► Two ultra-efficient new engines for Fiat's compact crossover
► Familiar 500-inspired looks survive facelift and interior refresh
► Higher level of safety tech fitted as standard
The idea of the Fiat 500X has prompted raised eyebrows among purists ever since its launch in 2015, but that's not stopped the compact crossover being the company's second biggest seller after the proper 500 (and well ahead of the ungainly but sensible MPV version, the 500L). The X continues to share nothing but a badge and some styling cues with the 500; it actually shares its underpinnings with another Fiat-Chrysler big seller, the recently refreshed Jeep Renegade.
From mid-September 2018 the 500X range in the UK is tidied up to exclude all-wheel drive and diesel engines (although both are available in the Renegade). What remains is three engines – a cleaner version of the old 1.6-litre petrol, plus two new turbo petrols – in a facelifted body, with more safety gear fitted as standard and prices that have barely changed – they start at £16,995.
What are your choices?
Urban spec has a more on-road look, while the City Cross and Cross Plus trim levels have silvery trim designed to look like serious off-road bash plates front and rear. The Urban is available only with the 1.6 naturally aspirated four, while Cross and Cross Plus have the new 118bhp 1.0-litre turbo triple and 1.3-litre turbo four making 148bhp. In the UK we get the 1.0 with a six-speed manual gearbox and the 1.3 with a paddleshift twin-clutch six-speed automatic.
Every 500X now comes with LEDs for the rear lights and daytime running lights as standard, plus Lane Assist (which will stop you straying across solid white lines) and a combination of Traffic Sign Recognition and Speed Advisor that can – depending how you set it up – warn you that you’re breaking the speed limit or actively stop you speeding. Blind Spot Alert, Adaptive Cruise Control and City Brake Control (which slams on the anchors to stop you rear-ending other vehicles) are all available.
Urban has 16in wheels, City Cross has 17s, front foglights and rear parking sensors, while Cross Plus comes with 18s, roof rails, tinted rear windows and LED headlights.
There’s a long options list – individual items and packs – that can get you anything your chosen spec level leaves out.
And the interior?
There’s a vast choice of cabin fabrics and colours, although to our eyes the ones that keep it simple and go big on contrast – with the external paint colour also used for the dash – look best.
The dash itself has been slightly reshaped, and there are tweaked dials. All 500Xs come with a seven-inch central touchscreen and between the dials a smaller TFT screen (in colour in City Cross and Cross Plus models).
Fiat is keen to emphasise the car's ready compatibility wither the Uconnect Live app; the touchscreen becomes an extension of your smartphone. Our brief experience of the app was not, however, a happy one. Cross Plus spec gets you proper built-in TomTom nav in the touchscreen, and we found that to be excellent.
What's it like to drive?
Good, not great.
Both the new engines are very impressive: smooth, willing and torquey – they close the gap between traditional small petrol engines and grunty diesels. They’re essentially the same thing – the 1.3 is a 1.0 with an extra cylinder added. Light in weight and super-efficient, they continue a long tradition of little Fiat engines that punch well above their weight.
The steering has a nice weight to it, and the suspension is a good compromise between bump absorption and body control. And, refreshingly, there are no driving modes to choose between.
It's not plush inside but it is quiet and comfortable, front and rear. Those in the front get a good amount of seat adjustment, and the steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake. In the back, two adults or three kids will be happy. And the boot’s nice and deep.
Fiat 500X: verdict
Fiat knows full well that by far the biggest single reason anyone buys a 500X is style. If you don't like the look of it, it becomes rather less compelling. (A Dacia Duster is a proper 4x4 for less money; the new Ford Focus is an excellent conventional hatch for similar money to the 500X.) But put it up against other style-led crossovers such as the Mini Countryman, Renault Captur, Citroën C3 Aircross and Peugeot 2008 and it makes a lot of sense.
It's not, however, a case of style over substance. Nothing about the X's looks is at the expense of its performance. It drives well, it's usefully roomy, it looks after you and feels like it will put up with a good amount of abuse from kids and pets.