Arriving in Fiat dealerships this week is the new 500X, a compact SUV version of their cute and very popular 500 City Car and MPV range.
The new five-door 500X is a puffed up version, hence its ‘blue-pill’ TV and internet advertising theme, of the Fiat 500 three-door City Car hatchback and prices start at £14,595 and rise to £25,845. Talking of number the Fiat 500X Italian Crossover ‘blue pill’ advertisement has received 24 million views via YouTube. Fiat has also received almost 90,000 expressions of interest from potential buyers following the pre-launch advertising campaign.
The 500X comes with a choice of two and four wheel drive versions with 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol and 1.3, 1.6 and 2.0-litre turbodiesel engines with more to be added by the autumn. There are the urban styled Pop, Pop Star and Lounge specifications plus more rugged Cross and Cross Plus versions depending on the engine chosen. The range offers three different types of traction systems called ‘Mood Selector’ ranging from light extra on-road grip to Traction + through an electronic differential to full blown 4WD system. Depending on the engine and specification level chosen there is the choice of five or six speed manual and unique in its class a new 9-speed automatic transmission.
Once complete the range will have 22 different variants and there will be a 50-50 sales split between petrol and diesel engine engines. During the remainder of this year Fiat expects to sell around 10,000 units of the 500X in the UK with 3,000 going to current Fiat 500 users and the remainder to conquest customers. Sales next year are expected to be around 16,000 units.
The retro Fiat 500 family has been a huge sales success for Fiat with more than 44,000 sold in the UK last year putting it in ninth position in the UK’s top ten new car sales chart, well ahead of MINI. That 2014 sales total represents almost two thirds of all new Fiat cars sold in the UK last year. By the end of this year UK customers will have bought a total of a quarter of a million Fiat 500s since the modern interpretation models introduction eight years ago. The original tiny Fiat 500 was launched in 1957
Fiat UK says the compact SUV sector in the UK is three times what it was three years ago becoming this country’s fastest growing segment with demand being driven by the introduction of more models. Leading the way in the sector is the Nissan Juke with the Renault Captur, MINI Countryman, Vauxhall Mokka, Peugeot 2008, Suzuki SX4 S-Cross/Vitara, Skoda Yeti, Ford EcoSport, Citroen Cactus and the Kia Soul being just some of the most popular models. Also in the picture is the new Jeep Renegade compact SUV which shares with the 500X much of the platform and drivetrain under the Fiat-Chrysler partnership and is priced from £16,995 to £27,995.
The Fiat 500 three door hatchback lends its retro styling to the 500X compact SUV more happily than other Fiat 500 MPV versions such as the five-seater 500L and seven-seater 500L MPW. There is the usual clamshell bonnet and circular headlights at the front and from the side the 500X has a similar stance to the 500 City Car but with two extra passenger doors. There is an elongated roofline, muscular rear wheelarches and higher ground clearance of 162mm and 179mm for the more rugged all-wheel drive Cross and Cross Plus. The overall length ranges from 4,248 to 4,273mm, width is 1,796mm and height 1,600 to 1,620mm depending on the model. There is the choice of 12 different body colours and 16, 17 and 18-inch alloy wheel wheels depending on the version chosen plus the usual array of personalisation packs and options.
Inside the 500X has a similar retro dashboard layout to the 500 City Car but it looks more sophisticated and grown-up. There is a centrally positioned hard-to-read 5.0-inch touchscreen but the Uconnect 3D sat-nav and smartphone integration brings with it a much better 6.5-inch screen. DAB radio will add £100 to the purchase price. There is a body-coloured fascia and more use is made of plush soft feel plastics than in other Fiat 500 models. The controls are well laid out and there is a chunkier steering wheel in keeping with the more muscular theme of the 500X. There is still a retro design for the three circular cowled instruments in the binnacle. The ‘Mood Selector’ rotary switch for the various traction and 4WD modes is positioned close to hand between the front seats and just in front of the electrically operated handbrake.
The high riding 500X has a lower seating position than the 500 City Car for front seat occupants to minimise the impact of cornering body-roll. The rear seats will just about accommodate six-foot tall passengers but it is no load-lugger. With the rear seats in use boot space is 350-litres, with the fold and tumble facility this increases to 1,000-litres and the £250 extra cost adjustable height load space floor is a worthwhile option. Taking the £150 full size spare wheel option over the standard inflation kit will reduce the boot space further.
