Fiat 500X (2016) long-term test review

Published: 23 December 2016

► Fiat inflates 500 to create mini SUV 
► We live with 1.6 Multijet Cross model
► A worthy alternative to Juke & co?

Month 14 running a Fiat 500X: the goodbye

With a full-scale house restoration about to commence I’ve become (I think) decisive. We’ve scoured Pinterest, created the world’s most complicated Excel spreadsheet, and now I face a nightly bout of quick-fire decision-making. From beds to bathtubs, tiles to towels, bang, bang, bang I choose (what I think she wants), and our new home takes shape.

Yet despite my newfound conviction when dealing with the design direction of our terraced abode, after 14 months with the Fiat 500X I can’t work out whether I’m a fan or not. Together we’ve covered nearly 11,000 miles, trekking off to the Isle of Wight, up North to see family and friends, and even meeting up with an original Panda 4x4 in deepest Wales. We’ve had dealer experiences both good and bad too, but a verdict? I’m not sure I can make up my mind.

Take the styling. Sometimes I think it’s a cool little thing, with nicely swollen wheelarches and the chunky Off-Road Look bodykit’s protruding bumpers. And at others it’s a blob, especially when I spy another on the road with the slender City Look addenda.

2016 Fiat 500X long-term test

Or there’s the engine: 46mpg since it arrived last summer and a decent slug of torque, yet far too much turbo lag before progress begins. Seats: stylish to look upon, but after any journey that takes us beyond the M25 (likely to a tile warehouse or woodburner showroom) the missus and I have backache. Sat-nav: clear screen, quick to act, but enter a postcode and it’ll display the alphabet when a number inevitably comes next – and, of course, vice versa.

Is my hesitancy to make a call a reflection on this type of vehicle too, the small, faux, 4x4? I mean, technically, they are unnecessary. And early on in my tenure with the Fiat it was involved in a CAR group test with three other new rivals, the closely related Jeep Renegade, and a Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3. And our verdict on each – a middling three stars apiece – highlights that this expanding sector isn’t perhaps all it’s cracked up to be.

Heck, Vauxhall’s rival Mokka outsold all of the above in the UK last year (the tenth best-seller!) and yet it’s pretty awful. How did 45,399 people decide they weren’t better off in a Golf? All of them should have been barred from the ‘Brexit’ vote for lacking sound judgement.

But the fact the Golf, from driving dynamics to interior quality, is objectively better doesn’t matter. Subjectively the Mokka and its ilk appeal because, y’know, some people just plain like them. They’re different, so whether it’s the higher driving position, the supposed additional safety in a crash, or just straightforward emotional appeal, there are a myriad of reasons not to head to the nearest VW dealer.

2016 Fiat 500X long-term test

Of course, this has been the case since Merc MLs started replacing E-class estates. But with the proliferation of crossovers through the market, now everyone can have one instead of a common-or-garden hatch or saloon. So much so that I’d give kudos to anyone picking the likes of an A3 over a Q3 or a 5 Touring instead of an X5.

Even manufacturers are reverting to the hatch. Nissan – which started this mass-market craze – has dropped the Qashqai back to the ground to create the Pulsar (but faced with dross like that, I would get a Qashqai) and Fiat has used the oily bits from it and Chrysler’s vast parts bin to birth the Tipo, following a two-year hiatus since the Bravo snuffed it.

What does all this mean for the 500X then, and the chance of me crystallizing my thoughts anytime soon? Right. Well. So. If I had to make a decision. Err… Okay, I quite like it. It’s different. I like the higher driving position, the sense of… No, wait, those attributes are common to all these crossovers. Umm…

Okay, objectively the 500X is a reasonable little car. Say six out of ten (or three stars from five in fact). It’s not dull or rubbish or infuriating in some way, but actually alright, almost good, but with no standout attributes like the impeccable interior of an A3.

The Fiat has wormed its way into my affections over the past year or so; I have fond memories in it, of it, of where we went and what we did – and have a soft spot for it because of that.  If I’m ruthlessly rational I’ll tell you to stick with a hatchback, but if I’m honest with myself, I enjoyed life with the 500X. I do like it, and I’ll justify that however I can. Eventually.

