The Fiat 500X is a compact crossover extension of the 500 family that's aiming to take the fight to the Nissan Juke, Peugeot 2008, Renault Captur, Vauxhall Mokka and retro compadre the Mini Countryman.
At its heart the 500X shares a platform and mechanical hardware with its cousin, the Jeep Renegade, although the Jeep carries an extra strengthening cross-member to support its potentially more arduous off-roading duties.
The 500X range has been split into two - the City Look (unsurprisingly aimed at the city dweller) and the Off-Road Look (aimed at those who toy with the idea of some light off-road excursions). The difference truly lies with the aesthetics, with the former gaining specially designed bumpers in the Fiat's body colour, body coloured dashboard and only available as front-wheel-drive car. The off-road tweaked 500X gets more rugged bumpers and plastic mouldings, roof rails and a four-wheel-drive system.
The engine range consists of three petrol and diesel engines, including a 138bhp and 168bhp 1.4-litre Turbo MultiAir2 and a 108bhp 1.6-litre e-Torq units, while the oilburner line-up consists of a 94bhp 1.3-litre MultiJet2, 118bhp 1.6-litre MultiJet II, and a 138bhp 2.0-litre MultiJet II.
There are three City Look trims - Pop, Pop Star and Lounge. The entry-level models come with 16in steel wheels, electrically adjustable and heated wing mirrors, rear spoiler, hill hold assist and electric windows, as standard, while inside there is air conditioning, USB connectivity and cruise control.
Upgrade to the Pop Star trim and you'll find 17in alloy wheels, front fog lights, rear parking sensors, climate control, and Fiat's Uconnect infotainment system with a 5.0in touchscreen display and Bluetooth. The range-topping Lounge 500Xs add 18in alloys, bi-xenon headlights, a chrome exhaust, keyless entry and start, and sat nav.
Those lusting after the more rugged Off-Road Look models, fear not, there are two trims to choose from - Cross and Cross Plus. The former gains 17in alloys, roof rails, cruise control, rear parking sensors and hill start assist, while inside there is a partial leather upholstery, climate control and Fiat's Uconnect infotainment system. Upgrading to the Cross Plus adds luxuries such as bi-xenon headlights, sat nav, and keyless entry and start
Those who’ve enjoyed the characterful and high-grade presentation of the 500 will love the 500X’s cabin.
Its décor is more mature, but you’ll find plenty of stylish flourishes, including the retro metal-look door handles, an elegantly integrated infotainment screen (whose navigation system was occasionally confused) and, on all models bar the Cross, a body colour-finished horizontal décor strip. The more rugged-looking Cross versions get a textured alloy-look finish.
Most of the mouldings are high-quality, although the rear door tops are hard-feel rather than the soft texture of the fronts, a subtle cost saving.
The seats are stylish, the instruments neat beneath and the dash-mounted switchgear classily elegant, as is the steering wheel. It’s a shame that the column stalks look cheap, but this cabin exudes a pleasingly attractive ambience that’s clearly related to the 500’s.
There’s plenty of space, too. The driver sits 45mm lower in the 500X than in the Renegade (although there’s a seat-height adjuster), the aim being to provide a slightly sportier experience. Nonetheless, occupants enjoy the mildly elevated viewing of vistas that SUV drivers covet.
Rear-seat occupants are well provided for too, even if the cushion is slightly too flat, the pay-off for having backrests that fold flat. In-cabin dumping grounds are fairly generous, and include so-called pelican-beak door bins, which are much wider than the average.
Boot space is generous and a good shape, offering similar space to the competition (350 litres), with easy to fold seats that leave a flat load deck. So the 500X should play well to families. It’s a decent enough experience for the driver, too.
The 118bhp 1.6-litre diesel is expected to be the UK’s best-seller. It’s good for a 0-62mph sprint in 10.5sec and 69.9mpg combined, while issuing a competitive 109g/km of CO2.
There's a strong torque-surge from much less than 2000rpm, and the Fiat’s urge tapers away only once 4000rpm is breached. It's an effective power band that’s a lot wider than those of previous MultiJet diesel engines, and it's aided by a gearchange of more silken action than we’re used to in Fiats, so progress is confidently brisk.
Less good, however, is this engine’s refinement, its oil-burning yammer too evident during acceleration, if not overbearing. There’s a touch too much wind gush around the front windows at speed, and the suspension can be noisy, especially from the rear. That’s not to suggest that the 500X is an especially noisy car, but others are quieter.
The four-cylinder turbocharged 138bhp petrol won’t be the company buyer's number one choice, as the diesel version squarely beats it for fuel consumption and emissions. However, if you’re a private buyer this engine makes more sense, because it’s cheaper to buy and a lot more refined.
Rev it hard and it will get vocal but never harsh. It also spins freely and feels nippy, whisking the 500X from 0-62mph in a respectable 9.8sec. Under hard acceleration there’s a curious flat spot after each gear change, but other than this idiosyncrasy, the turbocharged petrol performs well. Once the boost comes in at around 1500rpm, there’s plenty of torque to haul it up the road in pretty much any gear you fancy.
The ride itself is mostly pretty good, the 500X benefitting from a new platform shared with its Jeep Renegade cousin. A stiff structure and independent MacPherson strut rear suspension must help, the ride only turning choppy on scabby Tarmac.
Having tried versions on both 17in and 18in wheels, if you value ride comfort we’d definitely say less is more. Fiat was brave enough to let us test the car on some pretty beaten-up Buckinghamshire roads, and it’s noticeably smoother on the smaller wheels. Even so, it still fidgets slightly over bumps, but a Skoda Yeti or Kia Soul are comparable.
The Fiat is pretty tidy through the bends, too. It has decent grip and resists understeer and roll fairly effectively for a crossover. The ESP’s interventions are subtle, as well.
The steering won’t tell you much about the friction force beneath, and it sometimes feels woolly during ambitious cornering, but its weighting and basic accuracy are good.
As a result, instead of it being instinctive, you steer the 500X reactively like a computer game, estimating the lock required, seeing where this puts you, then readjusting your line accordingly.
For the most part, the 500X makes an effective and pleasant way to travel despite these flaws, its stylish interior serving plenty of space, practicality, comfort and the decent view of a crossover.
The magic of the 500 supermini’s style translates more convincingly to a crossover than it did to the awkward 500L MPV.
Judging by the fact that more than 200,000 Fiat 500s have been sold in the UK, it’s clear that people love the 500 brand. And as we discovered when we drove the diesel model, the 500X fits in well.
It’s still got the style to win over your heart but now, thanks to a roomy cabin, great interior, sensible prices and decent equipment, your head can get on board, too.
There’s room for improvement, though, particularly with the steering and ride, but that shouldn’t stop the 500X appearing on your shopping list. And if the school run is short enough not to be chasing those last few miles per gallon, we’d save the cash and take the smoother petrol over the diesel.