What is it? The Fiat 500X is an all-new compact crossover variant of the popular 500 line.
Key features: On and off-road versions, nine-speed auto gearbox, drive selector.
Our view: A very capable addition to the 500 family
The Fiat 500 was the first car to seriously challenge the Mini for ‘lifestyle’ appeal, and in the years since first launching the car Fiat has proven it can diversify its 500 range every bit as much as BMW has done with its baby – we’ve had cabriolet 500s, less-than-convincing MPV 500s, and now we have possibly the most important 500 since the first of the current line.
The Fiat 500X is a compact crossover that brings the Italian company into a sector dominated by the Nissan Juke and gives Fiat a contender in a category that has mushroomed in importance in the last decade – from just 5% to 20% of the European market.
However the 500X is not, like its siblings, a reworked version of the 500 supermini. While it shares most of the family identifiers, notably the ‘moustache and eyes’ front-end look and clamshell bonnet, this is a new car designed from the outset for its market.
In fact it is rather more closely related to its American cousin, the Jeep Renegade, also due in the UK in 2015. The two share much of their mechanical components including the platform.
The Fiat 500X will appeal to different buyers than the Renegade, however. The international launch of the car, at the Fiat Group’s proving ground near the Italian city of Turin, provided a direct comparison between the 500X and various versions of the Renegade under test at the time, and the Fiat clearly boasts a far more slippery, stylish look.
This holds true whichever of the two versions one chooses. The car is being marketed in two distinct directions – the ‘urban’ 500X with front-wheel drive and Pop, Popstar and Lounge trims, and a more off-road style version dubbed 500X Cross in front-wheel drive and 500X Cross Plus with on-demand all-wheel drive.
Visually the main difference between the two types are the chunky bumpers and skid plates on the 4WD variants, along with an increase in ride height from 162mm to 179mm. This improves the approach, breakover and departure angles to add to the off-road credentials.
The 500 has long been praised for its cabin ambience and the 500X maintains the theme. The retro feel remains in a nonetheless highly practical dash, which is much less fussy than the MINI’s. The driving position is good too, slightly higher than the norm as you expect in an SUV-type vehicle, but not overly so.
This is also a compact crossover with space, in front, back and boot – Fiat quotes 350 litres of luggage space, which with the rear seats folded extends up to between 950 and 1,000 litres, depending on what type of spare wheel you choose.
Three of the eventual six engine options will be available in the ‘Opening Edition’ launch models. These are the 140hp 1.4-litre turbo MultiAir II petrol unit and diesels in 120hp 1.6 and 140hp 2.0-litre MultiJet II varieties.
The first two will be supplied in FWD form with six-speed manual gearboxes, the second as an AWD model with a market-first nine-speed auto, more of which shortly.
Later the engine line-up will expand to include a 110hp 1.6-litre petrol unit with a five-speed manual gearbox and FWD, and an AWD version with the nine-speed auto box and 170hp. An entry-level FWD 1.3-litre diesel model of 95hp will be added too.
On the launch, The Car Expert got to try the 1.6- and 2.0-litre diesel engines. The former is expected to be the best seller among UK buyers and it certainly impresses, with its eager progress to 62mph in 10.5 seconds and refined cruising thereafter. It’s torquey yet smooth and the six-speed manual gearbox slick and confident in its action.
The 2.0-litre is a world apart, mainly due to its automatic gearbox, allied to the all-wheel-drive. Nine speeds are a first in this segment, and they suit the car very well indeed, the changes so frequent that the engine rev note never becomes noticeable, let alone intrusive.
The system also includes a manual function, through steering-wheel-mounted paddles, and this can be a bit of a culture shock, learning to make nine shifts in the same range where previously six have been the norm, and in all honesty, it is best to leave the box in auto and let it sort itself.
The on-the-road performance of the Fiat 500X is particularly noticeable, but only for its lack of drama. Fiat is keen to point out the 70 per cent of high-strength steels employed in the body structure, and the resultant stiffness helps to promote an accomplished ride and precise cornering.
All bar entry-level Pop models of the 500X include an interestingly-named ‘Drive mode’ selector, which on FWD cars can alternate between ‘Auto’, ‘Sport’ and ‘All-weather’ settings and alters engine performance, power steering settings and ESC calibration accordingly, along with the shift patterns of auto gearbox versions.
The Cross and Cross Plus get a modified unit with All-weather making way for ‘Traction’. On FWD versions this activates Fiat’s clever Traction Plus electronic front differential, while on the AWD variants it speeds up the transmission of torque to the rear axle when needed.
All of which gives the two Cross versions a more-than-adequate degree of ability when the tarmac runs out, as Fiat proved with a suitable course on the launch event. While this was more green lane than proper off-road, it proved that this crossover will go a lot further than the vast majority of owners will ever want to take it.
The other technology included on all bar the entry cars is topped by the Uconnect infotainment system. Operated through a five-inch touchscreen this includes Bluetooth phone and music streaming aux-in and USB ports and the ability to read incoming text messages on compatible mobile phones.
On top models, the screen grows to six inches and satellite navigation is standard (it’s an optional upgrade on the smaller version, as is DAB digital radio).
Dealers start taking orders for the Opening Edition models – which will include several normally optional items as standard – in December, with the first cars on UK roads in April.
Fiat won’t state how many 500X models it expects to sell, arguing that this is an all-new market for the brand. But it is clear that there are very high hopes for the car. As there should be – this is a very capable addition to the 500 family and should be checked out by any buyer who before now might not have looked far beyond a Juke.
Fiat 500X – key specifications
Model tested: Fiat 500X 1.6 Multijet manual diesel, 2.0 Mulitjet 140HP 9-spd auto
On Sale: Order December 2014, deliveries April 2015
Price (full range): £14,595-£25,845
Insurance group: TBC
Engines (at launch): 1.4 petrol. 1.6, 2.0 diesel
Power (bhp): 140. 120, 140
Torque (lb/ft): 170. 236, 258
0-62mph (sec): 9.8. 10.5, 9.8
Top speed (mph): 114. 112, 114
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 47, 69, 51
CO2 emissions (g/km): 139. 109, 144
Key rivals: Nissan Juke, Renault Captur, Mini Countryman
Test Date: November 2015