2016 Fiat 500X long-term test

Count the cost

Cost new £24,320 (including £4225 of options)
Dealer sale price £13,890
Private sale price £12,790
Part-exchange price £12,175
Cost per mile 11p
Cost per mile including depreciation £1.40

Logbook: Fiat 500X 1.6 MultiJet Cross

Engine 1598cc 16v turbodiesel 4-cyl, 118bhp @ 3750rpm, 236lb ft @ 1750rpm 
Transmission 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive 
Stats 10.5sec 0-62mph, 115mph, 109g/km 
Price £20,095 
As tested £24,320 
Miles this month 390
Total miles 10,961 
Our mpg 45.7
Official mpg 68.9 
Fuel costs overall £1013.85 
Extra costs £0

By Ben Pulman

Month 13 running a Fiat 500X: definitely not an Astra

The highlight of any summer holiday is hire car roulette: take a punt on the cheapest internet deal and end up with something obscure which isn’t sold in the UK and which must have at least one bald tyre.

Except this year, because our party included a baby, so safety first. I paid for an Astra. Which turned out to be a Nissan Juke. Verdict: the sloping roof means compromised boot space, but it was fun to punt along the mountainous roads of northern Mallorca. Would still have the 500X though.

Logbook: Fiat 500X 1.6 MultiJet Cross 

Engine 1598cc 16v turbodiesel 4-cyl, 118bhp @ 3750rpm, 236lb ft @ 1750rpm  
Transmission 6-speed manual, fwd  
Stats 10.5sec 0-62mph, 115mph, 109g/km  
Price £20,095  
As tested £24,320  
Miles this month 0  
Total miles 10,571  
Our mpg 47.4  
Official mpg 68.9  
Fuel this month £0  
Extra costs £0

By Ben Pulman

2016 Fiat 500X long-term test

Month 12 running a Fiat 500X: why it’s cheaper for Londoners to drive to Wales for a service

Despite what we’d have you believe, the life of a motoring journalist isn’t all excitement and supercars in the south of France. Which means, each month, when CJ asks us to submit our long-term test report, we’re all left scratching our heads over how to appear like we’re not just normal blokes who do the school run, commute to work, and get sent out late at night in search of chocolate.

Worse for me, this month I’ve discovered an app called ‘Uber’. You may have heard of it but, just as I refused an internet connection at home until 2012, I’m a late adopter… 

For the uninitiated it allows you to hail a taxi through your phone. Great invention, but with few reasons to get behind the wheel of the Fiat this month, when I did go to the south of France to drive that supercar (I really did! My life is exciting!!) the 500X stayed at home. Cheaper to get an ‘Uber’ to Heathrow than pay for fuel and parking, you see. Result: I can’t even write about the drive to the airport on the way to drive the supercar. 

Happily though, the 500X has come to the rescue. A few weeks back it pinged up a warning that the 9000-mile/12-month service was due in 30 days. Like any typical owner, I ignored it. And again when I next climbed aboard 15 days later. And then the next time the service was overdue. Which was the same day I was ferrying loved ones north for a funeral. Hardly the time to be worrying about the annual inspection. 

Nevertheless, I called the nearest dealer in London, Fiat Marylebone, to get the 500X booked in upon my return. Yet in the age of instant gratification and on-demand TV I was shocked to find they couldn’t actually fit me in for over a week. Which was when I was away on the annual Pulman family holiday to Pembrokeshire. And once the man on the other end of the line quoted a price north of £400 and started talking about oil changes, something in the deep recesses of my mind reckoned that wasn’t what was in the owner’s manual, so I made my excuses and said I’d call back.

The funeral overtook proceedings for the next few days, which saw another 1000 miles rung up so, worried the oil was turning to molasses, I called Fiat Marylebone back. No one was available in the service department, but I was promised a call back ASAP. Meantime, with that Pembrokeshire holiday impending, I called the nearest dealer down there, PMS Cars in Haverfordwest. Unfortunate name aside, I called on Monday, they asked if I could make it in that week, we agreed to change the pollen filter as I live in London and under the Heathrow flight path, and I was quoted £120. 

And now I’m writing this in their waiting room, with the service complete in under an hour, the work visible through a window, the bill paid totalling just £82.85, the 500X outside getting a courtesy wash, and wondering whether Fiat Marylebone will ever call back...

