X marks the sweet spot for Fiat’s 500 range

DRIVING on UK roads tends to be a nightmare. Slow drivers rolling out of side roads to form a moving road block, heavy traffic and the constant slalom between car-breaking pot holes.

DRIVING on UK roads tends to be a nightmare.

Slow drivers rolling out of side roads to form a moving road block, heavy traffic and the constant slalom between car-breaking pot holes.

On the rare occasions that you find yourself on a glorious stretch of open tarmac, being behind the wheel can still be bliss.

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Last week I headed to North Yorkshire and experienced just such an epiphany on the moorland roads outside Richmond.

Such an experience in such a location comes, perhaps, as little surprise. But that’s exactly what I got from the car I enjoyed it in...Fiat’s new 500X.

The Italian response to the Nissan Juke, MINI Countryman, Renault Captur and Citroen Cactus, the 500X hits UK showrooms today (24), in two guises — standard Pop, Pop Star and Lounge or the more rugged Cross and Cross Plus — and with a choice of front or four-wheel-drive.

There’s three petrol (a 110bhp 1.6 EtorQ or 140bhp 1.4 and 170bhp 1.4 MultiAir) and three diesel engines (95bhp 1.3, 120bhp 1.6 and 140bhp two-litre MultiJet), the latter of which can be fitted with Fiat’s new nine-speed automatic gearbox.

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The 140bhp petrol engine can also be had as a six-speed dual-clutch automatic.

On an overcast day in North Yorkshire I set aside the opinion that only a diminutive hatchback should wear a 500 badge but still approached this new creation with a few reservations.

Historically, Fiat could not match key rivals in terms of interior quality, fit and finish, but here they were entering an increasingly competitive segment and — at prices between £14,595 and £24,845 — taking on premium competitors like the MINI Countryman.

Having spent time in the 500L, a car which offers reasonable comfort but little dynamic prowess, I also worried about the 500X’s ability to entertain.

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I needn’t have. I left North Yorkshire knowing that this is the most complete 21st century Fiat to wear the 500 moniker.

Settling into the supportive seats of a front-wheel-drive 500X 1.6 MultiJet Pop Star (£19,345) an improvement in interior quality is immediately apparent. 

Admittedly, helping this along was the upgrade to an optional Nav Pack (£1,000), which ushers in a 6.5 inch touchscreen TomTom sat-nav system and DAB radio.

Fiat Uconnect software, which allows the driver to link up their smartphone via Bluetooth to access emails and on-line apps comes as standard.

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Pop Star includes a multi-function steering wheel, voice command, rear parking sensors, start&stop, 17 inch alloys, an electronic parking brake with Hill Hold assist and Mood Control, which hones throttle, stability control and steering responses through Normal, Sport and All Weather settings.

Making a more immediate impression is the stylish dash which tastefully incorporates a soft touch top and the familiar body-coloured fascia from the 500 hatch.

A trio of dials face the driver, with a 3.5 inch multi-function screen at their core.

There’s practicality too.

Giant door bins, sizable cup holders, room for a pair of six foot-plus adults in the rear and a 350-litre boot coupled to split Fold&Tumble rear seats and a fold flat front seat.

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It’s an interior that is only really bettered by the Countryman in this segment.

Turn a wheel and the positive impressions continue.

The new six-speed manual gearbox is smooth and precise in a way I’ve not experienced elsewhere in the Fiat range.

The suspension can bob a little but never jolts or jars due to road imperfections and feels planted through the turns.

Comfortable at low speeds, the 500X’s real party trick is how it impresses when the pace is upped. This is the surprise of the day for me, something I had never expected.

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Even in the Mood Selector’s standard set-up its quick steering rack taps into a keen front end which exhibits impressive grip, fair railing around bends.

Fiat’s Dynamic Steering Torque system undoubtedly take a lot of the credit, braking an inside rear wheel to point the front end at an apex.

Select Sport and the slightly darty steering weights up usefully and the throttle sharpens.

Tracking true through corners the 500X does a good job of putting the Sports in SUV and feels more focussed than its segment rivals.

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The 1.6-litre MultiJet engine feels faster than its claimed 10.5 second sprint to 62mph and 115mph top speed.

It is also the range’s cleanest engine, returning a claimed 68.9mpg and 109g/km CO2 emissions.

My drive in the identically-engined 500X Cross — an extra £750, at £20,095 — was not dissimilar to my experience in the standard car.

Personal taste dictates which one you go for, the Cross spec having different wheels, front and rear bumpers and roof rails.

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Regular readers will have already established that I was taken aback by the quality and dynamic polish of the Fiat 500X.

Much as I appreciate the originality of Citroen’s Cactus and the all-round polish of the MINI Countryman, I’m currently ranking this as my class leader. A first for Fiat in these pages.

Any car that can remind me of the fun of driving — even with the benefit of Yorkshire’s finest roads — has to be a winner.


500X 1.6 MultiJet Pop Star

Engine: 1,598cc, four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol 

Power: 118bhp and 236lb.ft. of torque

Performance: 0-62mph in 10.5 seconds and 115mph

Economy: 68.9 mpg (combined)

CO2 emissions: 109g/km

Price: £19,345

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