Fiat expands its 500 franchise in the shape of the dinky 500X SUV. Jonathan Crouch reports on the 2.0 Multijet II 140bhp diesel version..
Ten Second Review
Fiat comes winging back into form with the perky 500X crossover. Bigger than it looks, you get a choice of front or all-wheel drive, manual, twin clutch or nine-speed automatic gearboxes and a whole stack of personalisation options. The ultimate version is the one we're looking at here, the 2.0 Multijet II 140bhp diesel Cross Plus 4WD variant. It's the one that really shows what this car can do.
It's easy to see just what Fiat is trying to do with this 500X. It's trying to do a MINI. Just as BMW introduced a 'new' MINI that borrowed from retro roots, then expanded its line-up to include a Countryman crossover version, so Fiat hopes this 500X will expand its little 500 model's reach into this lucrative Nissan Juke/Renault Captur-dominated segment. Crossover vehicles have been really big sellers in the UK of late and if Fiat can get the recipe right with this 500X, it could be hugely profitable. Let's try it in desirable 2.0 Multijet II 140bhp diesel guise and see if it stands a chance.
The 500X handles very well for such a high-riding car, resisting understeer really well. The steering doesn't offer too much in the way of feedback, but it's very accurate and well-weighted. The brakes are well up to the task too. In other words, show it the right road and you can have fun in this little crossover. As much fun as you'd have in a rival Nissan Juke? You might well think so. Standard models get a 'Drive Mood' selector including an 'All Weather' mode which adjusts the ESC stability control for greater traction. Those wanting more off piste ability can opt for 'Cross' or 'Cross Plus' variants (we tried the latter one), which replaces this mode with a 'Traction' function that speeds up the transmission of torque to the rear axle on four-wheel drive versions or activates the Traction Plus electronic front differential system on front wheel drive cars. The 500X's four-wheel drive system uses an ingenious rear axle disconnection system that seamlessly switches between two- and four-wheel drive for full-time torque management without requiring input from the driver. we can imagine it'd be an absolute hoot in the snow. Under the bonnet of the variant we tried lay Fiat's well-regarded 140bhp 2.0 Multijet II diesel, capable of 62mph from rest in 9.8s on the way to 118mph.
Design and Build
There aren't too many small crossovers whose styling gets an almost universal vote of confidence, but we really haven't chanced upon anyone who doesn't like the 500X. Designed in-house by Centro Stile, the 500X not only has clear links to its siblings in the current 500 family but also the iconic 1957 original, most notably its large, circular headlamps the brightwork on the nose and its distinctive clamshell bonnet. 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. Style-wise, there's a lot to take in. For the driver, there's a big instrument binnacle divided into three, circular, individually cowled displays, with the large, central display featuring a reconfigurable 3.5-inch TFT display, flanked by speedometer and rev-counter in the other displays. A revised steering wheel offers improved grip and comfort as well as loads of buttons. It takes a bit of getting used to but there are audio and vehicle system controls on it and while the dashboard panel retains the retro look of the 500, model-specific switchgear and either 5.0-inch or 6.5 touchscreen Uconnect infotainment systems give the 500X its own look and feel.
Market and Model
On the face of things, 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. However, that figure can quickly rise and the 2.0 Multijet II 140bhp diesel Cross Plus variant we tried listed at nearly £26,000, with extras pushing the cost of our test car to well over £28,000. That's a lot of money for a small Fiat, even a very nice one. Still, it does come very well equipped. All 500X Cross Plus models feature 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. Most laudably, Fiat haven't skimped on the airbag tally. In a class where rivals routinely force you to pay extra for side or curtain airbags, this car comes with six airbags even in its cheapest guise. Anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution are there to help you avoid the need to use them. All cars get Electronic Stability Control and Dynamic Steering Torque systems, which improve both driving safety and handling performance by actively correcting over and understeer.
Cost of Ownership
When it comes to keeping running costs down in 500X ownership, the 120PS diesel in front-wheel drive guise looks to be a strong choice. Here you'll see 68.9mpg on the combined cycle with emissions of just 109g/km. The car we tried, a Cross Plus 2.0 Multijet II 140bhp variant with all-wheel drive and the nine-speed auto box, manages to squeak 51.4 miles from a gallon of diesel with emissions of 144g/km. None of these numbers are really class leading but we doubt that many potential owners will care. Residual values ought to stack up well too. We'd much rather put my money into one of these than something like a Renault Captur, a Citroen C4 Cactus, a Nissan Juke or even its sister vehicle, the Jeep Renegade. Go for diesels and Cross Plus all-wheel drive 500X models if you want a car that'll cling onto its value. Oh, and don't go too nuts with the options. Anything else you ought to know? There's a three-year unlimited mileage warranty, which is better than the class norm, so if you're holding out hopes for a used one of these, now you know when a whole bunch will land on the secondhand market.
If you'd read this far, it probably won't have escaped your notice that we quite like the Fiat 500X. And do you know what? We really didn't expect to. We thought it might be one of those cynical, slightly lazy marketing-led vehicles that just leech off a company's history, as is the case of many retro-themed vehicles. The 500X emerges as anything but. Even if you had no clue what the original 500 was, you'd enjoy this vehicle. It looks good and drives well in this 2.0 Multijet II 140bhp diesel Cross Plus guise. Plus the equipment count is very good, running costs aren't going to break the bank and the thing we like best? It's not boring. Nissan's hugely successful Juke mined that particular seam, realising that there was a big group of car buyers who just wanted something different, something with a bit of zest and attitude. The 500X picks up that ball and runs with it, offering something that people can't help but comment on. After the swing and miss that was the 500L, this is a welcome return to form.