Logbook: Fiat 500X 1.6 MultiJet Cross 

Engine 1598cc 16v turbodiesel 4-cyl, 118bhp @ 3750rpm, 236lb ft @ 1750rpm  
Transmission 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive  
Stats 10.5sec 0-62mph, 115mph, 109g/km  
Price £20,095  
As tested £24,320  
Miles this month 1219  
Total miles 10,571  
Our mpg 47.4  
Official mpg 68.9  
Fuel this month £137.10  
Extra costs £82.85 (annual service)

By Ben Pulman

2016 Fiat 500X long-term test

Month 11 running a Fiat 500X: car beats train on the Isle of Wight

There have been two trips to the Isle of Wight this month, but only one with the Fiat. The first, sans 500X, was a train ride to Portsmouth, a catamaran crossing, and a charitable – but chafing – endeavour to walk a marathon to raise cash for the Earl Mountbatten Hospice.

The Fiat entered the fray for the sequel, and without the need to stop in every town to deposit commuters, got me there quicker. Which means I had time to get this nice picture before my mate’s wedding.

Logbook: Fiat 500X 1.6 MultiJet Cross 

Engine 1598cc 16v turbodiesel 4-cyl, 118bhp @ 3750rpm, 236lb ft @ 1750rpm  
Transmission 6-spd manual, fwd  
Stats 10.5sec 0-62mph, 115mph, 109g/km CO2  
Price £20,095  
As tested £24,320  
Miles this month 642  
Total miles 9352  
Our mpg 46.7  
Official mpg 68.9  
Fuel this month £70.54  
Extra costs £0

By Ben Pulman

Month 10 running a Fiat 500X: erratic economy

Last month the 500X sprung a leak in its fuel tank. Or at least it must have to account for the sudden woeful increase in consumption to 34.7mpg. I might have spent a day at Rockingham Motor Speedway, but I didn’t actually take the Fiat on track.

And yes, I double-checked the maths. So I literally don’t know where the blip has come from. Especially as this month all is back to normal with it returning nearly 48mpg – and the 500X averaging around 400 miles per tank. Answers on a postcard...

By Ben Pulman 

2016 Fiat 500X long-term test

Month 9 running a Fiat 500X: meeting an original Panda 4x4

We motoring journalists love our ‘old versus new’ comparisons, yet where’s the current Panda 4x4 to sit alongside the original in this test? Well, that’s not the story here. Rather, I’m more interested in seeing just how far Fiat has come since it built that iconic four-wheel-drive runabout in the ’80s and, by way of comparison, whether the pseudo-4x4 Fiat 500X I drive on a daily basis is all show and no go. 

But a little history first. The Panda went on sale in 1980, and as was (and is) the Fiat way, offered a cheap, no-frills set of wheels to move the Italian masses, with practical touches such as washable seat covers wrapped up in some rather neat Giorgetto Giugiaro-penned lines.  

The Panda 4x4 that followed in 1983 was a bit of an oddity. Who’d want such a small car with four-wheel drive? Actually, anyone who lived within sight of the Alps. And with everything in the drivetrain from the clutch backwards supplied from across the border by Austrian firm Steyr-Puch, and skinny little 145-section tyres wrapping the four driven wheels, it tackled snow, mud, and whatever else its owners threw at it with absolute aplomb. 

The rest of the Panda range received a substantial overhaul in 1986, but while the Panda 4x4 was treated to some of those enhancements (like the rather useful fully galvanised body…) it made do without the new engines, gearboxes and suspension so the trusted four-wheel drive hardware could be left well alone. 

Fiat 500X and Panda 4x4

Why change a winning recipe? Whether you were a farmer or a postman or just someone who needed to get around when the weather got grim, the Panda 4x4 was the perfect tool for the job. These little cars have cult status in the Alps – and appeal further afield – and many still survive today. Heck, I once went on a launch of an SUV, and our convoy of press cars were led up a rough track into the mountains by a local guide in her Panda 4x4.

Which brings us to this, the Sisley special edition, which is lined up alongside my long-termer in the Brecon Beacons. Originally launched in 1987 as a limited-run model, the Sisley’s popularity meant it soon became a permanent fixture within Fiat’s pricelist – though it’s still more sought after than regular Panda 4x4s. 

