- Looks the part
- Drives well
- Practical enough for families
- A little unrefined
- Noisy diesel
Fiat has struggled to create a desirable large car. Where the 500 supermini had Italian style and panache, the larger 500L and even larger MPW variant were as aesthetically polarising as a Rosetta scientist’s shirt.
In steps the Fiat 500X, a funky crossover out to challenge the likes of the Renault Captur, Nissan Juke, Skoda Yeti and Mini Countryman. It’s a car that, according to its maker, has the ‘X-Factor’. We headed to the original 500’s birthplace of Italy to find out if we have a hit on our hands.
The Fiat 500X advert shows a Viagra pill landing in the fuel tank of a 500 supermini. It’s a perfect metaphor for a car that is instantly recognisable as part of the 500 family. It has the 60s 500’s round headlights, trapezoidal grille and fetching curves.
There are, of course, some obvious differences. It’s tall and rugged looking for a start, with 179mm of ground clearance (162mm on the front-wheel drive model) and plastic cladding that protects the wheel archces and underside of the all-wheel drive models.
Then there’s the sheer size of the 500X. It shares almost identical dimensions with the Nissan Qashqai (4,250mm vs 4,377mm) so it’s bigger than a 4,135mm Juke.
The interior is unfortunately less memorable. All but one of the models comes with a shiny body-coloured panel on the dashboard, which elevates the look from boring to quirky. The 500X Cross gets a drab grey textured plastic that looks and feels cheap.
That said, the car’s button layout is simple and everything’s easy to see and use, apart from the Stop/Start button, which hides behind the steering wheel. The 5- or 6-inch display (depending on spec) has a logical user interface and is a joy to use for music and navigation duties.
We also like the meaty steering wheel, which adds to the rugged charm, and the seats, which are supportive, comfortable and stylish.
Practicality is a strongpoint for the Fiat 500X. It has oodles of head and legroom, which means only the tallest will complain if the driver and passenger have their seats pushed all the way back. Boot space is 350 litres, which is 80 litres less than a Qashqai but on par with the Juke and Countryman. With the seats folded flat, there’s an impressive 1,000 litres to play with.
Two glove boxes, two cup holders, a central armrest cubby and various other storage areas help keep everything organised. Highlights include the single cup holders located in each of the spacious door bins and net storage pockets on the back of the front seats.
For even more practicality, you can specify a removable load platform that is reversible and height adjustable.
Performance & handling
The feel of a Fiat is almost as important as the looks and here the 500X scores highly. It feels more like a car than an SUV and handles as such. It’s a plucky, fun drive.
Our test car was powered by the a 2.0-litre MultiJet II diesel. It has a respectable 140hp, which helps it hit 0-62mph in a sprightly 9.8 seconds, although it can sound a tad grumbly at high revs. It pulls hard from low revs, though, thanks to an impressive 350Nm of torque. Whether you’re ambling around town or engaging in a spontaneous traffic light grand prix, the 500X never feels wanting.
A first for Fiat and available on the top-spec 1.4-litre MultiJet 2 petrol and 2.0-litre MultiJet 2 diesel is the nine-speed automatic. On motorways the revs drop to an obscenely low level, helping conserve fuel and keep the noise down.
Speaking of sound, it’s incredibly quiet – wind noise only kicks in at speeds the Italian authorities would have issue with.
It’s a nice enough drive around town, too. The 500X rides lower and therefore has a less commanding driving position than a Nissan Qashqai, but the visibility is good enough – certainly an improvement on its supermini cousin – and its steering is quick to respond to inputs and light enough for inner-city life.
Our test car was fitted with 17-inch wheels, which helped the car ride well, even on the cobbled roads of Turin. It’s by no means the smoothest car in its class – but it’s fine in most cases we encountered. Quite how it will fare on pock-marked British roads, we’ll have to wait and see.
The Fiat 500X Cross model we drove has four wheel drive. By default, power is sent to the front wheels, but torque can be transferred to the rear axle the instant the front tyres begin to slip, so there’s plenty of grip in poor weather.
The steep hills and muddy roads of Fiat’s Balocco test track proved no match for the 500X. Limited ground clearance make full off-road duties impossible, but there’s enough ability to take an off-road escapade in its stride.
Economy & environment
Our 2.0-litre MultiJet II 4×4 test car was capable of 51.4mpg and 144g/km of CO2 emissions so it’s not the cheapest to run, or the greenest, but it does match the 1.4-litre Turbo MultiAir II when it comes to acceleration (0 to 62mph in 9.8 seconds).
The 1.6-litre MultiJet II diesel is the pick of the bunch, mainly because it offers a healthy 320Nm of torque and only 20 fewer horsepower, but is capable of 68.9mpg and 109g/km of CO2. A comparable Nissan Juke DCi 110 returns 61.4mpg and 104g/km of CO2, with 260Nm.
Equipment & value
The 500X starts from £14,595, making it roughly £2,000 less than the Mini Countryman and cheaper again than the less practical Fiat Panda Cross. That gets you the 1.6-litre E-torQ 110hp with the bottom spec Pop trim. A Nissan Juke starts from £13,420.
Go for the all-wheel drive 2.0-litre MultiJet II and the nine-speed automatic and you can expect to pay from £24,095 – the same as a Qashqai with a more frugal but slower dCi 110 diesel engine.
The level of standard equipment helps justify the slight premium. All models bar the entry-level ‘Pop’ come with Hill Start Assist, front fog lights with cornering illumination, electric front and rear windows and a height-adjustable driver’s seat.
All models but the Pop come with a Uconnect 5-inch display, which can hook up to your smartphone via Bluetooth to use apps like TuneIn radio.
Beats Audio makes a return. The standard car has a 120w four-speaker system, while Dr Dre’s finest gets a 560w, eight-channel system for a louder, thumpier sound.
A Euro NCAP crash test is yet to be performed on the 500X, but we suspect it will match the 500 supermini’s five-star rating. Six airbags and a relatively long bonnet will help keep occupants in one piece in the event of an accident.
Improving the safety aspect are various extras, including adaptive cruise control, lane departure assist, park view reversing camera and brake control assisted braking (which automatically applies the brakes in an emergency).
Some of the 500 supermini’s magic has been applied to the 500X – magic that clearly gave the standard 500L (not the likable Trekking edition) a wide berth. It looks great, handles well and is more than up for the task of family life – whether on the road or off. It deserves to sell by the bucket load.
The top-spec diesel engine could be quieter and reliability is an unknown, but we have to admit the 500X has character in spades. Its bug-eyed, retro face, Kim Kardashian curves and rugged charm compliment a spritely drive.
A similarly sized Qashqai is more practical and far more refined at the expense of fun, while the interior of the Cross is unnecessarily plain.
Those who can forgive the odd foible and are happy to pay a slight premium will find the 500X is a riskier but more rewarding choice. Your head will say a Skoda Yeti, Nissan Juke or Mini Countryman. Your heart will want a 500X.
|Engine||2.0-litre MultiJet II diesel|
|Acceleration||0 to 62mph in 9.8 seconds|
|Emissions||144g/km of CO2|
|Price||From £14,595 (£24,095 for model tested)|