRICE:  R338K       R484K         Est. R580K
RATED:       8           8             8
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