Fiat 500x: Will X mark the spot for an Italian revival?
New 500x seeks to win over Irish buyers by appealing to their crossover desires
Irish car buyers have fallen so spectacularly out of love with Fiat that this launch of the new 500x feels almost like two former lovers, meeting for the first time after a rancourous divorce. You can sense the tentative nature of it, the worrying over whether the one will remember why they liked the other in the first place. And who gets custody of the Abarths?
That may be a slight overstatement, but certainly Fiat has fallen a long, long way from the heights it once commanded in the Irish car market, circa 2000.
Back then, even if you’d built a maglev train from Turin to Dublin, you couldn’t have pumped in Puntos and Alfa 156s fast enough to keep up with demand.
It all soured soon after though – a one-two double whammy of the disastrously judged update of the Punto and the just plain disastrous Stilo saw the ardour cool, just at the time that the interloping Korean brands started to get their act together.The slope since then has been long and slippery and Fiat knows it has a long climb back to respectability and affection in Ireland.
Well, for a long, slippery climb, Fiat has at last come properly equipped. The 500x is not its first compact crossover (that accolade goes either to the Suzuki-based Sedici or, if you fancy being pedantic, the original Panda 4x4 of 1982) but it feels like a much better fit for this burgeoning market.
In among the Renault Capturs, Nissan Jukes and Mini Countrymen (Countrymans?) the 500x should look pretty good, and it’s certainly a better expansion and extension of the styling cues of the diminutive 500 than the bulky and unpleasant 500L mini-MPV.
Much more desirable too – quite apart from the fact that the compact crossover market is the most expansionist part of the car trade right now (both here at home and abroad), the 500x actually looks really rather desirable, rather like a techy running shoe.
Certainly it does in Off Road flavour, with its wheel arch extensions and chunky gunmetal grey trim sections. The City style looks a little plainer. Perhaps it’s a gender thing, but I certainly prefer the rugged looks of the 500x Cross and Cross Plus, as compared with the Pop, Pop Star or Lounge trims.
Either way you get a car that’s closely related to the recently launched Jeep Renegade. The platforms are essentially identical, the engine lineups more or less the same.
Of course, the Jeep is far more focused on being tough and adaptable off road, while the 500x is more accustomed to life in town.
The 500x also has a much nicer interior than its Jeep cousin. While it’s clearly related to that of the 500L and, to a lesser extent, the diminutive 500 itself, the quality of materials on display is really rather excellent – better by far than what you get on the inside of a Captur or Juke and comparable to the cabin of the Mini Countryman.
Plastic surfaces are pleasant to the eye and the fingertip and the panel of glittery, rough- surfaced granite-like material across the centre is really nice.
The instruments too look neat and expensive, and the digital displays for the speedo and the central uConnect infotainment screen are bright, easy to read and easy to use.
While there are options that feature a proper four-wheel- drive setup, we figured it’s best to leave the mud to the Jeeps, so our test car was a 500x Cross with the 1.6-litre diesel MultiJet engine (sporting a healthy 120hp) and front- wheel drive. In lieu of four- wheel drive this version comes with a multimode electronic setting that alters the throttle response, traction control and steering weight. It’s basically the same as Alfa Romeo’s DNA switch, but here in the 500x it’s called, rather brilliantly, Mood Selector. How many of us have wished for a real one of those at certain times.
Left to do its own thing in Auto, the 500x proves really rather good to drive. Initially, the ride quality seems too fidgety and jittery at low speeds, but that goes away as the speeds rise (and is apparently much less intrusive on the 17” alloy wheels, unlike the 18” rims of our test car).
The steering is rather overassisted and somewhat mute on the subject of feel, but the 500x has fundamentally good road manners, cornering briskly and with much composure and proving decently refined – both petrol and diesel engines emit barely a murmur in the cabin.
Overall comfort is good too – at last, Fiat seems to have discovered the concept of a left footrest – and the fact that the 500x is larger than most of its major competitors pays dividends when it comes to cabin and boot space, both of which are at least adequate.
Whether the two lovers will be reconciled is rather down to you, the car buying public, not me. Can the flowers and chocolates of the 500x’s improved styling, its level of perceived quality and its impressive five-year warranty possibly bridge the divide?
Well, let me leave you with this thought: I drove to and from the 500x’s launch in a conventional five-door diesel hatchback comparable in price, space, size and performance to the 500x. And I really wished it was the Fiat I had driven home in.
The lowdown: Volkswagen Golf R
Price: €25,450 as tested (range starts at €19,750)
Top speed: 186km/h
Claimed economy: 4.1l/100km. (68.9mpg)
CO2 emissions: 109g/km
Motor tax: €180