What is it?
The latest Fiat 500X is a mid-life facelift of the brand’s small SUV.
New engines, more tech, more safety
The Fiat 500X addresses many of the issues that were leaving the model struggling in the wake of more recent rivals.
New engines are a significant improvement while the extra tech and safety assistance systems are welcome, though lacking autonomous braking as standard.
Purely on specification and quality, the latest 500X still cannot overcome major rivals. But it beats them hands down for style, being a good-looking SUV inside and out.
Fiat’s biggest-selling model, by far, is the 500 small car – when launched it was the first serious challenger to the fashion-favourite Mini. Fiat’s second biggest selling car is this beefed-up 500, the 500X.
When the 500X launched in 2015, it was one of the earlier entrants to the small SUV market, trying to take some of the Nissan Juke’s sales. Now three years on this is the biggest growing market in the UK – everyone wants a small SUV, just about every brand has launched one and 500X sales have plummeted as a result.
So now we have a facelifted version, and it’s quite a significant facelift, across new engines, more technology and more safety. Not that you would guess this from looking at the car, however, as it appears pretty much like the version it’s replacing.
Fiat considers the 500 styling iconic and the 500X is presented as a more muscular version. “We didn’t want to change the styling too much,” they said on the launch event, then putting up pictures of the old and new one to show that, yup, there’s very little to point out. The ‘urban’ version apparently has new front and rear bumpers, the ‘cross’ redesigned skid plates – we’ll take their word for it.
Some major choices of the old car have gone altogether – unlike the first 500X, there is no diesel option this time, and no all-wheel-drive model either. There was no point, really, because buyers just didn’t want them…
Buying and owning a Fiat 500X
The first 500X was offered in two distinctive visual identities. ‘Urban’ and ‘Cross’. This continues post facelift, which is perhaps a surprise as we are told that 90% of buyers prefer the more off-road styled Cross, with its chunkier styling, to the city-pitched Urban.
What has gone is the pizza menu of trim levels – now there are just three, dubbed Urban, CityCross and CrossPlus, reflecting the two visual styles and allied to the engines. Two of the three 500X powerplants are new, examples of Fiat’s latest ‘Firefly’ turbo petrol engine in three-cylinder 1.0-litre and four-cylinder 1.3-litre form.
You will need more money than you used to in order to buy a 500X. Prices start at £16,995, well over a grand more than the old entry-level model. That entry model is the only version you can buy with the more conservative Urban styling, or with the 1.6-litre 110hp engine.
Most buyers will go for the CityCross with the 1.0-litre Firefly unit, and will pay an extra £2,000 as a result. And the symmetrical exercise is completed by the CrossPlus at, you guessed it, £2,000 more than the CityCross.
The hike in prices is explained by a host of extra equipment as standard. For a start, all 500X models now have daytime running lights and LED rear lights, while the CrossPlus also gets LED headlamps. All also have alloy wheels, 16, 17 or 18-inch depending on model.
Also standard across the range is the Uconnect infotainment system, bigger and better than the previous 500X unit. Accessed through a seven-inch touchscreen it offers the usual Bluetooth, DAB, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity. Courtesy of an app it can also offer connected functions such as music streaming and navigation, while options include a parking camera.
Perhaps the most significant of the extras added across the range is the safety package. When tested back in 2015 the 500X gained only a four-star Euro NCAP rating, and so every car now includes a wide-ranging suite of assistance technology.
Highlights of the new package are traffic sign recognition, speed assistance to keep inside the limit indicated on the traffic sign, and a warning if you stray out of your lane – not long ago finding such tech on an entry-level car was unheard of.
Unfortunately, that standard specification does not include autonomous emergency braking, or City Brake Control as Fiat calls it. To get that, a blind spot alert and adaptive cruise control, you need to dip into the options list.
Of the simplified range of trims we, like most, would go for the CityCross – compared to the entry-level car you not only get a better engine but also automatic instead of manual air-con, fog lights, bigger wheels and parking sensors, as well as extra detailing.
Inside the Fiat 500X
More work has been done inside the 500X. The environment is still distinctive, thanks chiefly to the big slab of panelling in the same colour as the exterior body, and the cheeky flattened oval of the infotainment screen dominating the centre console.
What we now have is a new design to the instruments with easier-to-read graphics, a new steering wheel and the usual updated fabrics and finishes. The new touchscreen is larger than its predecessor and much easier to use, though not to the standard of some rivals especially those of the VW Group.
Overall, the environment exudes what one greatly expects from an Italian car and least expects from an SUV – style. And the other big plus of the 500X interior is that’s it is roomy – distinctly more spacious than many rivals. This is a car in which four adults could travel a significant distance in comfort.
Driving the Fiat 500X
Here’s the thing – while the 500X is pitched as the big, chunky SUV version of the 500 (remember the TV ad for the first model, where the Viagra pill fell into its fuel tank and it gained more muscular panels?) it’s not really.
Nope, the 500X chassis is actually basically that used in the Renegade made by sister brand Jeep – so it’s a proper SUV, albeit a front-wheel-drive one only.
On the launch event we didn’t bother with the entry-level 1.6-litre engine – because few buyers will – and instead drove cars with the new Firefly units. Bald figures suggest that they might not be quite as efficient, or eco-friendly, as some rivals but that does not necessarily tell the full story. These boast particulate filters and the quoted figures are to the latest Euro 6D Temp emission standards which they meet.
Fiat’s product man described the Firefly units as offering “diesel-like torque, available all the time”. And it is clear within just a couple of miles of driving that the three-cylinder 1.0-litre unit is a much better engine than the TwinAirs that used to power the 500X.
The Firefly unit is smoother and quieter, with none of the very obvious audio note of its predecessor. At 10.9 seconds to 62mph it’s not the fastest powerplant in this market, but it feels like it could be – acceleration is enthusiastic while never coarse. And for those who want some extra pace, the 150hp four-cylinder version slices nearly two seconds off the 62mph sprint.
All of this makes the 500X an enjoyable and easy car to drive, especially on more urban streets. Out in the country, on faster-flowing routes, it’s not quite so impressive, the chassis too softly sprung and liable to be unsettled by potholes and the like. And very light steering does not help, with very little feedback through the wheel.
Fiat has done what it needs to with the 500X – addressed areas in which the car has fallen behind its newer rivals. This is a significant facelift, particularly in the engine department where the Firefly units are a big improvement over their predecessors.
The result is still not the best in its market but it does score major points in one area so many of its rivals don’t – in style. The Fiat 500X looks good, feels good to be in and for anyone considering a small SUV should certainly be on a test drive list.
|Make & model||Fiat 500X||SEAT Arona||Hyundai Kona|
|Price (on-road)||£18,995 (range starts £16,995)||£20,165 (range starts £16,750)||£17,750 (range starts £16,450)|
|Engine||1.0-litre petrol||1.0-litre petrol||1.0-litre petrol|
|Power||120 hp||115 hp||120 hp|
|Torque||190 Nm||200 Nm||172 Nm|
|0-62mph||10.9 sec||9.8 sec||12.0 sec|
|Top speed||117 mph||113 mph||112 mph|
|Fuel economy (combined)||48.7 mpg||57.6 mpg||52.3 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||133 g/km||113 g/km||125 g/km|
|Euro NCAP rating||4 stars (2015)||5 stars (2017)||5 stars (2017)|
|TCE rating||7.6 / 10||8.0 / 10||7.0 / 10|