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We try Fiat’s updated crossover in the UK for the first time to see if it can topple newer offerings
10 October 2018

What is it?

Fiat’s response to a significant 66% drop in sales of its 500X in 2017, owing to a bunch of new B-segment SUVs arriving on the scene and pilfering its market share. The Italian crossover has been given a mild makeover in the hope of restoring its competitive edge against fresher alternatives.

Suffering in the hands of the competition it may be, but the 500X is still a big deal for Fiat in the UK as it’s the brand’s second biggest seller after (yep, you guessed it) the seemingly immortal 500 city car. Given the demise of the Punto, a continued downward trajectory of the 500X’s sales is cause for concern.

Styling upgrades require pointing out, as they did to us - but then it’s still one of the more distinctive crossovers around. New LED daytime running lights (combined with full-LED headlights as standard on top trims), LED rear lights with a tweaked design and refreshed bumpers combine with three new colours to make the 500X fractionally more bold than before. 

Changes to the engine range are far more significant. Gone is the old diesel option, deemed unnecessary in light of changing consumer trends, and there’s no four-wheel-drive option either. Fiat has a couple of all-new ‘Firefly’ turbocharged petrol engines in the form of a 118bhp 1.0-litre three-pot and a 148bhp 1.3-litre four-pot, the latter available only with a six-speed automatic ’box. It’s the former that we’re trying here.

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Elsewhere, there are two different bodystyles in the form of the more rugged Cross Look and the subtler Urban Look, while the interior has benefited from a few new materials and a load more safety equipment, including standard-fit lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition and a speed advisor. Even base models also get a new 7.0in touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

What's it like?

We’d forgive you for taking one look at the ‘new’ 500X, deciding it’s basically the same as before and buying something else. But there is more to like about Fiat’s crossover than you’d imagine, and much of that is thanks to the mechanical changes.

The new 1.0-litre three-cylinder is a really good fit for the 500X, and an engine that Fiat has been crying out for to hopefully replace the characterful but gruff (and surprisingly inefficient) TwinAir two-cylinder found in smaller models. 

Its 140lb ft of torque provides much of the low- to mid-range response owners of the outgoing diesel will be used to, which was Fiat’s target. But, other than a bit of a shaky idle, it has refinement those diesel drivers could only dream of, with markedly low NVH levels throughout the rev range and a distant, characterful thrum when extended. 

It’s by no means fast, as the 10.9sec 0-62mph time reflects, but it feels perkier than that figure suggests, so there’s sufficient performance here to satisfy the target market. Keeping it on the boil is made easier by a six-speed manual gearbox that’s much less recalcitrant than it used to be. 

It’s a pity, then, that the 500X’s chassis feels like it’s been set up for about-town pottering rather than anything more taxing. The primary ride is relatively soft and forgiving, batting away large bumps and potholes at low speeds better than a few more firmly sprung rivals. But its composure unravels outside city limits, where the series of surface imperfections found on a typical British B-road cause it to fidget and bounce more than is desired. Road noise isn’t too intrusive, but there’s a substantial amount of wind rustle revealing that the 500X isn’t perhaps the most aerodynamic shape. 

Similarly, a light and quick steering rack makes low-speed manoeuvring a doddle, and brings an initial feeling of agility. Yet zero feel and inconsistent weighting give it an arcade game quality, meaning there’s little fun to be had when pushing on. That’s arguably low on the list of priorities for your average small SUV, but a Seat Arona or Mazda CX-3 are far superior dynamically regardless.

Neither of those cars can match the 500X’s styling flair, however, nor the sense of occasion in the cabin. It looks good and most of materials are pleasing to the touch, although a few suspect trim bits - such as the clunky, hollow indicator stalks - show that it’s not quite up to the best in class when it comes to perceived quality.

The new touchscreen is much improved over the dinky affair offered in the pre-facelift model, but the graphics aren’t particularly classy and it’s not the most responsive unit around. It’s reasonably practical, however, with enough room for two average-sized adults to sit in the back in comfort, and a boot with a usefully wide opening.

Should I buy one?

Objectively, the 500X isn’t the most accomplished crossover to drive or the most solidly put together. That means, despite the smooth and willing new engine, it still sits in the middle of the pack in our rankings.

Yet Fiat’s offering deserves to sell on its character alone - it’s a feelgood car, which is likeable rather than engaging on the road, and still attracts looks from passers-by three years on from its launch. There’s also plenty of kit, and it’s certainly far more useable as a small family car than the 500. 

The 1.0-litre engine is definitely the pick of the range unless you really need an automatic, but the 500X better balances necessary equipment and price with a mid-spec trim level rather than this Cross Plus model. 

Fiat 500X specification

Where Bristol Price £20,995 On sale Now Engine 3 cyls, 999cc, turbo, petrol Power 118bhp at 5750rpm Torque 140lb ft at 1750rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual Kerb weight 1320kg Top speed 117mph 0-62mph 10.9sec Fuel economy 47.1mpg CO2 139g/km Rivals Seat Arona, Hyundai Kona

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Comments
4

10 October 2018

So automatic drivers have a choice of 1 engine as do Manual drivers. Then there's the price £21k for a 3 pot, both the rivals listed run rings around it let alone the up coming face-lifted Vitara with which there's 4wd versions.

It looks long in the tooth outside and cheap inside so will probably sell as badly as the pre-facelifed version, which had a greater engine choice yet still dived on the sales front in 2017.

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

10 October 2018

We have a copuple of Fiat 500X models on fleet for the last 3 years.   Both diesels, they have proved themselves to be competely reliable over strong mileage.   Superb car that I would certainly recommend as a great buy.   Reliable, economical, comfortable and we are going to replace them with 2 new models in January 2019.   Far superior to the Nissan Juke and Renault Capture we have had.   We also have a Seat Arcona 2018 and its proved itself so far but even its user has said they want to replace it with a 500X.

 

Padraic

10 October 2018

FCA might have done better instead to position the 500X as a successor to the Punto and call it 600.  This would at least have given it a constituency of existing Fiat customers who might want to trade in their superminis and remain loyal to the brand.  Instead, the 500X was a half-hearted attempt at a crossover whose main competitor was the Jeep Renegade, from a brand with a much stronger 4x4 reputation.  As it is, it appears that it's time has passed and this facelift will do little to change that.  Shame.

10 October 2018

Constantly surprised by the prices of things.   1.0 3 pot Italian family runabout?  £16k tops surely...

Used car market looking more and more attractive these days...

 

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