By Wayne Gorrett, Milan & Turin, Italy.
In November last year, at the invitation of Fiat UK, I flew over to Milan (and Turin, as it turned out) for the UK media launch of the new Fiat 500X. The pre-determined route wound its way through the foothills of the Italian Alps between the two northern Italian cities. It may come as little comfort to the multitude of 500 purists when I tell you, that it’s pretty darn good…
🙂 Decent retro styling, good equipment levels.
🙂 Fun to drive briskly, refined cruising, excellent practicality.
😦 Very little to see here, move along.
Fiat has launched the latest iteration of its well-proven ‘Cinquecento’ theme with the 500X, a five-door, soft-road crossover which made its public debut at last year’s Paris Auto Show. It is available now and goes head-to-head with Nissan’s popular Juke, Renault’s uninspiring Captur and the really rather good Peugeot 2008.
The arrival of the 500X completes Fiat’s 500-based family and joins the iconic 500, the 500L / Trekking and the 500L MPW.
The Fiat 500X is built at the SATA plant in Melfi, Italy. The new car again stretches the engineering art of platform-sharing further. It is based on the same SCCS architecture that underpins the Fiat Punto, Alfa Romeo MiTo, the Fiat Doblo, the Fiat 500L and, more directly, its first-cousin the new Jeep Renegade. It does not share the same underpinnings with its smaller 500 sibling as it is a significantly larger car: 71cm longer, 17cm wider and 12cm taller in fact, than the standard 500 city car.
➤ The Style Factory
The 500X is available in both front- and four-wheel drive derivatives and in two body ‘styles’. As with its Panda stablemate, the 500X should appeal to younger city-based drivers, while the 500X Cross with its greater off-road focus and body cladding is intended to capture the attention of those with a more active and adventurous lifestyle.
Designed at Fiat’s Centro Stile design hub, the retro styling cues from the standard 500 are carried over to the 500X, but it benefits from a more prominent front-end grille design with chrome trim used around the front bumper. Tinted windows, roof rails and a boot-mounted lip spoiler also feature. The standard 500 aside, I think the 500X is probably the best looking 500 family member by far.
As is fashionable in automotive marketing these days, ‘personalisation’ is again the buzzword on the 500X. A choice of 12 different colours and eight different alloy wheel designs across three wheel sizes will be offered, allowing owners to personalise the look of their car.
➤ The Inside Story
On the inside the new 500X has much carried over from the 500L and 500L Trekking – which translates into a more mature décor. The retro, 500-inspired theme remains with a colourful plastic insert stretching right across the dash and splashes of chrome on the door handles and air vent surrounds. Centre stage is an instrument binnacle and the 6.5-inch infotainment screen rising out of the dash. It protrudes but unlike most of the new Mercedes-Benz models, not intrusively so.
Most of the plastic mouldings are of decent quality and the seats are stylish and comfortable. The dash switchgear is classy as is the multi-function steering wheel. Overall, the cabin exudes an attractive ambience that links well with its 500 family.
The boot of the 500X – at 350 litres – is good but the sloped rear windscreen impacts on practicality. However, with the rear seats folded, a useful 1,000 litres of space becomes available, so the 500X can still carry plenty of luggage.
Unlike Nissan’s Juke which is considerably more ‘cosy’ inside than it appears outside, the 500X has plenty of space. The driver and passengers enjoy an elevated view. In-cabin storage is generous and includes wide door bins to appeal to families.
➤ Trims and Prices
Fiat UK wants to keep things simple during the early days of the 500X in the UK. As a result, there are just two Open Edition models currently available during this launch period; Open Edition ‘City’ (£17,595) and Open Edition ‘Off-Road’ (£25,845) – no ‘Pop’, ‘Lounge’ or ‘Easy’ derivatives here – at least not yet. The two special launch editions wear additional equipment that will not be standard on the 500X later in the year and only 500 units of each will be made available to the UK.
The front-wheel-drive 500X Open Edition ‘City’ has 18″ alloys, dynamic safety pack (brake control, blind spot assist, lane assist and rear camera), comfort pack (key-less entry/go, driver’s seat with electric lumbar adjustment and front armrest), rear privacy glass and ‘Opening Edition’ badge.
