These days, every mainstream brand needs a small, trendy Crossover. Here's Fiat's take on the Juke-genre, the fashionable 500X. Jonathan Crouch reports on the revised model.
Ten Second Review
Fiat offers SUV buyers an improved version of its characterful 500X small Crossover model. It's bigger than it looks and there's lots of choice when it comes to engines, drive systems, transmissions and a whole stack of personalisation options. If you're looking for a surefire conversation starter, you can't do a lot better.
It's easy to forget that Fiat actually has a history of small 4x4 cars. The Panda 4x4 first appeared over thirty years ago and has spawned many imitators. A few years ago, Fiat also fleshed their all-wheel drive selection out with the Sedici, essentially a rebodied Suzuki SX4, that made modest but useful sales.
In 2015 though, the company decided to get really serious about the SUV 'B'-segment and launch this 500X, here usefully improved. It's based on the same running gear as Jeep's cute but capable Renegade and is available in both front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive guises.
The front-wheel drive models will doubtless prove more popular with British buyers who are about as likely to take the 500X off-roading as they are to send it round the Nurburgring. Only the top 'Cross Plus' models offer an AWD option. The petrol engines comprise a 110hp 1.6-litre E-torQ unit and the more sophisticated 140hp 1.4-litre Turbo MultiAir2 powerplant, offered with amanual or DCT auto transmision and also available with 170hp if you want it mated to AWD. Go diesel and you're looking at either a 120hp 1.6-litre MultiJet II engine for volume variants, or a 140hp version of this unit at the top of the range, which can be mated to AWD or DCT auto transmission (but not both).
The 1.6-litre diesel that will attract most footfall here in the UK is respectably brisk, getting to 62mph in 10.5 seconds, while delivering a 320Nm slug of torque. The all-wheel drive models aren't designed to handle quite the same terrain as the Fiat Group's alternative Jeep Renegade model (which is identical to a 500X under the skin but gets additional underbody strengthening). But this Fiat does feature quite tight approach and departure angles and a reasonable 179mm of ground clearance on AWD vaiants. That compares to 162mm you get on front-wheel drive models. The AWD 500X models are also equipped with specific bumpers and protective skid plates to protect the bodywork and mechanicals from the rigours of off-road use.
Design and Build
There aren't too many small Crossovers with styling that 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 Fiat's Centro Stile studio, this model not only has clear links to its siblings in the current 500 family but also to the iconic 1957 original, most notably when it comes to the large circular headlamps, the brightwork on the nose and the distinctive clamshell bonnet. 'Cross Plus' models get the full 'urban SUV' look, with extra plastic cladding, roof rails and chunkier bumpers with skidplates front and rear. In short, all the calling cards you'd expect to find from a vehicle of the Juke genre.
Inside, 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. The cabin features wraparound bolstering and arm rests placed in the centre console and on the door trims to aid relaxed cruising. There's a choice of seven fabric, leather and colour configurations and the option of a full-length "Sky Dome" glass sunroof to flood the cabin in natural light.
Market and Model
Prices aren't anything to fret about, with Fiat pitching the 500X from around £15,500 for the entry-level 1.6-litre petrol engine. Trim levels open with the familiar 'Pop' and then step up through 'Pop Star' to 'Cross Plus'. The diesel range kicks off with a 1.6-litre Popstar for just over £20,000, but the cheapest AWD model is around £24,000.
Avoid entry-level trim and you get to experience the major change made to this revised model, the addition of the Fiat Group's latest Uconnect infotainment sstem, wth its 7-inch high-resolution touchscreen. This offers the 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring systems. 'Android Auto' offers access to Google Maps, with voice-guided navigation, real time traffic information and lane guidance, and Google Play Music, among other music services. Furthermore, customers can stay in touch with Uconnect LIVE services. Users who download the free Uconnect LIVE app from the App Store or Google Play Store to their smartphone can fully exploit the benefits of Uconnect LIVE, including music streaming with Deezer and TuneIn, news from Reuters, plus connected navigation with TomTom LIVE. In addition, they can stay in touch with friends via Facebook check-in and Twitter.
Standard equipment levels can be boosted with the addition of a number of packs, such as the Cold Weather pack, which comes with a heated steering wheel, heated front seats and heated wiper area. Or the City pack, which adds electrically folding and heated door mirrors and a rear parking camera.
Cost of Ownership
The market for boutique small Crossovers such as the 500X isn't anything like as price sensitive as those of other small cars and cost of ownership figures consequently come a bit further down the priorities scale. Nevertheless, the 500X utilises engines from other Fiat models where buyers are putting the budget under a bit more scrutiny. The unit most UK buyers will choose, the 1.6-litre diesel, returns some excellent efficiency figures; netting 68.9mpg on the combined cycle with emissions of 109g/km. Choose a petrol powerplant instead and you'll clearly have to spend a bit more at the pumps, the 1.4-litre MultiAir II Turbo recording 41.7mpg and 139g/km. In real life, that consumption will probably fall to the low thirties.
Every model in the range is covered by a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty and there's 36 months of breakdown cover included as well. Should you have a problem on a journey, you can use the 'Uconnect' infotainment system to contact roadside assistance and the same set-up can also be used to book routine services.
There will always be resistance to any manufacturer that extends the scope of a retro reissue beyond that of the original car. People lambasted MINI for doing just this with cars like the Countryman and Paceman, but if the job is done well, the buying public eventually comes round. Fiat look to have learned some lessons from the launch of the 500L - a car that should have probably worn '600' badges - and applied them to the 500X. It looks the part and continues a long tradition of small all-wheel drive Fiats, so it's not just a bit of a wheeze dreamed up by some kid in the marketing department with the ink still wet on his MBA certificate.
The styling is neat and assured, it fills a genuinely useful gap in the range and the engineering that underpins it is all reassuringly right and exact. Fiat has priced it aggressively, equipped it generously and it's got enough room inside to fulfil that crossover remit. It's a compelling package.