Fiat 500X Cross Plus road test and review
PERSONALITY has traditionally been bigger than the cars wearing Fiat badges.
We've seen in recent years the Bambino reincarnation, the 500, slightly larger Punto and crossover Panda as well as the gigantic (in comparison) Freemont SUV.
While the Punto and Panda were quietly culled last year, this new 500X may actually have the goods to find a way into Australian hearts. For starters it's got a cracking marketing campaign - the ad which has a Viagra pill enter the cutesy 500 fuel system to deliver this pumped-up derivative. If the turning heads and questions asked during our first drive are any indication, it's a sought-after offering.
The timing is good for Fiat. It's a white-hot segment, with compact SUVs becoming more popular than a Kim Kardashian tweet.
Using the same architecture as the Jeep Renegade courtesy of Fiat coming under the Chrysler umbrella, the 500X is brimming with Italian sassiness and attitude.
While on-roads starts the Pop from a relatively hefty $29,000, you actually get some impressive kit and value when opting for the range-topping $39,000 Cross Plus.
Strikingly large inside, the 500X will open new doors to families and those seeking something different.
While no Commodore or Falcon in terms of cabin space, it does offer the greater ride height loved by SUV buyers. Easy for entry and exit, there is also reasonable back seat space for two adults. Unlike its 500 namesake the X feels airy with room to move.
Across the dash is a nice selection of materials over curved and concave surfaces. The colour touch-screen is easily operated as are the various air-conditioning controls.
Within the driver's binnacle is a simple three-gauge set up, although our preference was for the digital speedo set centrally as the analogue version on the left-hand side could be difficult to ascertain correct speed.
The driver controls the TFT display, which can feature a raft of information such as vehicle settings and trip computer outputs by pressing the buttons on the steering wheel.
Both front seats have a raft of adjustment with well positioned wraparound bolstering.
On the road
While the packaging is exciting, the same can't be said for the performance.
The 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine is willing, but it lacks smoothness in partnership with the nine-speed automatic.
We've seen this ZF self-shifter previously in the Cherokee, and even in the Land Rover Discovery Sport and updated Range Rover Evoque, but we found in this instance it often struggles to find the right cog and we were often inspired to use the steering wheel-mounted paddles.
Along the highway it gets along nicely, hovering about 2000rpm at 100kmh.
Steering feels reasonably well weighted and the all-wheel drive enables the 500X to corner with dexterity.
On the console is what Fiat calls a "mood selector", and it alters the throttle, brake and steering feel. We found the automatic mode was most appropriate, with the sport variant holding gears too high into the rev range, whereas the traction option is best confined to off-road use.
These Cross Plus models have bumpers with enhanced ramp angles, although the 500X is more your urban jungle compatriot rather than bush basher.
What do you get?
Base models already come with the likes of a Uconnect infotainment system with 12.7cm colour touch-screen, Bluetooth interface with voice commands, reverse camera, air-conditioning, cruise control, tilt and telescopic steering column, 16-inch alloys and daytime running lights.
Yet the Cross Plus gets the full gamut, with sat-nav, automatic wipers and headlights, 8.8cm TFT cluster display, dual-zone climate control, leather trim, 18-inch aluminium wheels with matt chrome shadow finish, flashier dashboard and Xenon lights.
Safety is quality, with seven airbags, lane departure warning, blind-spot assist with rear cross path detection and forward collision warning.
A few years back there was only the Mitsubishi ASX, now competition includes the Mazda CX-3 AWD Akari ($35,290), Mini Cooper Countryman S ($42,550), Mitsubishi ASX Ti-S AWD ($33,490), Jeep Renegade Trailhawk ($40,000), or maybe the two-wheel drive Citroen Cactus diesel ($29,990).
Some highway and around-town activities had us get fuel consumption of about eight litres for every 100km using Premium.
There is no capped price servicing plan yet, but that will come soon as it has already rolled out across other Chrysler brands.
Boot space is compact, but not horrible at 350 litres. Aiding the load capability is 60/40 split rear seats and the fold-forward front passenger seat for longer items.
There is easy access to the auxiliary jack, USB port and an SD card slot just in front of shifting, next to a very useful storage area which is perfect for phones, keys, wallets and other important "stuff". Up front is a dual-stage glovebox along with a deep centre console. Two cups holders in the middle, and large bottle accommodation in the doors make it a handy family carrier.
There are 12 different colours, and seven interior options. While our test vehicle was in white, we can advocate a bit more jazz with the Mopar accessories featuring a red bonnet stripe, matching mirror covers and side decals.
This is the first Fiat in a while we'd actually consider having in the driveway. While the 500 is a cool offering, it was always a little too cutesy and compact for family needs.
While the turbocharged petrol engine is willing, it does lack some cohesion with the automatic transmission.
But this 500X is a breakthrough offering. The price is high, although well equipped, and for those looking for individuality it would have to be high on the agenda for those looking for a compact SUV.
What matters most
What we liked: Quirky and interesting looks both inside and out, impressive cabin space.
What we'd like to see: Smoother automatic transmission, lower base model pricing, less intrusive lane assist functionality.
Warranty and servicing: Warranty is three years/150,000km with roadside assist for the same period.
Model: Fiat 500X Cross Plus.
Details: Five-door all-wheel-drive small SUV.
Engines: 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol generating maximum power 125kW and peak torque of 250Nm.
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic.
Consumption: 6.7 litres/100km (combined average).
Towing: 1200kg braked.
Bottom line plus on-roads: $39,000.