Fiat expands its 500 franchise in the shape of the dinky 500X SUV. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Fiat 500X joins the crossover fray, offering a neat and stylish extension of the 500 franchise. With a choice of front or all-wheel drive, some modern diesel and petrol engines and some aggressive pricing, this one's going to be extremely popular.
It's easy to forget that Fiat actually has a history of small 4x4 cars. The Panda 4x4 first appeared over thirty years ago and has spawned many imitators. Fiat also fleshed their all-wheel drive selection out with the Sedici, essentially a rebodied Suzuki SX4, that made modest but useful sales. The company has now decided to throw all its chips in with the 500X. Broadening the retro franchise still further, the 500X is based on the same running gear as Jeep's cute but capable Renegade and is available in both front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive guises.
The front-wheel drive models will doubtless prove more popular with British buyers who are about as likely to take the 500X off-roading as they are to send it round the Nurburgring. You'll need to pay attention to the badging. A 500X Cross Plus has all-wheel drive but a 500X Cross merely looks as if it does. This being Fiat, we get a range of excellent engines right from the get-go. The petrol engines comprise a 109bhp 1.6-litre E-torQ and the more sophisticated 138bhp 1.4-litre Turbo MultiAir2 unit. Go diesel and you're looking at the smooth 118bhp 1.6-litre MultiJet II for front-wheel drive applications and the 138bhp 2.0-litre MultiJet II if you want four-wheel drive, the latter being mated to a nine(!)-speed automatic transmission. The manual 'boxes get six speeds, unless you're looking at the entry-level 1.6-litre E-torQ transmission, which makes do with five ratios. Fiat has also developed 168bhp 1.4-litre and 184bhp 2.4 petrol powerplants for this car, both with the auto and all-wheel drive. The 1.6-litre diesel that will attract most footfall here in the UK is respectably brisk, getting to 62mph in 10.5 seconds, while delivering a 320Nm slug of torque. The all-wheel drive models aren't designed to handle quite the same terrain as the Jeep (which gets additional underbody strengthening), but there are tight approach and departure angles and reasonable 179mm of ground clearance. That compares to 162mm you get on front-wheel drive models. The 4x4 500X models are also equipped with specific bumpers and protective skid plates to protect the bodywork and mechanicals from the rigours of off-road use.
Design and Build
We're not sure why we find the 500X that much more palatable a concoction than the 500L supermini-MPV. Perhaps the more curvaceous roofline and windows is more instantly reminiscent of the original Cinquecento than the 500L's unimaginative straight lines. It's certainly something we can imagine proving very popular indeed, and which will give cars like the Renault Captur and Nissan Juke plenty to worry about. Designed in the Centro Stile FIAT, the 500X measures 4.25m in length, 1.80m in width and 1.60m in height. You get a spacious 350-litre luggage compartment which can be extended using the Fold&Tumble rear seats and the fold-flat front passenger seat. The cabin features wraparound bolstering and arm rests placed in the centre console and on the door trims to aid relaxed cruising. There's a choice of seven fabric, leather and colour configurations and the option of a full-length "Sky Dome" glass sunroof to flood the cabin in natural light.
Market and Model
Prices aren't anything to fret about, with Fiat pitching the 500X from around £14,500 for the entry-level 1.6-litre petrol engine. Trim levels open with the familiar Pop and then step up through Popstar, Cross, Lounge and top out with the Cross Plus all-wheel drive variants. The diesel range kicks off with a 1.6-litre Popstar for just over £19,000, while the Cross Plus 138bhp car looks respectable value at around the £20,500 mark. The Pop version gets 16" wheels with gloss silver hubcaps, body-coloured bumpers, chrome-effect brightwork, cruise control with speed limiter, manual air conditioning, remote central locking with electric front and rear windows, a height-adjustable driver's seat and a body-coloured dashboard panel. At the other extreme, the 500X Cross Plus features HID headlamps, an adjustable cargo floor, front floor mats, Cross Plus-specific 18-inch alloy wheels, ambient interior lighting, the 6.5-inch Uconnect infotainment system with 3D navigation plus a 3.5-inch TFT colour display.
Cost of Ownership
The market for boutique small Crossovers such as the 500X isn't anything like as price sensitive as those of other small cars and cost of ownership figures consequently come a bit further down the priorities scale. Nevertheless, the 500X utilises engines from other Fiat models where buyers are putting the budget under a bit more scrutiny. The unit most UK buyers will choose, the 1.6-litre diesel, returns some excellent efficiency figures; netting 68.9mpg on the combined cycle with emissions of 109g/km. Choose a petrol powerplant instead and you'll clearly have to spend a bit more at the pumps, the 1.4-litre MultiAir II Turbo recording 41.7mpg and 139g/km. In real life, that consumption will probably fall to the low thirties. Residual values should sweeten the deal a bit if the 500X can avoid the muted reception afforded to the 500L. We think it will.
There will always be resistance to any manufacturer that extends the scope of a retro reissue beyond that of the original car. People lambasted MINI for doing just this with cars like the Countryman and Paceman, but if the job is done well, the buying public eventually comes round. Fiat look to have learned some lessons from the launch of the 500L - a car that should have probably worn '600' badges - and applied them to the 500X. It looks the part and continues a long tradition of small all-wheel drive Fiats, so it's not just a bit of a wheeze dreamed up by some kid in the marketing department with the ink still wet on his MBA certificate. The styling is neat and assured, it fills a genuinely useful gap in the range, succeeding the Sedici, and the engineering that underpins it is all reassuringly right and exact. Fiat has priced it aggressively, equipped it generously and it's got enough room inside to fulfil that crossover remit. It's a compelling package.