As inferred in its name, the Open Edition ‘Off-Road’ 500X is a 4×4. It features Amore red exterior colour, nav pack (Uconnect 3D, radio, satellite navigation, DAB, 6.5in TFL screen, USB socket), black leather upholstery with red inserts, visibility pack (electrochromatic rear view mirror, rain and dusk sensor, electric folding door mirrors), transmission controls on the steering wheel and ‘Opening Edition’ badge.
➤ Engines & Transmissions
The ‘City’ edition uses the Fiat Group’s tried and tested 1.4-litre, 140bhp MultiAir2 petrol engine, paired with a six-speed manual gearbox.
The ‘Off-Road’ model, as intimated, is a 4×4 using the group’s trusty 2.0-litre MultiJet2 with the same output as the petrol at 140bhp, but being a diesel it has considerably more torque delivered through the 9-speed auto – the first Fiat product to use the ZF-sourced auto.
The Fiat 500X offers an eco:Drive function to help reduce emissions and fuel costs by up to 16 per cent. There’s also a nifty ‘Drive Mode Selector’ – standard across the range – which offers three modes for engine, brake, steering and transmission settings. Auto is the most frugal, Sport is geared towards spirited driving and All Weather adjusts the settings to best cope with low-grip conditions.
On the more rugged Off-Road edition, the All Weather mode is replaced by a Traction function, which speeds up the transmission of torque to the rear axle on four-wheel-drive versions or activates a Traction Plus control system on front-wheel-drive cars. Fiat says the latter will suit drivers who only encounter low-traction situations occasionally and can’t justify the additional costs associated with a conventional four-wheel-drive system.
➤ Safety First
The 500X is equipped with active safety systems which include front headlights with integrated daytime running lights, front fog lights with adaptive cornering, electronic stability control and lane departure warning system. The options list includes blind-spot monitoring and a rear view parking camera. There are six airbags fitted as standard.
➤ On the Road
There is a confident feel to the 500X when under way. It displays good road manners, with urbane handling and fairly decent turn of performance – depending on engine choice. It’s unlikely to set any records in the sports department, but it makes civilised progress for a small family. Road holding is good, it feels quite grippy in the twisty bits and there is little body roll to mention.
While the surface of most Italian non-motorway roads can be challenging to a driver’s spine, the suspension of the 500X feels nicely damped, enough to mop up the typical bumps on most road surfaces without feeling too ‘removed’ from the goings on underneath. This is due in no small part to the MacPherson strut rear suspension which irons out most of the surface undulations. It only becomes a little unsettled when the road surface is unusually crusty. The steering is not as sharp as some of its rivals, namely the Peugeot 2008, but it has reasonable feel but for some might be a tad too light which can be ‘entertaining’ at cruising speeds.
With the Fiat Mood Selector you can adjust the car’s settings to how you’d like to drive it. Auto, Sport and All-Weather will change comfort, performance and vehicle settings.
➤ Off-Road Credentials
At the Milan launch, we were given the opportunity to test the automatic models off road in 4×4 mode over the off-road test route used by all Fiat group cars at the group’s proving ground in Balocco.
While the car has decent approach and departure angles and a raised ride height, it remains more than capable for a spot of soggy green- or shallow brown-laneing and accomplished itself very well over a challenging course – twice, just to be sure.
➤ ICE and Connectivity
There’s a choice of 5.0- or 6.5-inch (depending on variant) Uconnect infotainment touchscreens, with standard Bluetooth and USB connections, plus optional DAB radio. All are operable via steering wheel remote controls and voice commands. The icing on the infotainment cake is the availability of the bass-friendly Beats by Dre hi-fi audio system as an optional upgrade.
The new Uconnect Live system integrates with Smartphones which effectively mirrors apps and ensures permanent connection to social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Owners can stream music, get real-time news updates and even check the weather.
Responding belatedly to the ever-growing demand for small urban crossovers, Fiat hopes to snag a sizeable piece of the pie with its newest 500 incarnation. Considerably larger than the standard Fiat 500, the 500X keeps relatively compact dimensions while offering expanded passenger and cargo space for urban adventures, road trips and city commuting.
Barring a few niggly nagglies – none of which should scupper a good retail deal – the 500X is a serious compact crossover contender and a worthy extension of the 500 family.
Could this be the best car to come out of Fiat during the past two decades? At the risk of being publicly flogged by the aforementioned 500 purists, I think it just might be.
Once I’ve driven a UK-spec 500X, I will bring you a full road test in the coming weeks. Until then and because you have been, thanks for reading.