Overall rating: 4/5
When we drove the 500X in Italy last year we lauded its styling and positioning - it's a proper grown-up 500 - but we criticised its steering. Now with the car about to go on sale in Ireland we have to rein in the criticism. The 500X drives beautifully, looks the part and is relatively well priced. Some buyers may be put off by the bewildering number of variants on offer and the fact that the 1.3-litre diesel doesn't arrive until October, but Fiat's rival to the Nissan Juke is a genuinely impressive car.
In the Metal:
Fiat hit onto something of a gold mine in 2008 when it launched the 'Nuovo' 500. The retro-modern styling was perfectly of-the-time and the Italian brand has been waiting to strike more gold ever since. In fact, so successful has the 500's styling been that Fiat is at something of a loss as to what to do with it. The car is seven years old at this stage, almost ready for a second generation, but it still sells well and the fear is that if the design varies too much from today's model those sales will fall off a cliff. It accounts for over 10 per cent of the segment after all.
Which brings us to the 500X. After the 500L trio - 500L, 500L MPW and 500L Trekking - the X is the latest attempt by the Italians to supersize the 500's design and, to these eyes, is the most successful. It looks like a grown up 500 rather than a car that has 500 hallmarks such as the split headlights and moustache grille grafted on. It takes the cuteness of the popular city car and presents it to a new demographic, one that, according to Fiat's data, is older than 500 buyers, but younger than the empty nesters who seem to be buying the 500L; predominantly male; and more than likely to be a conquest sale for Fiat with some 80 per cent of 500X buyers in other markets coming from other brands.
When driving the 500X at the international launch last year we noted that the steering, which had been revised after criticism of the 500L's handling, was too quick on the open road, meaning you constantly found yourself winding lock off while cornering. This problem seems to have been eradicated. It is not uncommon for manufacturers to 'tune' a set up for the particular roads we enjoy in right-hand drive markets (i.e. a bit crap), but rarely are the changes this evident. The 500X has gone from being a car that you constantly had to work to one that is a comfortable cruiser.
The Irish launch took place in this writer's neck of the woods so the preordained route was comprehensively ignored in favour of some of my favourite roads and the 500X soared over them, soaking up potholes with aplomb and gripping well through the corners. The low-speed ride can be a touch jittery (which we suspect may annoy around town), but once you get over 30km/h it settles down again. The 1.6-litre MultiJet diesel engine in our test car is likely to be the volume seller, offering up 120hp with emissions of just 109g/km. That power output may not sound like an awful lot for a car that is larger than a MINI Countryman, but the 500X, like its Jeep Renegade cousin, is light, meaning it does not need the full-fat 2.0-litre unit that is available. A 0-100km/h time of 10.5 seconds is respectable for the 1.6, but with 320Nm of torque on tap from 1,750rpm it is the mid-range grunt that impresses. That and the refinement.
The 1.6-litre MultiJet II diesel has always been a fairly refined engine, but it seems Fiat upped the ante with the 500X. Even when pushed the engine barely rises beyond a distant rumble. Combined with the bump-absorbing suspension it all makes for the 500X being an ideal car for whiling away a long drive.
What you get for your Money:
The headline grabbing starting price of €19,750 is just that - a headline grabber - as no one is going to buy a 1.6-litre petrol E-Torq in Pop specification that comes with steel wheels. Instead, buyers are going to want the 1.3-litre MultiJet engine when it arrives in October, or the 1.6-litre variant driven here, though, as always, we would point buyers towards the petrol-fuelled MultiAir engine, which starts from €23,350, if they cover much less than 20,000km a year.
In total there are (or will be, come October when all variants are available) six engine options to choose from, five trim levels - three offering an urban look with the other two being more rugged - three transmissions and three traction systems. It can all be very bewildering what with nine separate variants dropping into the important €19,000 to €25,500 bracket, but the 500X seems to offer something for everybody whether you want a run-around that will spend the majority of its time in an urban location (1.4 MultiAir, dual-clutch auto, Pop Star trim, front-wheel drive - €25,100), a family wagon that spends as much time on the motorway as it does around town (1.6 MultiJet, six-speed manual, Lounge trim, front-wheel drive - €26,750) or something for the go-getting adventurer that all car magazines like to portray (2.0 MultiJet, nine-speed auto, Cross Plus, four-wheel drive - €33,200).