Overall rating: 3.5/5
The Fiat 500 family expands once again with the addition of the Nissan Juke-rivalling 500X. Like the Jeep Renegade it offers genuine off road ability, but most will be best served by the cheaper two-wheel drive models.
In the metal 4/5
We may have been tempted to describe the new Fiat 500X as a '500 on steroids', but according to the marketers in Fiat the pumped up looks can be attributed to a little blue pill from Pfizer rather than a muscle growing substance - got to love the Latin viewpoint. Whatever the substance it is clear that the 500X is the most successful interpretation yet of an upsized version of the small hatch.
Not only are the split headlights and chrome 'moustache' grille present and correct out front but the forward sloping rear screen also makes an appearance, a look not present on either the 500L or the MPW. For the first time it looks like a 500 that has grown up rather than a crass attempt to cash in on an iconic nameplate.
There are two distinct 'flavours' in the X line-up; the first encompasses Pop, Pop Star and Lounge models with the added ride height and a touch of protective cladding, but aimed at those who rarely venture outside of the urban environment. Cross and Cross Plus models are for the 'lifestyle' segment with different bumpers, unique alloy wheels, roof bars and a slightly more rugged cabin.
The interiors of all the variants have been well thought out with cubbyholes galore and ample space to take four adults - or five at a squeeze. The front seats are new with added bolster support to keep the driver and passenger in place, but you still get the feeling that you are sitting 'on' rather than 'in' the seats leading to something of a disconnect in the driving experience. The dashboard, while borrowing styling elements from the rest of the 500 range, is unique to the X and features better plastics than before. While still not quite up to VAG standards these do stand up well to those fitted in rivals like the Citroen C4 Cactus, Nissan Juke and Opel Mokka. The new dashboard also means that the five-inch touchscreen for the Uconnect infotainment system actually has a home now rather than just being plonked wherever is handy and a new three-binnacle driver display is fitted, into which a 3.5-inch TFT display can be added on top models.
Driving it 3/5
The 500X is based on the same platform that underpinned 2005's Fiat Grande Punto (also the Opel Adam, Corsa and Fiat 500L), but has been thoroughly reworked for the 500X and its American cousin, the Jeep Renegade. One of the more obvious points of this reworking is in the steering. Having listened to criticism of the dull, lifeless steering in the 500L the engineers went back to the drawing board to inject some life into the X. The result is a light but direct feel to the steering wheel that was a real boon around the tight streets of Turin but not so much on the open road surrounding it.
Out in the hills and especially so on the motorway - the steering is too quick, meaning you find yourself having to wind off lock mid-corner and the car feels nervous. Models with four-wheel drive or the Traction Plus system are less affected by it, but it is definitely something for potential buyers to try out for themselves.
For those buyers Fiat has two petrol and two diesel engines with a choice of drivetrain and transmission options. Stars of the show are the 1.4-litre, 140hp MultiAir petrol unit and the 1.6-litre, 120hp MultiJet diesel. Available across the range these two units suit the character of the 500X best. The 1.6-litre diesel outshone the range topping 2.0-litre unit mated to a nine-speed ZF automatic gearbox. The added weight of the transmission and four-wheel drive system (the 2.0-litre is only available as 4wd) dulls the extra 20hp the larger capacity engine has meaning it is only marginally faster to 100km/h, but has worse fuel economy and emissions ratings.
Unless you truly need four-wheel drive, the 1.4 petrol and 1.6 diesel are the engines of choice.
What you get for your money 3/5
With the 500X still months away from hitting Irish showrooms prices and specs are yet to be set, but going by the UK details and the rivals that Fiat Ireland has identified it is clear that the 500X is aiming for the more 'premium' end of the market.
Equipment levels are set to be high for the sector once you move beyond the entry-level Pop model, with 17-inch alloys, cornering fog lights, climate control, parking sensors and a five-inch Uconnect infotainment system all featuring on the Pop Star's spec sheet. A whole slew of safety related acronyms is standard across the range too.
Besides the bare bones spec of the base car the other reason to avoid it is the fact that it only comes equipped with a 110hp 1.6-litre petrol engine mated with an antiquated five-speed gearbox. Much better to spend the money on either the 1.4-litre MultiAir petrol or 1.6-litre MultiJet diesel, which both benefit from the newly designed six-speed gearbox. Don't expect too much change out of €22,000 though...
Speaking exclusively to CompleteCar.ie, Olivier Francois, Head of Fiat Brand, revealed that it is to follow Citroen's lead by having two distinct brands under its umbrella. The core Fiat cars have been labelled 'functional' and consist of the Panda and forthcoming Punto replacement (perhaps also a Bravo one - we couldn't pin him down on that). Alongside will be the 'form' 500 family, which, like Citroen's DS brand, is a more premium offering. Unlike DS however; 500 will not split from its parent, so it will always carry the Fiat badge.
A replacement for the aging 500 hatchback is in development with some hints that there may even be a five-door model - possibly reviving the 600 name.
Avoid the range topping Cross and Cross Plus models (and the entry-level Pop) and the Fiat 500X makes an awful lot of sense. Much will depend on the price when it arrives here but if Fiat can get it right it could well have a star to rival the Nissan Juke in the compact crossover segment. It is not perfect but we think Fiat boss Olivier Francois can rightly stand over his claim for the 500X being the best Fiat there is.