What is it?
Two days before it will take pride of place in showrooms throughout the UK, I pottered over to Iscoyd Park to get a first taste of Fiat’s new car, the 500X. If you’ve not seen the clever TV advert in which a butter-fingered old man in Italy no doubt blows his chances in the bedroom by accidentally lobbing his little blue pill out of the bathroom window instead of into his mouth, the 500X is basically a pumped-up compact SUV crossover styled after the adorable little 500.
What the 500X is up against
Crossover cars are all the rage these days, with all kinds of wacky shapes, sizes and designs to choose from. To attract all the conquest sales they’re after, Fiat might have to roll up its sleeves. Actually, one sleeve would have to stay buttoned as Fiat has two trump cards up it. Firstly, the 500X is the only Italian crossover on the market. Secondly, it’s taller and longer than its many rivals, from the Renault Captur, Nissan Juke and Vauxhall Mokka to the Suzuki S-Cross, MINI Countryman and Peugeot 2008.
Hey, good lookin’
Just like MINI, Fiat is milking its 500 heritage and I don’t blame it. After all, the 500 is such a cute car you just can’t fail to love, whoever you are. The 500X is chunky and muscular but retains the 500’s infectious smile, beaming headlamp eyes and signature clamshell bonnet. Fiat wants the 500X to appeal to stylish adventurers and I can see buyers of all ages happily lapping it up, drawn by its balanced proportions and successful blend of the old and the new. Whether parked up or on the move, it looks commanding, purposeful and unisex. Based on looks, I think I’d choose a 500X over one of its rivals.
The Fiat 500X is available in a fantastic range of colours, twelve to be precise, with Amalfi Yellow, Fashion Grey and Argento Grey being my favourites. You can match the dashboard colour to the exterior and take your pick from eleven different alloy wheels, ranging from 16” to 18”. The interior choices are just as broad, with plenty of fabric and leather shades to nestle into, including two-tone designs and a fabulous ‘tobacco’ brown colour. The really impressive slant on the 500X is that the choice doesn’t stop there, as you can even choose between two flavour groups to suit your personality, from Pop, Pop Star and Lounge versions for metropolitan city types to Cross and Cross Plus for those adventurers who will love the tough-looking bumpers. On the move, you can even switch between Auto, Sport and All-Weather (replaced with Traction on the rugged Cross and Cross Plus versions) to make the car’s setup match the mood you’re in.
Fiat is right about the 500X being great for ‘early adopters’ who love to gobble up whatever new technology is out there, as the Uconnect™ LIVE system is right up there at the cutting edge, keeping you connected, entertained and in control. After a brief fiddle with it at the launch, it’s safe to say that the 6.5” touchscreen system is nicely positioned and proved easy to use. Depending on the trim you go for, Bluetooth, DAB radio, music streaming, 3D sat nav and a beefy BeatsAudio™ sound system developed with Beats by Dr. Dre can be at your disposal. Smartphone connectivity means you can even have tweets and Facebook posts read out to you on the move. How cool is that? On a more practical note, Tom Tom Live keeps you safe with traffic and weather updates, while Reuters feeds you with the latest news bulletins if you like. An electronic parking brake, automatic braking assist, blind spot alerts, lane departure warnings, a rear-view camera and rear parking sensors mean that the 500X is stuffed full of the latest in safety technology too, depending on which options you tick.
Engines and price tags
As of tomorrow, you’ll be able to choose from the 1.4 MultiAir II 140hp petrol engine and the 1.6 MultiJet II 120hp diesel if you want a manual gearbox and front-wheel drive, or the 2.0 MultiJet II 140hp diesel engine with a slick 9-speed automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive. In July the rest of the petrol engines will be available, followed by the full set of diesel engines in September. Prices will start at £14,495 for the 1.6-litre E-torQ 110hp in Pop trim and go up to £25,845 for the Cross Plus version of the 2.0-litre MultiJet II 140hp AT AWD. If you’re quick, you may still be able to get your hands on one of the specially-badged Opening Edition models, Fiat having thrown in a few goodies to celebrate the 500X’s launch.
The bit you’ve all been waiting for
No doubt you’re gagging to know what I thought of the 500X after taking a “first drive” on the road in a manual diesel and petrol, followed by the automatic diesel on a short off-road course. A big fan of sitting high up, I took to the 500X like a duck to water and was made to feel even more comfortable, relaxed and in control thanks to the softly padded armrests on the door and in the centre. Even with my seat cranked up, I had plenty of headroom, and thanks to its dimensions and design, all-round visibility and manoeuvrability were great. The controls all fell nicely to hand and felt sturdy, and the large digital speedometer helped me keep an eye on my speed.
The 1.6-litre diesel engine impressed me from the word go, with plenty of low-down punch and mid-range overtaking power. Soundproofing must be good as I couldn’t detect any real diesel clatter and the 6-speed manual gearbox was a delight to use, both in terms of not being at all clunky or notchy and in the way the gear ratios were nicely spaced, resulting in a very pleasant driving experience. The 1.4-litre petrol engine has a touch more horsepower than the diesel (140bhp vs 120bhp) but I found it needed to be worked harder to get the best out of it and ironically came across as a little less refined as a result. Both engines acquitted themselves very well, though, from my thirty minute stint in each car.
What I admired the most about the 500X’s drive was the way it cornered and handled, with very little body roll on roundabouts and sharp bends, for such a relatively tall car. Its impressive dynamic control combined with decent engines, a slick gearbox, supportive seats and a high-up ride mean the 500X ticks the fun box, for sure, and it’s also safe thanks to the generous safety kit on offer.
Off the beaten track
Towards the end of the day, we took a trio of four-wheel drive 500Xs in convoy around a short off-road circuit and although not exceeding third gear or about 20mph meant I didn’t get the opportunity to properly gain an initial impression of the 2-litre diesel automatic version in Cross Plus trim, it did demonstrate that the 500X can tackle rocks, grass, mud, steep hills and ditches in its stride; but thanks to the clever gubbins underneath, it only drives all four wheels when it really needs to, saving you fuel as a result.
His loss, our gain
Tossing his pill out of the window by accident left the Italian chap with his head in his heads, but thanks to him, Fiat has created a very likeable car indeed. Its stylish looks, useful practicality, generous comfort, punchy engine range, modest off-road ability, impressive safety, sharp handling and extensive customisability give it the ingredients to do very well – and I’m sure it will.