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Driven: Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.

Driven: Fiat 500X
Does the high-riding Fiat 500 have the X Factor (sorry...)?

   



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Fiat 500X

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: chunky looks with a 500 theme, stylish and spacious interior, excellent diesel engine, surprisingly superb chassis

Not so good: not massively cheap, other crossovers have more boot space

Key Facts

Model tested: Fiat 500X 1.6 MultiJet Cross
Price: Fiat 500X range starts from 14,595; MultiJet Cross from 20,095, car as tested 22,645
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door crossover
CO2 emissions: 109/km (Band B, 0 VED first 12 months, 20 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 68.9mpg
Top speed: 115mph
0-62mph: 10.5 seconds
Power: 120hp at 3,750rpm
Torque: 320Nm at 1,750rpm

Our view:

The last Fiat 500 we drove was the Beats Edition, based on the L. And we really didn't like it. At all. Borderline offensive styling, drab dynamics, an interior lacking any flair and a host of ergonomic blunders all contrived to make it the least enjoyable Fiat we've experienced in a long while. Pity, because otherwise Fiat has been making some fine small cars in recent years.

So, on the face of it, a pseudo-off-roader like the 500X, released this year, probably shouldn't appease us. Or, indeed, the sort of brand aficionados who howl in rage at the fact this bears the same legendary nameplate as the Bambino of 1957; the same people who lament the fact that the MINI is now anything but mini.

To be honest, we've voiced such gripes ourselves and the 500L is the sort of car that only cements such a viewpoint. It should be stripped of its 500 nomenclature because it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the car it is supposedly harking back to and, most crucially of all, it lacks any character. But the 500X is different. The 500X is actually quite superb. One of the nicest compact crossovers from any marque and a brilliant way of expanding the 500 family, the 500X proves to be a wonderful surprise for a number of reasons.

The styling, for one, works really well. We'd prefer one in that lovely red colour Fiat offers (it's the hue used in the TV advert, where the elderly and randy Italian man drops a Viagra pill in its fuel tank by accident; much to his chagrin), but even in silver it looks spot on. We like the off-road styling of the higher models (there are more urban-looking City 500X variants too), comprising the faux plastic skid plates front and rear, that arched bit of plastic on which the front number plate sits, the black cladding all the way around the bottom of it and the fact that when viewed from either dead-on front or rear, or square in profile, it is so obviously a Fiat 500 - even if it is a big one.

The interior is even better, because not only does it look more like the cabin of a 500 (more so than the L), it's also well put together and spacious enough to accommodate four average height adults within. The boot's not quite so impressive, as the sloping rear that gives the body its classic 500 profile eats into cargo capacity; with just 245 litres rear seats up, it's more than 100 litres down on the 2015MY Nissan Juke's boot and the MINI Countryman's, as well.

However, the metallic effect 'All-Road' dashboard trim with a 500 logo; the round dials in the instrument cluster with a clear and hugely detailed (in terms of the information it can display) 3.5-inch TFT screen in the middle; the bespoke half-leather seats with round head restraints; the round theme continued on the door handles and for the three buttons on the centre console and for the climate controls - all of it goes to make a cabin that feels special in this marketplace, yet without it coming across as 'try-hard' as the sort of glitzy fascia you'd get in a MINI.

Brilliantly, there's some ergonomic care put into the 500X's interior. Fiat puts the Lane Departure Warning on/off button on the very end of the left-hand column stalk, meaning it is always at your fingertips and therefore does not require a glance down at a shadowy part of the fascia that's somewhere near your knees, which is where other manufacturers like to place these switches. It's this sort of intelligent thinking that is so notably and painfully absent in the 500L's cabin; a fact further reinforced by the 500X's high driving position that never feels like you're perched 'on' the car, and its lovely, stylised gear knob that fits so neatly in the palm of your hand, instantly banishing all memories of the malformed monstrosity that sat atop the L's lever. If we're being critical, on first acquaintance the slightly flattened-off steering wheel of the 500X feels a touch on the large side, but you soon become accustomed to it.

The trim lines run Pop, Pop Star, Lounge, Cross and Cross Plus, placing our test car near the top of the 500X hierarchy. That means dual-zone climate control, a Drive Mood Selector, the Uconnect multimedia system with Bluetooth, cruise control, front cornering fog lights and a chilled storage compartment behind that 500-branded bit of the dash as the equipment highlights. However, for that Cross spec with this MultiJet engine, you're looking at 20,095 basic - which is already pretty strong money, especially compared to the Juke (which is similarly based on B-segment underpinnings).

