In Fiat showrooms from tomorrow, the 500X is basically a pumped-up compact SUV crossover styled after the adorable little 500. I was given a ‘first drive’ of it on one of the UK launch events and chuckled when we were treated during the press conference to the clever television commercial in which an over-zealous Italian pensioner accidentally tosses his little blue pill out of the bathroom window, much to his dismay, and it lands in the tank of a 500. Is Fiat taking its 500 heritage a step too far by creating a compact crossover SUV based on its universally adored icon? I set out to find out.

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Every manufacturer seems to have jumped on the crossover bandwagon, our roads now swarming with some quite bizarre creations, from the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur to the MINI Countryman. Fiat’s USP with the 500X is in positioning it as the first Italian crossover on the market, promising sexy flair, tradition and sportiness, whilst actually being larger than its rivals in all respects.

Chunky and muscular, the new Fiat 500X retains the 500 family’s clamshell bonnet, infectious smile and beaming headlamp eyes and I can see it selling like hot cakes, buyers attracted by its balanced proportions and the way it successfully blends Italian retro with modernity. The 500X to me looks commanding and purposeful, with aesthetics that will appeal to both sexes.

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Twelve exterior colours, eleven alloy wheels and an abundance of exquisite interior choices are available, my picks being the two-tone leather themes. The 500X range has been divided into two distinct groups to suit your personality, from metropolitan city styling in the form of Pop, Pop Star and Lounge versions, and rugged soft-road models dubbed Cross and Cross Plus, complete with tough-looking bumpers for adventurous folk. All 500Xs are fitted with a mood selector, which changes the car’s characteristics to suit your driving style at any particular moment in time, from Auto or Sport to All-Weather, which is replaced with Traction on the Cross and Cross Plus versions.

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Fiat is justifiably proud of its cutting-edge Uconnect™ LIVE system that can be specified with a 5” or 6.5” touchscreen system, which is nicely positioned and straightforward to operate. Bluetooth, DAB, music streaming, 3D sat nav and a beefy BeatsAudio™ sound system developed with Beats by Dr. Dre can be specified and the system’s smartphone connectivity means you can even have tweets and Facebook posts read out to you on the move. Tom Tom Live and Reuters feeds keep you informed and the 500X really impresses when it comes to safety, too, with automatic braking assistance, blind spot alerts, lane departure warnings, a rear-view camera and rear parking sensors all on the options list.

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Owning a Vel Satis and having a strong penchant for SUVs, I always prefer being seated high up, so took to the 500X like a duck to water. This will prove equally true for flocks of buyers throughout the UK, Europe and the world, who also feel more secure and in control from a raised driving position, which is one of the reasons compact crossover SUVs are so popular.

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The softly padded armrests on the door were a nice touch and the centre armrest was indeed positioned perfectly, just like the brochure says. Headroom was plentiful and visibility was excellent thanks to the 500X’s design and dimensions, so it should prove easy to manoeuvre, too.

The first launch car I jumped into was a 1.6-litre MultiJet 120hp diesel manual in Pop Star trim and I was smitten with the engine right from the off. It had plenty of low-down punch and mid-range overtaking power, soundproofing was good, keeping the engine nicely muted and the 6-speed manual gearbox was delightful when it came to its shift action and ratios alike. Fiat claims 68.9mpg combined from this unit, which sounds pretty good to me. It is Euro 6 compliant, as you would expect, and emits 109g/km of CO2. It was a scorching hot day so I didn’t try out the optional heated steering wheel or indeed the heated windscreen. The leather seats were extremely supportive and comfortable and like most contemporary cars, entry and ignition were keyless. The total price as driven comes to £23,870, which sounds a lot, but compares favourably if you spec’ rivals’ cars to the same standard.

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I then had the opportunity to take a petrol 1.4-litre MultiAir 140hp Cross for a spin. Despite the increase in horsepower, I found it needed to be worked harder to get the best out of it and ironically felt marginally less refined as a result. As opposed to a Cross Plus with 4×4/AWD, this was a front-wheel drive Cross with Traction+, which electronically distributes torque between the front wheels, to keep them moving optimally on poor surfaces. This 1.4-litre petrol unit pledges 47.1mpg combined but only takes 0.7 seconds less than the 1.6 diesel to reach 62mph, so out of the two engines, I’d personally plump for the diesel. This Cross was fitted with 18” wheels and protective bumpers, the total price weighing in at £21,295.

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For me, the standout feature of the Fiat 500X’s drive was its cornering and handling, very little body roll noticeable on roundabouts and sharp bends, which is impressive considering its relative height, and means that it’s certainly not short on fun.

A trio of us went out in AWD 500Xs and tackled a short off-road circuit, which proved that the 500X can handle rocks, grass, mud, steep hills and ditches perfectly well, which in reality is probably more than most buyers will encounter in theirs. The clever rear axle disconnection system ensures that four-wheel drive is only engaged when absolutely necessary, in the name of saving fuel. The soft-roading was done in 2.0 MultiJet II 140hp automatic AWD cars and I didn’t exceed third gear or about 20mph, so can’t comment on the alleged potency of this engine and gearbox combination.

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The 500X is, of course, the product of Fiat’s vision and engineering, rather than the result of a Viagra-like pill accidentally plonking into the fuel tank of a Fiat 500. It’s clear to understand why the 500X has come about and from my thirty minute session in today’s two cars, I’ve been left with a very positive impression. Aesthetically, practically, dynamically and emotionally, it just works.

© Author: Oliver Hammond, published motoring journalist, blogger & freelance writer

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