Expanding the market with Fiat 500X

It was inevitable that comparisons would be made with the resurrected Mini brand, when Fiat produced their new Fiat 500 in 2007. Like the Mini and Volkswagen Beetle before it, the new Fiat 500 echoed the cheeky looks of the original. In Fiat’s case this was the tiny rear-engined Fiat 500 produced from 1957 to 1975.

Fiat 500X Cross

The original new Fiat 500 (which we drove most recently in 2011 and will be testing the latest version soon) was a great success and Fiat set about capitalising on the 500 brand, first with the Fiat 500L (tested on this blog in 2014). Now we have the crossover version – the Fiat 500X.

With Fiat having merged with Chrysler in 2014 the Fiat 500X shares its underpinnings with the Jeep Renegade (although, recognising that people may expect more extreme off-road ability in a vehicle badged “Jeep”, the Chrysler does have some extra strengthening in its platform).

They say the first look is important and, to my eyes, the Fiat 500X scores top marks. It looks like the Fiat 500’s big brother. Bigger all round, but with the unmistakable cheeky Fiat 500 family looks. As such, it extends the Fiat 500 chic into a whole new market to catch buyers trading up from the Fiat 500 and families for whom the small car is just that – too small.

But it’s not just a bigger 500X. Fiat have their eyes fixed on the growth sector in the motor market – the sector for crossovers and SUVs. It seems everyone wants to look like they spend their leisure time in the outback.

Fiat cater for a range of tastes here. The Fiat 500X Lounge looks like a larger Fiat 500. The 500X Popstar ladles on the chic, while the Fiat 500X Cross, that I tested, adds faux off-road skid plates and a bumper with a hint of “roo bar” to appeal to those who want tougher off-road image.

Fiat 500X

To keep you going in slippery conditions the 500X Cross utilises Traction Plus to maximise available traction, while the Fiat 500 Cross Plus comes with full all-wheel-drive.

It certainly is a lot bigger than the diminutive Fiat 500. There’s genuine space inside for a family of four, or even five. We had four adults in the Fiat 500X without complaint, just a slight compromise on my preferred amount of legroom in the front. Our super-tall “test passenger” said his head was just brushing the roof lining in the back, but he is substantially over six foot, so less lofty rear seat passengers should be just fine. The boot offers good practical and accessible space.

My road test car 500X Cross came with the 1.6-litre diesel power unit. The main reason for choosing diesel would be for economy and the headline figure on the 1.6 diesel is a combined fuel economy of 68.9 mpg. My real world figure was a still creditable 38 mpg and that was with quite a bit of city driving and driving fairly hard on country roads.

However, that the financial equation in favour of diesels only really stacks up if you are doing a lot of miles and, if you are doing 10,000 miles or less, you might well be happier with the 1.4-litre petrol-engined 500X and save up to £2,500 in the process. Worth a comparison at the dealer, I would suggest.

On my first trip in the Fiat 500X I was nursing a car-sickness prone passenger along a twisty road shortcut between two dual carriageways. I was trying my hardest to drive smoothly and gently but was finding the Fiat’s fussiness at these low speeds annoying. There’s a slight stutter when you try to trickle away from rest without the turbocharger spinning. Factor in an eager fuel cut-off and it proved difficult to achieve a smooth transition between acceleration and overrun at really low throttle openings.

It was notable, too, that some surfaces also caused a rather ‘jiggly’ ride at low speeds. The overall result was I was failing miserably in trying to create a ‘magic carpet’ ride to cosset my sensitive passenger.

I’m glad to say things improved dramatically when I was able to drive with a little more verve. Selecting ’sports’ mood sharpens up the engine responses and the steering. In this mode I headed to some of my favourite local B-roads.

My grin got broader and broader as I gave the Fiat 500X the chance to stretch its legs.

In this mode the Fiat 500X proved easy and precise to position with confidence and despite its slightly taller SUV-style stance it cornered flat with a confident grip on the tarmac, no doubt aided by the electronic roll mitigation. It was quite a transition from my feeling of frustration the previous day.

The Fiat 500 brand is all about style and the interior of the 500X has bags of character to put a smile on your face. But I didn’t find style overruling function, although the system for moving from screen to screen in the trip computer is unnecessarily fiddly.

Fiat 500X

The 500X comes with a touch screen infotainment system that includes bluetooth and music streaming for your smart phone. In addition the test car had the £650 Dynamic Safety Plus package which includes lane departure and blind spot warnings, rear view camera and collision mitigation system. A £200 Visibility pack adds rain sensors, dusk sensors, dipping mirror and folding door mirrors. While the sat nav also adds DAB radio and a bigger screen, for £1000.

The Fiat 500X seems certain to grow the appeal of the 500 sub-brand, by competing against other crossovers like the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur and Suzuki SX4 Cross. Its cheeky Fiat 500 looks should prove a strong asset for those with fond memories of the original, or those trading up from the new 500.

Fiat 500X 1.6 MultiJet 120bhp Cross
Carbon dioxide emissions: 109 g/km
Combined fuel economy 68.9 mpg
Top speed: 115 mph
0-62: 10.5 secs
Power 120 bhp
Engine size 1598cc diesel
Boot capacity 350/1000 litres (back seats up/folded)
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