On this car, Fiat added a number of tech bundles that improve the ambience but bump up the ticket: so 250 on the Comfort Pack (keyless entry and go, driver's seat lumbar adjustment and a front armrest); another 100 on the Comfort Plus Pack (third rear head restraint, height-adjustable passenger seat, front and rear floor mats); the 200 Visibility Pack (rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, folding exterior mirrors and an electrochromatic rear-view interior mirror); Dynamic Safety Plus for 650 (Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Detection, Forward Collision Warning and a rear-view camera); and 1,000 on the Nav Pack (it boosts the Uconnect screen from five to 6.5 inches, adds DAB radio, satnav - obviously - and an SD card slot). That's not even every pack you can specify, yet thus equipped this 500X cost, at 22,645, just fifty quid less than the near fully-loaded, 218hp Juke Nismo RS we drove a few weeks back. Crikey!

Nevertheless, if you're worried that this might mean that opting for a 500X over a Juke is a victory for style over substance, think again. Dynamically, the Fiat is a delight. You can get the 500X with a larger 2.0-litre MultiJet diesel or a powerful 170hp 1.4 MultiAir petrol engine, either of which can be teamed to all-wheel drive - and AWD might make more sense of the X's styling, raised ground clearance (162mm on 2WD models, 179mm on the all-wheel drivers) and steep price. However, we're not sure you need extra grunt, as this new 1.6-litre 120hp diesel is a cracker; it's smooth, free-revving and reasonably quiet. It also doesn't struggle to propel 1,320kg of Fiat 500 (yes, 1,320kg) around the place in a peppy fashion, nor does it become busy or intrusive when motorway cruising. That six-speed gearbox is a belter, too, which is not always the case with Fiat's manual transmissions.

Being honest, 68.9mpg combined economy looks an utter pipe dream, given we got 50.5mpg on a very steady, 300-mile return journey to Heathrow using almost entirely multi-carriageway roads and cruise control, and 49.7mpg over the 550-mile week, but for this level of admirable performance, around 50mpg in the real world is acceptable. As is the Band B VED rating, making for just 20 a year in road tax after the free first 12 months.

It's not the straight-line pace that really appeals, but the chassis. It teams comfort - a supple ride on the Cross's 17-inch standard wheels, well-controlled body roll and low noise levels - to sharp handling for a vehicle like this. In fact, we'd go so far as to say the X drives better than a regular 500. The steering is excellent, with lots of weight and just enough feedback to engender faith in its driver. Turn the Drive Mood Selector to Sport and the 500X noticeably sharpens up its act. We're not about to suggest that the Fiat is an undiscovered track-day gem, but in a market segment filled with cars that steer in an efficient yet staid manner, the Fiat feels positively sparkling.

Overall, the 500X stunned us. We hoped it would be better than the dreadful 500L (nothing could have been much worse, granted), but we never expected it to actually prove more likeable than the 'regular' modern-day 500 on which it is based. Furthermore, in a hugely competitive marketplace chock full of great cars - the Juke, the Mazda CX-3, the Renault Captur, the Citroen C4 Cactus and more - it's an astonishing performance by Fiat to enter the game with the 500X sitting right near the top of the class. If it were a bit cheaper (albeit, we'll concede, a lot of its rivals get close on price spec-for-spec) and had a more useable boot, we'd have thought long and hard about possibly giving it full marks. As it is, we'd still heartily recommend it as a brilliant crossover worthy of the most serious consideration. Style and substance - what a winner.

Alternatives:

Mazda CX-3: stunning looks outside and a great interior, based on that of the Mazda2 city car, make the CX-3 extremely tempting. But it is not as spacious in the back as the Fiat and comes with a 105hp engine for a similar price.

MINI Countryman: the obvious rival for the 500X when it comes to the fashionistas' preference. Will be replaced in 2017 with a new model based on the MkIII MINI hatch architecture and you're better off waiting for that. If it improves like the Clubman has, the Countryman could seriously bloody the 500X's nose.

Vauxhall Mokka: less inspiring interior, and exterior looks that are appealing but not in the 500X's class mean the Vauxhall can't eclipse the Fiat. The Mokka has a superb diesel engine and a big boot, but a boring chassis.


Matt Robinson - 23 Oct 2015



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2015 Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.2015 Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.2015 Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.2015 Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.2015 Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.

2015 Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.2015 Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.2015 Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.2015 Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.2015 Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.



2015 Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.
 

2015 Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.
 

2015 Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.
 

2015 Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.
 

2015 Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.
 

2015 Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.
 

2015 Fiat 500X. Image by Fiat.
 






 

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