FIAT EXPANDS RANGE WITH 500X CROSSOVER

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Fiat has expanded its popular 500 range with the introduction of a crossover SUV called the 500X. The ‘X’ sort of stands for crossover and joins the 500L, a model not imported to Australia at this stage, in providing added interior space and the handiness of back doors.

Incidentally, while the 500L may not come downunder you may have seen one on the TV news a few weeks back. Fiat 500L is the vehicle of choice of Pope Francis, so he took his on a trip to the USA. It looked positively tiny when surrounded by gigantic gas-guzzling American 4WDs manned by the protection services.

But, back to the 500X. It’s significantly larger than the standard Fiat 500 but carries a family resemblance to its baby brother at the front, in various details around the body, and in the nifty interior.

Like the 500, the 500X is offered in a big variety of colours and there’s a huge range of accessories to permit personalisation. Would you believe 12 body colours, 15 dress-up decals, nine choices of door mirror covers, five door-sill inserts, five alloy wheel designs, fabrics and leather can be part of the pack.

And did we mention the key fob can be ordered in five different designs?

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Look out new Mini and Renault Captur, the Fiat 500X is out to challenge you in the customisation stakes. I love it – there are far too many cars in different shades of grey on our road these days.

Olivier Francois, the global head of Fiat, paid Australia the honour of flying from Italy to talk us through the design and marketing of his all-new 500X. The marketing includes an overseas TV commercial that may be rather risque for Australia. Suffice to say a viagra-type pill manages to find its way into fuel tank of a standard Fiat 500 and causes it to expand into the 500X.

The Fiat 500X was designed in conjunction with the recently launched Jeep Renegade. Fiat controls Chrysler and Jeep these days after the American giant got into financial strife in early days of the GFC. There’s a nice combination of Italian style and American all-wheel-drive knowhow in this partnership.

Not that the 500X is aimed at tackling the Rubicon Trail, but its clever AWD system gives it added traction on slippery wet roads, or in icy conditions in the Snowy Mountains or Tasmania.

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Should you not need AWD the 500X also comes with 2WD, through the front wheels, at a lower cost.

Which brings us to the price – Fiat 500X is not cheap. With a range starting at $28,000 for the 500X Pop with two-wheel-drive and a six-speed manual gearbox and rising to $39,000 for the all-wheel-drive 500X Cross Plus with automatic transmission.

As well as the Pop and Cross Plus, the 500X is sold as the Pop Star an rrp of $33,000 and the Lounge for $38,000. The 500X Pop can be specified with an automatic transmission for an added $2000. The auto is a six-speed dual-clutch unit, which is standard in the Pop Star (love that name!). The AWD models, the Lounge and Cross Plus, have a nine-speed automatic.

On a positive note equipment levels are high. Even the entry level Pop has 16-inch alloy wheels, a 3.5-inch TFT instrument display, cruise control, paddle shifts on the automatic, Fiat’s Uconnect system with a 5.0-inch touchscreen, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and Bluetooth connectivity.

Moving up to the Pop Star gets you 17-inch alloys, automatic headlights and wipers, three driving modes (Auto, Sport, and Traction plus), keyless entry and start and a reversing camera. The Uconnect system has a 6.5-inch touchscreen and GPS navigation.

Fiat 500X Lounge also receives 18-inch alloy wheels, a 3.5-inch colour TFT instrument cluster display, automatic-high-beam, a BeatsAudio Premium sound system with subwoofer and eight speakers, dual zone automatic air conditioning, interior ambient lighting and two-tone premium interior trim.

Finally, the Cross Plus has a tougher looking front end design with steeper ramp angles, uses xenon projector headlights, roof racks, satin chrome exterior details and a different finish on the dashboard,

Power is provided by a 1.4-litre turbo-petrol in 500X all models. It comes in two states of tune, with 103 kW and 230 Nm in the front-drive models and 125 kW and 250 Nm in the all-wheel-drives.

Safety levels are high and the 500X has more than 60 standard or available items that include a reversing camera, forward collision warning; LaneSense Warning; lane departure warning; blind-spot monitoring and rear cross path detection.

The ESC system has integrated electronic roll mitigation

Seven air bags are installed in all models

We were only able to sample front-drive automatic Fiat 500Xs in a relatively brief drive program organised by Fiat as part of the Australian national media launch. Performance is generally good, but the double-clutch transmission took it’s time in getting into the correct gear on some occasions. Perhaps it would have adapted to our driving style with longer use. We will let you know after we review one for a week in our home territory.

Ride comfort is very good and it’s obvious a lot of work has gone into noise and vibration suppression. Indeed, the Fiat 500X is as quiet, or quieter as many SUVs from the next class up.

Interior space is good and four adults can be carried with decent room to move. A family with three preteen children will find this cute crossover Fiat should meet their needs beautifully.

Handling isn’t exactly Italian sporty, but the 500X is neutral in the way it feels until you’re well above the cornering speeds likely to be attempted by the average owner. Outward visibility is very good thanks to the relatively upright greenhouse.

The new Fiat 500X offers Italian style, the ability to be personalised in thousands of different ways – yet is practical as well. What more could you ask from this expanded Fiat Cinquecento?

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