What makes a Sisley a Sisley? If you’re an off-road enthusiast it’s the headlamp washers, inclinometer, bonnet vent and – where fitted – the roof rack and front and rear bull bars (the latter able to fold down to give access to the boot). Or if you’re more into your fashion (and the Sisley was a collaboration with one of Benetton’s clothing companies) then it’s all about the white wheels, ribbed seats, and plethora of canoe badges. 

So, off-roading then… Alas not today. And before you write in/post on Facebook/Snapchat the editor/communicate via some other method I’m too old to understand (and Snapchat is already a stretch…) let me explain why this isn’t a thorough road test. There appear to be two types of Panda 4x4 in the UK: those with a little, ahem, patina, and others, like this one, that are rather too nice to be driven into the countryside.

Inside the Fiat Panda 4x4 Sisley edition

In fact, Marpol Vehicles in south Wales, who we borrowed this car from, have another Panda 4x4 in stock and having rebuilt it to concours spec won’t even let it out when there’s a cloud in the sky. (Would you be surprised to hear that the two brothers who run the company have family roots in northern Italy? They have a rather nice Ferrari 308 GTB up for sale too…)

Essentially then, I could have found and driven a rusty Panda 4x4 and tried to get it stuck in the mud, or taken out a mint one like this for some good, clean fun. I chose the latter, and as the thick mist that inevitably draws in around us gradually burns off, it reveals itself to be a cool little box of maroon loveliness.

I don’t know where to start: crawl underneath and prod the chunky drivetrain like I know what I’m talking about? Pop the bonnet and marvel at how the spare wheel sits atop the diddy 999cc engine? No, instead I start blabbering on about how refreshing it is to see a car with body cladding. Remember that? Where if you dinged a door you replaced a bit of plastic trim rather than an entire panel? Get out more? Yeah…

Inside I’m equally drawn to odd observations. Like the fact the door is just a door, with a simple oblong piece of trim affixed to the upper half, plus a pocket, handle and window winder screwed straight into the metal. No swooping plastic mouldings butting up flush with the dashboard, no padded leather armrests, no in-built airbags, no switches to control the central locking, all-round electric windows and folding mirrors. No wonder, even with the four-wheel-drive hardware, the Panda 4x4 weighs a paltry 790kg. 

On the roads of the Brecon Beacons: a Fiat Panda 4x4 chased by a 500X

Eventually I become slightly more astute and get onto the business of that four-wheel-drive system. There are no open diffs acted upon by ESC electronics here, no dial to be turned or buttons pressed to tell multiple ECUs what to do with the throttle, engine and brakes. Nope, instead you read the oh-so-simple instructions on a metal panel riveted onto the transmission tunnel, yank up the stubby little handle behind the gearstick, and you’re good to go. Albeit only up to 38mph. 

What’s the system like? Well, given it wasn’t wet and the Panda 4x4 doesn’t have the grunt to trouble its tyres (49bhp, 0-62mph in 17.5 seconds) there are few conclusion to be legitimately drawn. And being an old car driven in the context of a modern-day alternative, the experience behind the wheel is everything you’d expect: visibility is great but the brakes aren’t, the ride quality comes from an era when engineers still held sway over designers, hefting the steering about comes as a shock to arms used to power assistance, and with the 500X following along behind for photography, it feels like you’re being stalked by some whopping great white predator.

All of which means I come away from this encounter with an appreciation of the Panda 4x4 for what it is, rather than what it can do. (Which seems rather ironic given that’s exactly what the modern SUV, in all its guises, is criticised for – the 500X included.) Whichever way you take it though, the Panda 4x4 is an object of retro, minimalist desire. 

The cabin of our Fiat 500X

The 500X? The fact I haven’t mentioned it since the start does it a disservice, because climbing back aboard to face the four-hour journey home, turning on the heated seats, turning up the DAB radio, settling into comfortable leather seats and setting the cruise control, it’s everything the car of today needs to be and everything the Panda 4x4 can’t be. It can’t go off-road like the Panda 4x4, it won’t have cult status in 30 years, but right now it’s a rather decent little car. 

