X marks the spot

Launch and road test: Fiat 500X range

For any manufacturer choosing to take the path of retro design, the biggest challenge is always where to go next. Fiat’s successful 500 is fun and chic but for any style-conscious 500 driver, the larger 500L is likely to be a leap too far. Fiat has now plugged the gap with its just-launched 500X. It is a sizeable car but maintains some of the original 500’s charm in a more grown-up package.

Looks are going to be key in this sector and the 500X is neat and its simple curves hide the car’s overall size: it is a useful 72cm longer, 17cm wider and 12cm higher than the 500. The Cross and Cross Plus models carry a slightly more ruggedised appearance (and can be fitted with either two- or four-wheel drive) whereas the Pop, Pop Star and Lounge trim specifications are deemed to be more city-slicker than soft-roader (and are front-wheel-drive only).

Forgiving

Having tested a number of trim and engine specifications in manual and auto forms, it’s clear the 500X is well designed, well put together and well-specified. The new nine-speed auto ‘box (a first in this segment) fitted to the two-litre diesel is smooth and unobtrusive, although the engine itself doesn’t make the car feel as spritely as one might expect. The 1.4 petrol, on the other hand, felt willing and dynamic and seems to breathe life into the car. All the models driven are chuckable and forgiving on the winding A-roads across the Wales-Shropshire border. At speed, engine revs are kept low and the 500X is relaxed and comfortable. A significant point of note is the 18” Trekking wheels on the Cross Plus trim give the car a less settled ride; far better are the 17” wheels which in reality don’t affect the aesthetics but will make the 500X much easier to live with.

The interior is well thought-out and ergonomics are good. The dashboard’s main features are curvaceous, echoing the external silhouette but it looks smart rather than gimmicky. The bold coloured dash insert – similar to that in the ‘regular’ 500 model – keeps the fascia looking fresh. Oddly, the interior badges (above the glove box, on the seats) simply state ‘500’ rather than ‘500X’ used on the outside. Rear visibility is hampered slightly by the angle of the C-pillars and tailgate but the reversing camera (you’ll need the Dynamic Safety Plus Pack at £650) helps. Cabin storage is average and the door pockets are on the small side but otherwise, there’s little to complain about.

Not-so-little

This not-so-little Fiat now has up-to-date infotainment connectivity and even offers Twitter tweet-reading and retweet functionality. Whether this additional distraction is a good thing, we’ll let the reader decide.

For most owners, two-wheel-drive will be perfectly adequate. We did, however, take a 4×4 model on a short off-road route. While not particularly challenging, it demonstrated the 500X manages its traction well. Despite being able to achieve only modest articulation, it happily stuck its rear in the air to traverse tougher obstacles and with a little scrabbling, put power down to the wheels most able to gain grip.

“Stylish Adventurers”

There is some interesting (and successful) competition, notably the Juke and Mokka but the 500X seems to be pitched well. Forecasting sales of just 10,000 units in 2015 to what Fiat refers to as “stylish adventurers”, the likeable 500X stands a good chance. So, easy to look at and easy to live with, the 500X would appear to be the car Fiat needs to take the 500 brand beyond retro.

The Fiat 500X is priced from £14,595 to £25,845.

Motor Writer rating: ●●●●●





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