Fiat has brought Italian style to the SUV baby boom with the 500X. Is its appeal more than skin deep?
WHAT IS IT?
The 500X is Fiat's foray into the booming compact SUV class and the latest addition to the expanding 500 family. Think of it as a trendier, Italian version of the all-American Jeep Renegade, whose underpinnings it shares.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
The Fiat 500X is a potential goldmine. The compact SUV class is booming and Fiat expects the 500X will be its most popular model. Will buyers be happy?
Mini Countryman, Renault Captur, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Qashqai, Nissan Juke, Honda HR-V, Suzuki Grand Vitara
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Fiat needs the 500X to be good, and it is. Stylish looks, Italian flair and fluid handling virtually guarantee sales success. But it’s far from perfect.
PLUS: stylish exterior; quality interior; fluid dynamics; optional safety tech
MINUS: stiff-legged ride; absentminded 9-speed auto; all that style isn’t cheap
THE WHEELS REVIEW
ON PAPER, it’s genius: steal the cutesy styling cues of the retro Fiat 500, stretch them over the bulging bones of a compact SUV, and laugh all the way to the bank.
The 500X is the latest addition to the expanding 500 family (the first was the elephantine 500L that thankfully isn’t sold here), and promises to be a sales boon for Fiat Oz. Company boffins predict it will easily be the brand’s most popular model, such is Australia’s insatiable thirst for the small SUV.
It needs to be good, then, and for the most part, it is. Stylish, well-built and well-specced, the 500X adds a dash of Italian flair and individuality to the compact SUV segment. But while it’s cheerful, it definitely isn’t cheap.
Starting at $28,000 for the entry-level Pop manual, the range taps out at $39,000 for the off-road focused Cross Plus, positioning the 500X at the expensive end of the compact SUV class.
Don’t let the 500 badge fool you, either, because underneath, this isn’t a Fiat 500 at all. It’s a Jeep Renegade, wearing a chic Italian suit. The two share the same underpinnings, gearboxes and 1.4-litre MultiAir engine, but the Fiat’s independent suspension is tuned differently to suit its hipper, inner-city image.
Four trim levels are offered: Pop, Pop Star, Lounge and Cross Plus, all of which have a strong emphasis on personalisation thanks to 12 exterior colours and a plethora of wheel, decal, mirror and key fob designs.
Inside the cabin is cheery and well-finished with heaps of funky, 500-inspired touches. It’s roomy too, with space enough in the back for two tall adults on the high rear bench, and a decent 350-litre boot.
There’s also plenty of equipment, with every model boasting cruise control, reverse camera, rear park assist, Bluetooth, tyre pressure monitoring and a flat-bottomed, leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters. Safety gear includes seven airbags and blind spot monitoring, while upper spec Lounge and Cross Plus variants add forward collision and lane departure warnings. Audiophiles will appreciate the option of a 9-speaker Beats by Dre hi-fi, which is standard on Lounge and above.
Dynamics are another positive due to sharp steering and honest handling, but the trade off is a firm ride that lacks the suppleness you expect in a high-riding SUV. Our test cars rolled on 17 and 18-inch wheels and jarred over sharp-edged bumps. If you prefer ride quality over style, opt for the base 16-inch hoops.
Engine wise, two tunes of the same 1.4 turbo petrol are offered: a 103kW/230Nm version in the front-wheel drive Pop and Pop Star, and a 125kW/250Nm unit in the four-wheel drive Lounge and Cross Plus. Both tunes are strong and zingy, but it’s the Pop and Pop Star that house the more convincing drivetrains. Unlike four-wheel drive variants that are paired with an absent minded, and at times jerky, nine-speed ZF auto, the Pop and Pop Star have the option of a sweet-shifting six-speed manual or Fiat’s familiar six-speed dual-clutch.
So does all this mean the 500X delivers on its on paper promise? Yes and no. While it’s oozing in character and offers decent dynamics and space, the 500X’s firm ride, dopey nine-speed auto and steep price tag mean it is less complete than some of its compact SUV rivals. So it’s form over function, and style over substance, but in a lovable, Italian way.
Model: Fiat 500X Lounge
Engine: 1368cc 4cyl , dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 125kW @ 5500rpm
Max torque: 250Nm @2500rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 8.0sec (estimate)
Fuel economy: 6.7L/100km
On sale: now