Long-term announcement: Fiat 500X 1.4T Cross
It should come as no surprise that the Fiat 500 is one of the Italian brand’s most successful models in South Africa. Combing retro styling with good equipment levels and attractive pricing, the 500 has put Fiat back on the map locally. But what about the larger, beefier 500X? Is it really a 500 at heart?
Well that depends on how lenient you want to be about family ties. The 500X might wear a Fiat badge, but its heritage is more reliant on the fact that, these days, Fiat owns Chrysler, and that Chrysler, in turn, is the custodian of the Jeep brand.
That’s important in this context, because the 500X shares its underpinnings with the compact, chunky Jeep Renegade. So yes, the 500 and the 500X come from the same group, but at best, they’re cousins twice removed. And it shows in the styling ….
Look long and hard enough, and you might see the family resemblance between the 500X and the smaller, cuter 500. But despite the rounded contours, the pronounced shoulder line, and the short overhangs, the 500X’s shape has very little in common with that of its smaller, illustrious stablemate.
Considering its mechanical provenance, that’s no surprise. The 500X is bigger in every dimension. At just shy of 4,3 metres long, 1,8 metres wide and 1,6 metres tall, the 500X towers above its little namesake. However, it has to be said that the 500X looks more Fiat than Jeep. There really is nothing about the exterior that reminds one of the Renegade.
There’s a certain retro charm to the interior that’s very much 500. But some of the ergonomic details, such as the audio control buttons on the rear of the steering wheel spokes, are pure Jeep. There’s also a strong sense of value, thanks to an extensive list of standard specification, including a colour touch screen display for the comprehensive infotainment system, climate control, keyless entry and start, and more.
As for space, there’s more rear legroom than expected, and the 245 litre boot seems bigger than that figure suggests. Fold the split rear bench seat flat, and you have 910 litres to play with.
As far as performance is concerned, the 500X gets its urge from a relatively modest but turbocharged 1,4-litre four-cylinder engine. Maximum output is 103 kW, linked to 230 Nm, which is ample given the crossover’s relatively modest 1,4 ton kerb mass. The gearbox is a six-speed manual, driving the front wheels.
The turbo engine is more willing than expected – so much so that you need to be gentle with the throttle in first and second to stop the front wheels from scrabbling for grip. Slightly taller first and second gear ratios might well have been a better bet.
A pleasant surprise is the inclusion of a drive mode selector, which offers a choice of three modes: auto, which is supposed to find the best possible combination of traction, economy and response, sport – which sharpens all responses; and agility, which vectors the torque between the two front wheels for optimum traction on compromised surfaces.
The 500X was never conceived as a performance car, but that doesn’t make it lazy. The Italian gets to 100 clicks from rest in under 10 seconds, while top speed is 190 km/h. The raised ground clearance comes in handy on rough terrain, too – but the downside is a raised centre of gravity that becomes quite apparent in the twisties. Turn-in is a little ponderous, and the electric power steering blunts feedback.
However, the ride is quite good, given the relatively short wheelbase, and the Fiat always feel sure-footed, even when pressing on. The elevated seating position is a real boon from a visibility perspective, be it in urban traffic or on the open road.
There’s a lot to be said for the current crop of small crossovers. They are versatile, brisk and efficient. The Fiat 500X may not offer all-wheel drive, but it’s swifter and more confident than expected, while coping with a wide range of road conditions. The next 20 000 km will prove just how versatile the 500X 1.4T Cross really is.