Fiat 500X review
The Fiat 500X is the latest addition to the growing 500 range - but can it match the success of the original?
Not everyone will fall for the cutesy looks, but those who do will find it a practical lifestyle accessory – even if they only choose the two-wheel-drive City Look version.
With a broad range of engines, and a chassis shared with the Jeep Renegade, the 500X’s dynamics and handling on the road are surprisingly sharp. We’d go so far as to say the high-speed refinement is exemplary for a car in this class, making it a perfect small family car for the fashion-conscious buyer – unless they’re worried by the four-star crash safety rating from EuroNCAP.
The Fiat 500X is the brand’s response to a booming compact crossover market, and a model with which it hopes to build on the runaway success of the 500 city car.
Infused with the same retro styling touches as the 500, but with more muscular jacked-up proportions, the 500X is actually based on a much larger platform (the car's underlying architecture), which it shares with the Jeep Renegade. Both cars are built alongside one another at Fiat’s plant in Melfi, Italy.
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The 500X comes with the choice of front-wheel or four-wheel drive, plus a wide choice of petrol and diesel engines twinned with manual and automatic transmissions – mirroring what's available with the more off-road focused Jeep.
Two versions are available – a chic, smoother-suited, two-wheel-drive-only model called the City Look, and the more rugged Off-Road Look version. The latter offers the option of four-wheel drive and the prospect of some light off-roading.
The City Look comes in three trim levels, called Pop, Pop Star and Lounge. The entry-level Pop runs on 16-inch steel wheels with plastic trims, has electric windows all round, manual air con and seat height adjustment, plus electric mirrors, cruise control and six airbags.
Pop Star trim adds 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, rear parking assistance, drive mood selector, and a five-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth. Lounge trim goes to 18-inch alloys, privacy windows, Xenon headlamps and standard sat-nav.
The Off-Road Look comes in two trim levels: Cross and Cross Plus. The Cross version is well-equipped with 17-inch alloys, off-road bumpers and a satin chrome finish on exterior brightwork, tinted windows, electric windows, roof rails, automatic climate control, drive mood selector, driving seat height adjustment, cruise control, cornering fog lamps, Start & Stop, plus a five-inch touchscreen. Cross Plus adds Bi-Xenon headlamps, sat-nav, keyless entry and 18-inch alloys.
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Engines, performance and drive
There’s a huge variation in the way the 500X drives, depending on which engine and gearbox combination you go for.
You should steer clear of the range-topping 138bhp 2.0 MultiJet diesel, not just because of its eye-watering price tag, but because it only comes with Fiat’s on-demand four-wheel drive system. It was originally only available with a nine-speed automatic gearbox, but it comes with a manual option now.
While the engine is powerful enough, it never sounds particularly refined and doesn't let the handling sparkle. This is especially the case with the auto gearbox, which can be jerky at low speeds.
Far better is the 118bhp 1.6 MultiJet diesel in combination with a six-speed manual gearbox. Not only is the engine significantly cleaner, it’s also quieter, feels just as fast and revs more cleanly, while the manual gearlever has a smooth action.
The 138bhp 1.4 MultiAir petrol turbo brings out the 500X’s sportier side, providing powerful acceleration when you need it and staying virtually inaudible otherwise. On the larger 18-inch wheels, the ride is too firm on bad surfaces, crashing over holes and bumps, although it smooths out at higher speeds.
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On the right road, however, the handling is surprisingly sharp and there’s loads of grip, whether you go for four- or front-wheel drive. On the motorway the cabin is whisper quiet, too, making it well suited to long trips.
There are three petrol engines in the 500X line-up, kicking off with the 1.6 E-TorQ 110, which is only available in the City Look. It offers a fairly weedy 109bhp and is good for 0-62mph in 11.5 seconds, with a maximum speed of 112mph.
Next up is the 1.4-litre Turbo MultiAir II, available in City Look and Off-Road Look. It makes 138bhp with 230Nm of torque, which in front-wheel-drive guise gives a 0-62mph time of 9.8 seconds and a 118mph top speed.
The 168bhp/250Nm version of the same engine comes with 4x4 and nine-speed automatic gears only, and does 0-62mph in 8.6 seconds with the same top speed.
The diesels kick off with the 118bhp MultiJet, which makes 320Nm and is good for 0-62mph in 10.5 seconds and 116mph – it comes with two-wheel drive only.
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The 138bhp diesel is only available in 4x4 models and offers 350Nm of torque. It will do 0-62mph in 9.8 seconds, again with a 118mph maximum, all irrespective of whether you choose the nine-speed auto or manual gears.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
You can spend almost £26,000 on a 500X, but fortunately you don’t have to. The range starts from £14,595 for the City Look with the basic 1.6-litre E-TorQ petrol engine. Opting for the Off-Road Look will cost at least £4,000 more, as the trim level kicks off with the newer 1.4-litre MultiAir petrol, but you do get greater performance and efficiency to go with the more extroverted styling.
The most efficient model by quite some distance is the 118bhp 1.6 MultiJet diesel model coupled to a six-speed manual gearbox, which returns fuel economy and CO2 emissions of 68.9mpg and 109g/km. It’s the version of choice for company car users, thanks to its low benefit-in-kind rating.
Next is the smooth 138bhp 1.4 MultiAir petrol, which costs around £1,500 less initially than the 1.6 MultiJet, but still returns a respectable 47.1mpg and 139g/km. This means it’s the favoured option for private owners who do fewer than 10,000 miles per year, as they are less concerned about a slightly higher road tax rate and more interested in the price up front.
The 168bhp 1.4 petrol (only available as an automatic 4x4 Off-Road Look) returns 42.2mpg with emissions of 157g/km, but if you must have the reassurance of all-wheel traction then you could make a case for it.