So after all that, there’s really no link to be made from that early Fiat four-wheel drive vehicle to its latest SUV, but that doesn’t mean they don’t both conform to Fiat’s proletarian heritage. They do, and I rather like both of them. 

By Ben Pulman

Month 8 running a Fiat 500X: This just in - Fiat details quite good

Cynical or not, we’re used to Fiat’s promise lasting as long as the showroom wax. But the 500X’s appeal is holding up. Here's a quick tour of its quirks:

The sat-nav's built-in, but it actually works

Fiat touchscreen

In a world of TomToms and assorted mapping apps, the 
in-built car sat-nav seems an archaic option – but I’m rather fond of the Fiat’s system. It’s quick, easy to use, and yet to send me through a field. Which means I’ve jinxed it and by next month I’ll be stranded in a cabbage patch.

Just how moody do they think we all are?

Fiat 500X drive select

I once twisted the ‘Drive Mood Selector’ and the dashboard display changed, but since then it’s been an irrelevance. I’m morally opposed to the Sport setting in a faux SUV such as this, and the weather has never been bad enough to warrant the Traction Plus setting. Plus it’s two-wheel drive anyway…

Gold strike in the parts bin!

Fiat 500X

I know, it’s just a few climate-control dials pinched out of an Alfa Giulietta, but more than any other element of the interior, this rotary trio help the 500X feel like a more premium product. And while they’re positioned well below your line of sight, the buttons are big enough to operate by touch alone. Hurrah for the Fiat-Chrysler parts bin.

Take two gloveboxes into the shower?

Fiat 500X

To be honest, I’d forgotten all about the double glovebox until CJ commissioned this month’s report. With storage bins in the doors, ahead of the gearstick, and beneath the central armrest, I don’t carry around enough superfluous junk to justify the existence of one glovebox, let alone the extravagance of two. Must buy more crap to ensure a thorough appraisal.

By Ben Pulman

Month 7 running a Fiat 500X crossover: the death of the American dream

I recently learnt that the 500X can be upgraded with a raft of Mopar extras. Which got me over-excited. Click on the US website and, well, you’ll lose hours dribbling and dreaming. There’s something for everyone or, if you’re like me, far too much choice. Take the Challenger Drag Pak – it starts life as a two-door coupe, but Mopar then adds a roll cage approved by the NHRA (think the FIA for drag racing), lightweight buckets, a composite bonnet, a Hurst shifter atop the three-speed tranny, and a solid nine-inch rear axle. Oh, and one of two Hemi V8s, either a supercharged 5.7 or a naturally aspirated 7.0-litre, the latter with a bonnet scoop big enough to hinder forward visibility. It’s not street legal, and so much the better for it. 

And if you want to stay away from the tarmac completely, then there’s a vast array of off-road accessories for Jeeps, from ridiculous lift-kits and tougher suspension, via hardcore winches and high-intensity lights, to beefy underbody protection and hardware engine upgrades. All that’s missing is your partner – she’ll be packing her bags the instant you arrive home in a Wrangler on 35in wheels.

Sadly Mopar’s offerings for the 500X in the UK are a little more, umm, sedate. There’s a fragrance dispenser, a headrest-mounted coat hanger-cum-iPad holder, a plethora of stickers for the bonnet and roof, mirror caps (including black or white ‘carbonfibre’) and various racks to carry bikes and skis. No doubt actually practical and useful stuff, but not the pushrod engines offered by the cubic inch or Fox racing shocks I was pining for, that’s for sure.

The sad truth though, is that while Mopar (a contraction of Motor and Parts) has nearly 80 years of heritage in the States, it actually started life in 1937 as a single product – antifreeze. And while it conjures up images of quarter-mile dragsters to me, it’s actually a catch-all phrase for the entire aftersales experience for anything Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge – and now Fiat. 

Oh well, with no lifestyle to speak of, there’s nowt for me in the Mopar catalogue (the UK one at least) but if you’re after a hotted-up 500X I hear there is a circa-200bhp Abarth version coming…

By Ben Pulman

Fiat 500X long-term test

Month 6 running a Fiat 500X crossover: a beach postcard minus the sauciness

A fortnight trekking across the country in the close company of the 500X, to celebrate an engagement and a 93rd birthday, eat too much and stay up too late has led to a few crucial observations. Chief of which is that ‘smart motorways’ are anything but, the populace should take the threat of flood warnings more seriously, and trying to take a photo of your Fiat on the beach in the middle of a storm is a miserable experience. 

