Fiat pumps up the 500 to create the 500X and may have created the best small crossover in the process.
Gavin Braithwaite-Smith | April 2015
The Fiat 500X is proof that you can make a silk purse out of a silk purse. It was always questionable how many hip and trendy 500 owners would actually want to upscale to the overtly mumsy and aesthetically-challenged 500L, but in the new crossover, Fiat has a good chance of keeping hold of these loyal customers.
And what a customer base it is. Even now – some seven years after the 500 was launched in the UK – sales continue to rise. Last year, Fiat sold 44,005 units, making it the most successful year ever. By the end of the year, Fiat expects to break the quarter of a million mark. If only 10% of these owners go on to buy a 500X, Fiat will be on to a good start.
If you’re one of the 30,000 or so Fiat 500 owners who are coming to the end of your PCP agreement in 2015, be prepared for some heavy targeting. Fiat reckons it can convince 10% of you to order a new 500X. Not that you’ll need much convincing. In the 500X, has a genuinely impressive, potentially sector-leading crossover. It really is that good.
Of course, the Fiat 500X shares more in common with the new Jeep Renegade than it does the 500 city car, but the designers deserve great credit for managing to migrate the 500’s cutesy looks into something altogether larger. As Fiat proved with the 500L and 500MPW, this isn’t an easy task. Not only does the 500X look good, it also hides its dimensions rather well.
For a car that measures 4250mm in length and 1600mm in width, the 500X actually looks much smaller. It’s not until you see it alongside a more familiar car from the B or C segments that you realise just how big the 500X is. This translates into a sizeable cabin, but more on that later.
By the time the Fiat 500X is up to its full quota of variants later this year, buyers will be faced with a bewildering array of six engines, three transmissions and three different ways of applying power to the road. Tellingly, such is the nature of this fast-growing segment, Fiat outlined the various options, before moving on to the “most important” aspect of the 500X – the infotainment system. Whether it is the most important consideration is up for debate, but you suspect it sits high up on the list of priorities for the typical crossover buyer.
What’s the Fiat 500X like to drive?
Conditions were perfect for the launch of the Fiat 500X. The combination of the majestic Longleat House, the roads surrounding the estate and some unseasonably warm weather meant the crossover could have no excuses if it didn’t deliver. Fortunately it did, but there are a couple of reservations.
Existing Fiat 500 owners will feel right at home in the 500X as it feels every inch the grown-up city car. For absolute driving pleasure – and the closest in spirit to the 500 – you should opt for the 1.4-litre MultiAir petrol engine and switch the Drive Mood Selector to Sport.
The steering weights up nicely and the car feels more playful and alive. It’ll spin its wheels for fun in first and second gear and you’ll have to tussle with the meaty steering wheel to keep within the white lines. Some buyers won’t like this, in which case they can opt for the diesel-engined and/or four-wheel-drive versions, which feel decidedly more mature.
But hopefully the 500 owners will embrace this sense of fun. It’s more in keeping with the 500 brand and feels less like admitting you’re approaching the land of pipe and slippers. Fiat calls the typical buyers ‘spirited adventurers’, although Jeep told us the same about the Renegade. We suspect Renault, Citroen, Nissan and MINI are also chasing the same buyers, although with the segment attracting 50,000 new customers a year, there is plenty of pie to go around.
In all cases, the 500X corners flat and there’s barely a hint of body roll. Sure, the steering could offer more feedback, but will buyers in this segment really care? It also rides well, even on optional 17-inch alloy wheels, with only the most pitted of Wiltshire and Somerset roads managing to unsettle the car. Curiously, it’s the low-speed ride comfort that comes in for the most criticism, potentially making town driving a bit of a pain.
On the plus side, the six-speed manual gearbox is smooth and satisfying, with the oversized round gear knob a delight to hold. The optional nine-speed transmission is – for the majority of the time – smooth, but it can feel laboured and you’ll find it hunting for the right gear. It’s especially noticeable when traveling downhill or when exiting a corner.
But it’s hard to find any serious cause to complain about how the 500X drives. You sit ‘in’ the car, as opposed to ‘on’ it and there’s plenty of scope for adjustment in the steering wheel and seat. It’s just shame the seats don’t offer more in the way of support.
So is the Fiat 500X the best in the segment?
Sticking our necks out here, we’re tempted to say yes, the Fiat 500X is the best in its class. To us it feels like the Fiat 500 has finished school, been through college and has turned into a fun-loving and well-rounded 20-something. It offers the charm of the C4 Cactus and Captur, the bold styling of the Juke and the premium-feel of the Countryman.
Take the interior, which looks and feels like a bigger and more grown-up version of what you’ll find in the 500 city car. From the chunky steering wheel to the well-positioned 6.5-inch infotainment screen, the 500X provides plenty of subtle, but not overly done, hints of the 500.
It’s also spacious, with enough headroom and legroom in the back for adult passengers. The generous amount of room in the back does come at the expense of boot space, which at 350 litres is hardly class-leading. The high boot lip also means that you need to look elsewhere if load-lugging is high on your list of priorities.
Further criticisms include the cheap-feeling leather on the door cards, some scratchy plastics below eye-level, hard-as-nails head restraints and poor rearward visibility. But the 500X does enough things very well for it to be excused these minor indiscretions.
Crucially, Fiat reckons the 500X will hold its value better than all the other cars in the segment – even the MINI Countryman. Given the strength and appeal of the 500 brand, it’s not hard to imagine this being correct. Time will tell.
Verdict: Fiat 500X (2015)
We really like the Fiat 500X. It manages to succeed where the Jeep Renegade fails by offering a feel-good-factor and not relying on quirky ‘Easter Egg’ details to ram its message home. Fiat has created a car that enhances the 500 brand, rather than exploits it.
You may have a tough job choosing the right car for you – the range of options is longer than a list of pizza toppings at your local trattoria. Woodya like-a this petrol engine? Or that petrol engine? Diesel? Diesel with four-wheel drive? Manual? Automatic? Twin-clutch transmission? How about the trim – Pop, Pop Star, Lounge, Cross or Cross Plus?
And that’s before you consider the 12 different body colours and eight alloy wheels. Or even the range of personalisation options. Good luck to the dealers who will be tasked with simplifying this for the customers.
There won’t be a shortage of customers. The Fiat 500X is a great car that’s entering a market that’s continuing to grow. It deserves to succeed.
1. Citroen C4 Cactus
2. Renault Captur
3. Nissan Juke
4. MINI Countryman
5. Vauxhall Mokka
Right now, we’d put the 500X at the top of the tree. The Cactus trumps it when it comes to quirkiness, but neither that or the Juke can offer the same amount of space in the back. Subjectively, the 500X also looks better than the Captur and is likely to offer better residual values. It also shows MINI that you can put a small car through the photocopier, increase its size and come out with something visually appealing at the other side.
Specification: Fiat 500X
Engines (at launch) 1.4-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol and 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Gearbox Six-speed manual and nine-speed automatic transmission
Prices at launch £17,595 – £25,845
Torque 169-258lb ft
0-62mph 9.8-10.5 seconds
Top speed 116-118mph