Fiat 500X (2015) First Drive

Fiat 500X Ext 88

Fiat has been quite short on product over the last few years, but is trying to make a resurgence with its first step into the crossover market. The 500X plans to carve out a piece of the crossover pie with its unique looks, fun drive and sparkling personality. We attended the launch in Cape Town to see first-hand if it’s any good.

What is it?

The Fiat 500X makes use of the relatively new partnership with Jeep to jointly develop a crossover/compact SUV. The Jeep derivative is the Renegade that we recently drove and liked quite a lot. The Fiat 500X uses the same platform as the Renegade, but from the outside (and inside) you wouldn’t say they were cut from the same cloth. The 500X is a much softer, less rugged looking crossover aimed at the more soft-roader buyer who wants the practicality of a crossover rather than the machismo the Jeep offers.

Engines and gearboxes

From launch, the Fiat 500X is available with two engines, both petrol. The entry level 1.6 is naturally aspirated unit with 81 kW and 152 Nm. It only comes with a five-speed manual gearbox. The top engine unit for now is the 1.4 turbo unit capable of 103 kW and 205 Nm. This engine can be specced either with a six-speed manual or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

We were only able to drive the 1.4 turbo model at launch and the engine is easily capable in traffic as well as on the open road. It pulls smoothly and offers enough torque to overtake easily and accelerate adequately on steep hills. The six-speed manual gearbox feels solid and has nicely matched ratios for the 500X. The dual-clutch gearbox seems best out on the open road, but in town in can be a bit clumsy and jerky at low speeds.

Spec levels

The 500X is specced reasonably well, playing most of its hand in the connectivity and safety departments. Standard fare is a 5-inch touchscreen infotainment system that deals with Bluetooth, media streaming, USB and Aux operations. The top spec (Cross Plus) model includes navigation and can be upgraded to a 6.5-inch touchscreen with 3D navigation. All models come standard with tyre pressure monitoring so as to let you know if one of your 500X’s tyres is punctured or in need of a top-up of air.

On the safety front, standard spec is excellent, all cars are fitted with ABS, EBD and ESP. Six airbags are fitted and there is a hill-hold function and reverse parking sensors on all models. Things you can upgrade to include full leather interior, electric sunroof and a special three coat Amore Red paintwork. The 500X is also offering three option packs that upgrade the safety, comfort or visibility.

Interior feel

The interior of the 500X is as typically funky as you would expect from the Italian brand. It feels solidly built and the materials used are anything but boring. There’s a mix of leather in the door, durable plastic across the dash and a sort of gritty matte finish to the area around the buttons surrounding the infotainment screen. The seats we had on our unit were the part leather, part cloth version that took a while to get comfortable in but does feature electronic lumbar support to help get the perfect driving position sorted.

Fiat 500X pricing

Fiat hopes the 500X will clutch at the heartstrings of would be buyers that buy their cars more for the emotional attachment rather than the statistics and specification. It’s cute and funky and will go up against the ever-present Nissan Qashqai but also something like a Mini Countryman. Pricing starts at R310 900 for the naturally aspirated 1.6-litre, but when fully loaded with the 1.4 turbo it can climb as high as R394 900. For now it looks like quite a funky alternative that's cool and offers something a little different at a similar price point. We’ll get a better idea of what it’s about when we get it for a full test soon. The 500X is offered with a three-year/100 000km warranty and maintenance plan.