Nearly 800 miles crisscrossing between London, Merseyside, Oxfordshire and the Isle of Wight wasn’t miserable though. Every long journey in the Fiat reminds you just how important comfy seats and a cosseting ride are for everyday duties. The sat-nav never seems to put a foot wrong. The digital radio is a godsend for listening to 5Live, and the Beats audio system (from that headphone colossus now owned by Apple) does a decent job of using Charlotte Green’s dulcet tones to annul what wind and road noise there is. 

And I do like the high-set driving position! Having started out half a year ago with the seat slammed to the floor, I’ve been gradually inching it up each month (sort of like Mr Twit surreptitiously adding pieces of wood to the bottom of Mrs Twit’s chair). We haven’t reached peak height yet, but as every crossover/SUV/4x4 owner will admit, there is something rather pleasing about being raised above other road users. I feel rather dirty for admitting to it, but it’s subjectively pleasing.

Objectively (a seamless segue…) fuel consumption has taken a hit this month, despite the long-distance cruising. Frankly, I’m flinging the 500X about a bit more, and despite the Fiat’s eco-friendly tyres not being up to much on the approach, apex and exit of wet roundabouts, with supermarkets fighting to get diesel under a £1 per litre there doesn’t seem much reason to stop. 

In fact, I’m going to up the ante by treating the 500X to a raft of Mopar performance upgrades – and one of the exterior decal kits will no doubt make the next beach-during-a-storm photo much more visually enticing too.

From the driving seat

  • Abrupt applications of the right foot have wiped away 5mpg this month 
  • ContiEcoContact tyres don’t seem to offer the ultimate in wet-weather roundabout performance 
  • Comfy seats are surprisingly supportive during bouts of cornering immaturity

By Ben Pulman

Nit-picking: our Fiat 500X rear wash-wipe doesn't spray enough of back window

Month 5 running a Fiat 500X crossover: niggles and rear-wash gripes

The 500X and I are into a nice little routine – which means now’s the time to notice its foibles. Like the cruise control, which self-cancels when you change gear (my old Mini didn’t do that). And which can’t count either. Example: the speed increases as you press a button on the steering wheel, yet the display registers 48, 50, 50, 51, 52…

That, and the washer jet for the rear screen targets a mere 10% of the glass. But given that’s the extent of my grumbles, life is good. 

By Ben Pulman

Multimedia system works a treat - better than that of cars several times the price

Month 4 running a Fiat 500X 1.6 diesel: that's infotainment

Before I follow up on last month’s promise and talk about why CJ and I actually quite like the Fiat, we’d better just focus on one thing I unquestionably appreciate – the multimedia system. German premium badges still lead the way, but whether it’s Lexus’s funny mouse thing or JLR’s latest touchscreen, the quick, clean and simple-to-use set-up in the 500X (from sat-nav to Bluetooth telephone, via the functionality of the DAB radio) trumps them and the rest of the field. Enough said. 

By Ben Pulman

Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X

Month 3 running a Fiat 500X crossover: a second opinion on a second opinion

In an interruption to our regular programming, I feel I need to comment on Mr ffrench-Constant’s little group test with the 500X (my 500X) (CAR, October - read it in the CAR+ archive here). Up against Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade (a 500X made by 'Murican off-road enthusiasts) and Mazda CX-3, it was the latter that came out on top. 

The podium must have been a rather horizontal affair though, because each contender scored a middling three-stars-out-of-five, saying much about the overall quality on offer in this particular segment. In fact, it was the Renegade that stood out most in Anthony’s mind, not because of any particular prowess, but because it wasn’t a copycat ‘soft roader’. Instead there was four-wheel drive and a huge array of green-lane-inspired gimmicks, like a muddy splat where the redline for the rev counter should be and ‘To New Adventures!’ etched around the ignition barrel. All that was missing was a ‘One Life, Live It’ bumper sticker… 

I see where he’s coming from, mind, as too many new cars these days are built to fulfil a particular set of parameters and do nothing more – and definitely not anything exciting. But despite those extra little touches, in my mind it doesn’t make the Renegade either better or more noteworthy than the 500X, or the CX-3 for that matter. In fact, up against the identikit Fiat (beyond similarities beneath the surface, a quick glance around the cabin reveals the sat-nav is shared, ditto the window switches, steering-wheel buttons, and air-con controls minus a little chrome applique) I reckon it’s worse, with heavier steering, a noisier engine and reduced visibility. A few design flourishes can’t beat superior(ish) engineering. 