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The most expensive diesel to run is also the most expensive model to buy outright. The 138bhp 2.0 MultiJet is again only available with 4x4 in Off-Road Look trim, and the nine-speed auto weighs 175kg more than any other model. Partly due to that, it can only muster 51.4mpg and 144g/km – not great for an oil-burner these days.
Insurance groups range from seven for the entry-model City Look to group 16 for the fastest 168bhp petrol-powered cars. Although performance from the Fiat isn’t electrifying, those are competitive rates.
By way of comparison, the Nissan Juke starts at Group 11 and goes up to group 20, but there’s nothing in the 500X range to compare with the Juke 1.6 Tekna’s 134mph/0-62mph in 7.8 seconds.
The Fiat 500 city car is a decent performer at resale time, and we expect the 500X to do better than some rivals in the sector due to its relatively premium feel.
Interior, design and technology
The 500 isn’t the best car in its class in any one department, yet it’s sold almost 1.5 million units worldwide since its launch. Why? Because it looks cool.
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Fiat claims that for 60 per cent of buyers in the compact crossover class styling is their primary motivation, and in that respect the 500X is a clever piece of design. The 500’s retro cues, such as the double circular headlights, ‘moustache’ grille and curved panels have been up-scaled into something altogether more macho.
City Look versions get smoother, sportier-looking front and rear bumpers, while the Off-Road Look models have a more rugged appearance thanks to chunkier bumpers, visible underbody protection and roof rails. This is a much bigger car, don’t forget – longer, wider and taller - than all its main rivals including the MINI Countryman, Renault Captur and Nissan Juke, which gives it a certain amount of extra presence on the road.
On the inside, the 500-inspired retro theme continues with a colourful plastic insert stretching right across the dash, and splashes of chrome on the door handles and vent surrounds. There’s a more three-dimensional feel, though, with the protruding instrument binnacle and the infotainment screen rising out of the dash.
While the City Look cars get shiny body-colour inserts on the fascia, giving the cabin a more premium feel, if you go for the Off-Road Look you get more utilitarian grey inserts which don’t do as much for the interior ambience.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Depending on spec, you can have steering wheel controls, Bluetooth hands-free and music streaming, plus Fiat’s Uconnect system as part of the infotainment package.
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A five-inch touchscreen is standard, but the top-spec Uconnect package adds a 6.5-inch high-definition screen with TomTom navigation, DAB radio, plus connectivity features including Twitter, Deezer music streaming, Reuters news and traffic updates.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The 500X is only available in a single body type, and it’s essentially a five-door hatchback in the pumped-up crossover style. It sits between the 500 and the 500L in terms of interior space, and should easily be big enough for young families.
The driving position is higher overall than the 500, but you sit in a lower sportier position within the car. Up front there are two glove boxes, large door pockets and a deep storage bin underneath the armrest.
There have been compromises to practicality in the pursuit of style though – the rear window is tiny, which makes visibility a pain, and the seats are not the most supportive.
The 500X is vast compared to the old Fiat 500s, and it’s even bigger than the van-like 500L - at 4,248mm nose-to-tail it will take up 10cms more of your drive. The 500X is a little lower (1,600mm vs 1,665mm) and a few cms wider (1,796mm vs 1,784mm).
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The 500X is also noticeably bigger than the 4,135mm Nissan Juke, the 4,122mm Renault Captur and the 4,222mm Skoda Yeti, but a few mms shorter than the 4,255mm Jeep Renegade, with which it shares a platform.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Rear passengers who are shorter than six-foot will have enough headroom and legroom, but any taller and it starts to become a squeeze. There are ISOFIX points for child seats in the rear bench as standard.
At 350 litres, expanding to 1,000 litres with the 60/40 split rear seats folded down, the boot is actually smaller than the Countryman, Juke and Captur, but considering 60 per cent of buyers in this class name styling as their number one motivation Fiat won’t be too worried about that.
The boot space itself has a useful wide opening, while a moveable boot floor can be set at two levels - one level with the boot lip for easy loading and a flat boot floor with the rear seats folded down, and the other lower down to maximise space.
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Reliability and Safety
Reliability and build quality has traditionally been a sticking point for Italian cars. Fiat still has a way to go when it comes to customer service though – it only finished 24th out of 32 in our 2015 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey.
The regular Fiat 500 comes in exactly halfway down our survey of 200 cars when it comes to reliability, and it’s in almost exactly the same position for build quality. You can’t read too much into that because the 500X uses an entirely different platform to the 500, but the 500X feels better built than you might expect.
That said, reliability was one of the categories that dragged Fiat down as a brand in the overall survey, with the company rated 25th out of 32. For build quality though, Fiat managed to out-rank Citroen, Vauxhall, Ford and Nissan, so it’s not all bad news.
In terms of cutting-edge safety equipment, the 500X breaks new ground for Fiat. Buyers can choose from six different option packs (which save them up to 30 per cent compared to buying the options separately), one of which, called ‘Active Protection’, includes high-end tech including adaptive cruise control, auto braking (between 4mph and 120mph), blind spot assist, lane assist and a rear-parking camera for squeezing into and out of tight spots.
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Sadly, that wasn’t enough to convince the EuroNCAP crash testers, who only awarded the 500X four out of five stars. Adult occupant protection was rated at 86 per cent and child protection at 85 per cent.
It may only have a three-year warranty, but the 500X does get the benefit of unlimited mileage. Many three-year packages from other manufacturers include a 60,000 mile limit – although you can’t ignore the fact that Hyundai and Kia offer five- and seven-year deals. The Jeep Renegade, which shares many parts with the 500X, gets a four-year warranty too.
Annual interim service intervals for the 500X are recommended, while petrol models have a major service at two years or 30,000 miles. Diesel models stretch the mileage to 35,000 between major checks.