The compact Sports-Utility Vehicle (SUV) segment has been one of the fastest-growing in South Africa over the last few years.
In 2015 alone we saw the introduction of numerous models, each with their own unique style and character. The likes of the Citroën C4 Cactus, Honda HRV, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3, Opel Mokka, Suzuki Vitara and this – the Fiat 500X – are among the new stars in this segment.
An extension to the Fiat 500 family, the 500X is actually closely related to the frankly fabulous Jeep Renegade – the two sharing the same platform, engines and gearboxes. High expectations, then, for the Italian side of the family.
And Italian the 500X is; while it is something of an oversized caricature of the comparatively diminutive 500, the X has the Italian style to stand out within its increasingly crowded segment. Indeed, an important consideration of the chic buyers of these vehicles is the associated image. And the 500X fits the brief like a fine Italian suit.
Its interior carries the retro charm of the small 500, with minimal – but appropriately X-sized – switchgear. Contributing to this is that the 500X, in Cross spec as tested, features the five-inch Uconnect touchscreen infotainment system. An easy-to-use system, Uconnect incorporates hands-free voice control and Bluetooth connectivity. It only misses navigation on this model – not something overtly common in this segment anyway.
Enhancing the driving experience are optional safety, comfort and visibility packages, while the 500X features a whole host of standard safety equipment. This includes daytime running lights, cornering lights, six airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, hill hold and sophisticated electronic stability control and anti-lock braking systems.
Interior space up front is good, while it’s tighter at the rear due to the upright bench. The seats are hard, but not uncomfy, and are covered in a 3D grey fabric with black leather inserts that feel tough and look cool. Combined with the matte-grey dashboard inserts, the overall look and feel of the interior is one of retro ruggedness.
Unfortunately, this is about as comfy as the 500X gets … it rides disappointingly, and unnecessarily, harshly. The upside, though, is that the handling is entertaining – a small trait of the diminutive 500 sneaking through there.
Those who covet a sporty drive will enjoy the 1,4-litre MultiAir II turbo engine as well. It produces 103 kW of power and 230 Nm torque and is satisfyingly punchy, especially in Sport mode. I’m sure, though, that it’s even more enjoyable with the manual gearbox option, as the Fiat-Chrysler six-speed double-clutch auto is, simply put, terrible. It’s lazy – even in Sport – and gets caught out in traffic which results is frequent jerkiness.
All 500X models drive through the front wheels, so your off-roading pretences are limited to the ability of the inbuilt Traction mode that improves grip on rough and slippery surfaces.
Fiat claims the 500X 1.4 TJet DDCT Cross will consume a combined 5,7 l/100 km and 7,2 in town. As with all Fiat products, a three-year/100 000 km warranty and maintenance plan are standard.
This model is priced at R346 990, which is towards the upper end of the segment’s price bracket.
Therein lies the biggest challenge for the 500X – while its local market introduction has resulted in admirable sales within the context of Fiat, pricing might still be a little too high to lure buyers away from the many rival showrooms.
It’s a decent car, but ultimately the poor ride and fairly high pricing remove the X-factor from the equation.