Where does that leave the Fiat though, especially in the context of so-so opposition? Well, I’m reminded of CJ’s sales pitch when he first suggested it as a successor to my Mini. ‘I quite liked the Fiat on the launch,’ he wrote. ‘So I’ll hope it’ll suit you.’ And you know what? It does. Normal service (with a full explanation of my reasoning, which isn’t damning it with faint praise) resumes next month. 

By Ben Pulman

Fiat 500X and Mini 5dr

Month 2 running a 500X: Mini vs Fiat

After months in a Mini five-door hatchback, the first impressions of the 500X are inevitably comparisons with its predecessor. Which means a cold diesel seems especially vocal following life with a hushed three-pot petrol, and after deft steering now all communications from the front wheels are suddenly being censored and redacted by an overzealous electric motor.

Yet the seats, and the ride, are so much more comfortable. And having been in the Mini, and a hybrid Lexus before it, when did diesel become cheaper than petrol?

By Ben Pulman

Fiat 500X

Month 1 running a Fiat 500X: the introduction to our long-term test

I know that in the 21st century the Beetle has ballooned, the Mini is anything but, and even the 500 is no longer a bambino, but this is ridiculous. How can a little Italian icon now also be over four metres long and flogged by Fiat as a crossover?

Which shows what I know. Fiat’s won the lottery with those three numbers. In the eight years since it launched the 500 (the one that anyone under 30 thinks is the original) over 1.5 million have been sold, with 250,000 finding homes in the UK. Heck, Fiat’s only bothered to treat its little city car to a facelift in the past few weeks, whereas most other manufacturers would by now have launched an all-new replacement and facelifted that. In fact, Fiat reckons it’s onto such a winner with those triple digits that over half its range is now labelled as a 500 of some variety. Hence this, the 500X.

Whether you call it a 4x4, an SUV, or a crossover, it’s entering into a market segment that’s only going one way. By 2020 the 500X and its small ilk are expected to jump from a 2% to 7% market share in the UK, culminating in a total of nearly 200k annual sales. It’s already happening: the Nissan Juke proved so popular in 2014 it helped push the Mini and BMW 3-series out of the top ten sales chart. Perennial best-sellers the pair of them, yet their decline highlights exactly where buyers are migrating from.

So, first impressions on my new wheels for the foreseeable? Well actually, I went along to the UK media launch of the 500X a few months back, to try petrol and diesel power, 17 and 18in wheels, and manual and auto transmission options. More on what I picked in a moment, but fearing the flimsiness of a Panda wrapped in another skin I was genuinely impressed by the quality of the interior, the touchscreen multimedia system, and the gearbox (the latter is usually something Fiat doesn’t bother to engineer). And, compared with the Mini, the seats were so much more comfortable, while the most obvious boon was extra space in the back and in the boot.

Fast forward a few months to the arrival of my car and another plus versus the little Anglo-German hatch is a pliant ride (I stuck with the standard 17s). As for the rest of it, well prices start at £14,595, but that’s for a basic-spec Pop model with a 1.6-litre petrol, to sucker you through the showroom door. The fancier 1.4 MultiAir (more powerful, more economical) can’t be had with anything less than the mid-level Pop Star spec, and that’s £17,595. Oh, you want diesel, like the majority of customers? Immediately £19,095. And what about the ‘off-road’ bodykit so it actually looks like a crossover rather than a 500 hoarding some nuts in its cheeks? Another £1000. Suddenly it’s £20k, and that’s before the options list has even been looked at. 

Enough for now. The Fiat 500X and I have got plenty of time together for judgments to be made. In the immediate future, I need to figure out whether I’m comfortable driving a a car whose TV ad pitches it as the automotive equivalent of Viagra. Is it more than merely an engorged member of the 500 family?

By Ben Pulman

Click here to read CAR's original first drive of the Fiat 500X

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