Because it should appeal to a broad range of customers, mainly retail buyers, there is a wide choice of engines. Front-wheel drive, petrol-powered models are either equipped with a 110hp, 1.6-litre “E-torQ” engine with a five-speed manual gearbox or a 140hp 1.4-litre turbo MultiAir II petrol engine with either a new-generation six-speed manual gearbox or Fiat’s popular six-speed twin-clutch transmission. A still to be added all-wheel drive petrol Cross Plus model will be equipped with a nine-speed automatic transmission as standard and powered by a 170hp, 1.4-litre turbo MultiAir II engine.
The front-wheel drive diesel range consists of the 95hp, 1.3-litre MultiJet II turbodiesel, equipped with a five-speed manual gearbox and the 120hp 1.6-litre MultiJet II turbo diesel equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox. The four-wheel drive diesel option is the 140hp 2.0-litre MultiJet II turbodiesel which is available with a six-speed manual or nine-speed automatic transmission.
At the UK media launch I tested the front-wheel drive 1.6-litre, 120hp diesel in Cross trim with front wheel drive and Traction+. This version has a combined fuel consumption figure of 68.9mpg with 50mpg achieved on test driving using the rural roads of Wiltshire and Somerset. The CO2 emissions are109g/km so VED road tax is free for the First Year rate going up to £20 a year after that. Fiat suggests this engine will be one of the most popular and it costs £20,095.
There’s plenty of power and the engine’s healthy 320Nm of torque kicks in from 1,750rpm making it responsive for overtaking and flexible on winding country roads but there is a need to keep changing between fifth and sixth gears to keep the engine in its power band. The downside is that this engine is a bit noisy and, thanks to being heavier, makes the already-firm ride even harder.
I think a better choice is the 1.4-litre, 140hp turbocharged petrol unit which is more powerful, smoother and quieter. It still develops useful torque of 230Nm from 1,750rpm so it is responsive but again full use needs to be made of the six-speed manual gearbox on country roads. It is less fuel efficient with the official Combined Cycle 47.1mpg figure and on test we achieved 35.3mpg driving over winding rural roads. With CO2 emissions of 139g/km VED road tax is £130 every year. The 500X with this engine and Cross specification with Traction+ is £1,500 cheaper to buy at £18,595 so it is initially easier on the pocket to buy and more enjoyable to live with long term.
The 4WD version with the 2.0-litre 140hp turbodiesel engine has a shade more torque of 350Nm again from 1,750rpm which comes as standard with a nine-speed twin clutch automatic gearbox. We only had chance to drive this version over a very lightweight 4WD course but you could see its potential. Certainly the new Jeep Renegade which uses the same platform and 4WD system was very impressive during its media launch off-roading tests. For the Fiat 500X only the hardy affluent adventurers will go this route because the higher cost Cross and Cross Plus specifications, extra power plus the auto transmission push the prices up to £24,095 and £25,845 respectively, probably a cost too far. For the record fuel consumption is officially 51.4mpg with CO2 emissions of 144g/km so road tax goes up to £145 each year.
The 500X’s body control was taught with some cornering bodyroll but there was plenty of front end grip and the steering, whilst accurate, felt numb and lacked feedback. The six-speed gearbox had a smooth action which is not always the case with a Fiat and the nine-speed auto was impressive. Around town the 500X was perhaps less at home as it harshly coped with bumps from potholes and jittered across poorer patched-up road surface. Driving on country roads and dual carriageways gave a more refined ride.
The 500X is an important addition to the Fiat 500 family range given the huge demand for compact SUVs. It’s cheeky TV advertising ‘blue pill’ theme should perk up sales even more, maybe to older buyers who are reliving their youth for them the 500X will hit the spot.
MILESTONES: Fiat 500X 1.6 MultiJet 120hp turbodiesel, Cross, 5-door compact SUV. (Potentially the best selling engine with the desirable Cross specification). Price: £20,095. Engine/transmission: 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder, turbodiesel, 120hp, 320Nm of torque from 1,750rpm, 6-speed manual, front wheel drive. Performance: 116mph, 0-62mph 10.5-seconds, 68.9mpg Combined Cycle (…mpg on test), CO2 109g/km, VED road tax First Year free of charge then £20 after that, BIK company car tax 19%. Insurance group: tbc. Warranty: 3-years/60,000 miles. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,273mm, W1,796mm, H1,608mm, boot/load space 350 to 1,000-litre or 245/910-litres with a spare wheel), braked towing weight 1,200kg. For: An uplifting alternative to the current Fiat 500 retro styled City Car, strong engine, quality interior, practical, the most useful Fiat 500 model yet, predicted best in class residual values. Against: Costly to buy especially if options are added, noisy diesel engine, steering lacks feedback, choppy ride over poor road surfaces. Miles Better News Agency