It has been five years since the first collaborative effort between Fiat and Jeep resulted in a pair of exceptionally competent crossovers, writes Iain Robertson, and the 500X has lost none of its appeal, which has been aided by very keen model pricing.
Launching a comprehensively new model into the mainstream was a masterstroke of marketing by the conjoined Fiat and Chrysler-Jeep. While Fiat’s representation in the 4x4 arena had been almost strictly the remit of the Panda model and a few, oddball military machines produced by a specialist arm of the Italian firm, with Jeep now in the frame, it could enter the realms of everyday SUVs with its own offering and Jeep could replace its Renegade with something altogether less serious than its customary off-road biased models.
Naturally, 4WD is not the be-all-and-end-all in the market and the vast majority of SUVs are actually front-driven crossovers, sold to people desiring the off-road appearance but not the associated running costs. Back in 2014, I drove the first-generation Fiat 500X at the firm’s Balocco proving grounds in Northern Italy. To say that I felt instantly enthused by the car verges on understatement.
Barrelling across its multi-surface, off-road test ground, it was little more than a revelation, traversing ditches, adopting wild slope angles and clambering up (and down) slippery slopes like they were going out of style. Its on-road composure was also outstanding on some very give-and-take roads of the foothills above Turin. I was impressed and looked forward to driving the more conventional, front-wheel drive alternatives, once I returned to the UK.
However, having done so in the intervening period, it would be fair to state that, when asked for recommendations on the crossover front, the Fiat 500X does not always come to mind, which is actually quite sad. From a personal viewpoint, as a derivative of the significantly more compact 500 model, a vehicle that simply will not allow a 6’ 6” tall car tester to get even remotely comfortable (and by ‘remote’, I mean sitting in my lounge and not driving it all!), which is a genuinely popular wee car, I believe that it deserves greater recognition.
In all-wheel drive form its compact dimensions pitch it directly into a challenging role against the likes of the Suzuki Vitara, Ford Kuga and myriad oriental mud-pluggers. Remove the extra elements of the drivetrain and much the same applies. As already suggested, the 500X came about, when Chrysler-Jeep got into bed with Fiat Group. Using indefatigable Jeep underpinnings, despite styling more redolent of the baby Fiat, unlike the funkiness of the Renegade model, the package is immensely satisfying. From initial acquaintance, just pulling on the driver’s door handle to gain access, the 500X feels both durable and of high merchantable quality. You can tell a lot from door handles.
Once inside, it is unrelentingly Fiat, from its body-coloured ‘plank’ across the dashboard, to its tidy, three-dial, with small graphic information panel, instrument binnacle ahead of the driver. An excellent range of adjustability of both driver’s seat and steering column ensures no compromises for a wide range of driver sizes. While the seating position is fairly lofty and upright, there is still plenty of shoulder, leg and headroom. There is also space in the rear split-folding bench (for 2.5 adults) and a modest 350-litres of boot space (seats erected) that opens to 1,000-litres (seats folded forwards), more than adequate for most needs.
The levels of interior tactility are excellent, from the dashboard mouldings to the hide-wrapped seats, which are also very comfortable. While Fiat could be accused of not going to town on its vehicle interiors, that of the 500X is well assembled and of good quality. There are no creaks or rattles in evidence. The test car (with its convenient personal plate) is powered by the latest 1,332cc, four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine that develops a zesty 148bhp, accompanied by just shy of 200lbs ft of torque that weighs-in from a lowly 1,850rpm (it can tow a 1,200kgs braked trailer) and makes the 500X very drivable on a mix of all road types.
Channelling its power through a six-speed, twin-clutch, automated-manual transmission, with paddle-shifters, the 500X makes easy meat of cross-country on-road forays, the driver being able to flick up and down the gear ratios as required, to maintain surprisingly high average speeds. Fiats have always possessed sporting overtones and the 500X is no exception. Manual shift times are quick and free of torque-induced jolts, while, left to its own devices, it can block shift up, or down, the gearbox according to throttle input and reacts speedily, when required.
Given its head, the 500X can despatch the 0-60mph benchmark in a decent 8.8s, on its way to a stated top speed of 124mph. Driven with care, it can return in excess of its posted 37.7mpg, while emitting 145g/km CO2 using the latest WLTP figures. Checking the fuel economy read-out, I was able to venture into 45mpg territory with some ease and I believe that most owners will return around 40mpg.
Its handling mix is a combination of sweetly weighted and quite direct power steering, with firm but not uncomfortable suspension damping that also resists body roll. In this respect, it is typical Fiat. The suspension seldom crashes on nasty bumps and road surface imperfections and the 500X never feels less than composed, while also looking very characterful into the bargain.
The test example is very close to the top of the model tree, with its over £26k price tag. Yet, spec-up any of its rivals and there will be little to choose between them. If anything, driving this excellent compact crossover has reminded me not to dismiss it so freely in future.
Boasting list prices that start at a very affordable £16,995 (prior to any dealer discounting, which can be substantial at the moment) and the Cross Plus test car at £23,500 (to which must be added £2,585 of accessories), the Fiat 500X is ‘market-priced’ but represents truly ace value for money, especially for the company car market, in a very crowded sector.