Good: funky looks, nice cabin, good engine, decent quality
Not so good: not spacious enough for a growing family, refinement could be better
I'm going to contradict myself in one sentence here and say that the Fiat 500X is probably the best car in its class right now, but it's still not quite good enough. Odd, isn't it? Proof at least that I can, as philosophers always say you should be able to, hold two contradictory thoughts in my head at once.
The problem isn't that the Fiat 500X isn't any good - it actually is quite good - the problem is actually two-fold. One, the standards of the class aren't actually all that high and two, the slope of the boot-lid is a particular problem...
I'll come back to that in a moment, but first off, let's agree that the 500X is a cracking looking thing. Rather like one of those high-tech running shoes that all the kids are wearing (unless everyone's gone back to good old fashioned Chuck Taylor All Stars these days...) with a chunky outline and nice detailing. It certainly represents a far better job of transmuting the tiny 500 city car's styling onto a bigger shape than its cousin, the 500L MPW managed. Again though, we'll have to come back to that...
Inside, the seats are comfy and supportive and, thanks to Italian car designers finally having discovered such a thing as a clutch foot rest, the driving position is decent. The quality is also very good. No, I don't just mean by Fiat's historical standards - the 500X looks and feels properly screwed together and that sense of quality is backed up with well-chosen materials, a handsome set of digital-analogue instruments, the generally excellent uConnect touch-screen infotainment system and a general feeling that the whole thing isn't going to rattle itself to pieces by next Tuesday. Certainly, it looks and feels of higher quality than the rival Renault Captur and is close to the sort of groovy, quality feel of the MINI Countryman. Well done, Fiat.
Well done too on the engine. Most of the competition gives you a diesel with around 110hp, but Fiat gives you an extra 10hp to play with, plus a very useful 320Nm of torque. Thus equipped, the 500X feels unusually sporty and verging on aggressive at low-to-medium rpm. It's not an especially light car (1,320kg seems like a lot for something this size), but it feels peppy, more so if you put the Mood Selector switch (an electronic system, basically the same as Alfa's DNA button, that allows you to alter the way the car responds) into Sport. It's best left in Sport actually, as Auto or All Weather just come off as a bit sluggish, and there's no apparent penalty in fuel consumption. Speaking of which, 45mpg seems a bit steep, even with the monster motorway miles we put up on the car. Maybe that extra 10hp comes with a penalty?
Dynamically, it's a little odd. Even in Sport mode, when you're tooling around at middling speeds, it all feels a bit 'meh.' Not bad, not bad at all, but just not very exciting or engaging. And then just when you're about to accept that no small crossover is ever going to be fun to drive, you find yourself pressing the pedal a bit harder and attacking a corner with a bit more vim. And then the 500X comes to life a little more. The steering never actually has much feel, but with the weighting in Sport being a bit heftier, the 500X at least feels like it's responding with greater sharpness and the whole operation suddenly starts to seems a bit more exciting.
The trouble is that you're not going to drive it like that much. This is, after all, a family car and this is where the 500X's case starts to come unglued a little. You see, it's not quite spacious enough for a start. That sloping rear boot line, which I mentioned earlier, restricts boot volume to 350 litres. Sounds like a lot, but it's not. Four-up with luggage is going to be a struggle for the 500X and families with push-chairs and sports kits are going to feel underwhelmed. Worse still, across the showroom, there's the Jeep Renegade, using the same basic platform and engines, and with similar prices, which has a better boot. Its boot capacity is officially rated at being only one litre larger than the Fiat's, but the Renegade's boxier, more upright shape allows you to make better use of it.
Or you could just get a 500L. Not as good looking, true, but almost as nice to drive and with a smoother ride quality to boot. And a bigger boot also to, er, boot.
So there you have it. The 500X is a cracking car, in so many ways. But because it's aimed right at the heart of a class that, for all its popularity, is far more about fashion than function, it comes off as the victim of its own success.