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The Fiat 500X is No Pretender

The Fiat 500X is No Pretender

Beyond the cattle grid – The Fiat 500X 1.4T is no SUV pretender. Instead it’s a sensible crossover hatch… with benefits.

Words: Stephen Smith

Pictures: Stephen Smith and Supplied

5I have a weakness for cattle grids – they’re a sign that you’re going somewhere interesting – a game reserve, a wilderness area or, at the very least, a farming district. Beyond the cattle grid is a very different world, one of adventure and discovery – you don’t find cattle grids in gated communities, at shopping centres or office parks. But unfortunately, these are the places where you’re most likely to find the latest offering from the Italian automotive giant, Fiat.

They have had incredible success with their trendy, retro-inspired 500 supermini, which led to the expansion of the range to include the 500L MPV and now the 500X, a compact crossover vehicle that looks like an SUV but drives like a car. It is, incidentally, probably the most practical model in the 500 brand.

Like the 500 supermini, the 500X will no doubt appeal to all sorts of people, from young urbanites to more mature drivers with a fun side and the intent to explore our beautiful country. Being firmly in the middle of these groups myself, I thought I’d cross the cattle grid in the 500X crossover to see what it offered.

The cattle grid in question was the entrance to Albert Falls Dam, not far from Pietermaritzburg in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, for a weekend of fishing. Albert Falls is one of those places that never seems to be as busy as it should be, but that’s part of its charm.

When I first heard that Fiat was creating a ‘crossover’ version of the 500 I was sceptical – it’s an incongruous merger. I also thought it would be a tiny little thing, but when I parked my test vehicle next to a Subaru Forester, there wasn’t as much of a size difference as I had expected. And on the dirt roads and dam shores of Albert Falls it proved itself sensible.

Fiat doesn’t pretend that the 500X is an SUV – it’s a bigger, more practical use of the 500’s fabulous styling – a 500 for people who have grown out of the 500 and want to spread their wings. It’s a hatchback with better ground clearance (165mm) and bigger wheels (17- and 18-inch, model dependent) for dirt roads.

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You might know that the 500X is designed and built in Italy by Fiat, but that Fiat also used much of the underpinnings for the Jeep Renegade. As such, you’d expect the two cars to be very similar, but their characters are far from it. The urbane Fiat is sharper and more nimble to drive, the Jeep a little more comfortable over bumps.

The Fiat feels trendier and classier inside, the Jeep chunkier and bulkier overall. And they definitely appeal to different markets, which is a brilliant use of resources by Fiat and Jeep. The Fiat is also better priced.

Fiat only offers two engines in South Africa – a 103kW/230Nm, four-cylinder engine that runs on petrol and uses a turbocharger to get these figures out of its 1.4-litre capacity, and a more basic 1.6-litre petrol engine that produces 81kW/152Nm. Transmission options are 5-speed manual, 6-speed manual or twin-clutch 6-speed automatic (which I drove). Fuel consumption wasn’t bad (although these days we tend to expect miraculous figures) and we returned an average of 7,8ℓ/100km with the 1.4 turbo.

The 500X is simple and classy on the inside, with a functional, unfussy dash layout. All the standard stuff is included, as is a touch-screen infotainment system although satnav is only standard on the Cross Plus models.

While the 500X does come in an all-wheel-drive model, it won’t be coming to SA – we’ll be limited to the front-wheel-drive models, which indicates Fiat’s expected target market. The 500X does come with a clever ‘Drive Mood’ system, though, that can be switched from Auto to Sport or All-Weather, and which manipulates the engine’s responsiveness and the traction control.

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On the Cross and Cross Plus models, All-Weather is replaced by Traction Plus, an electronic limited-slip differential that maximises traction on treacherous surfaces. This is becoming fairly common fare on this sort of vehicle, and the 500X worked effectively when I tried it out on a slippery hill of shale and gravel. These systems will never match the traction of a vehicle being powered by all four wheels, but they are a good compromise between the expense of a 4×4/AWD system and getting stuck on a muddy road in a two-wheel-drive car.

The luggage compartment, so important for weekend adventures, is fairly large (245 litres), while the back seats are split 60/40 and lie down flat.

There are lots of options in the crossover segment and most of them do the job well. The 500X adds some individuality and style to the mix, though, while still being, dare I say it, sensible. While it’ll be bought for the city, I hope that I’m not the only driver who makes the most of its adventurous spirit and heads out in search of cattle grids and the adventures beyond them.

The Fiat 500X range starts at R311 000 and peaks at R395 000. All Fiats are sold with a three-year/100 000km warranty and maintenance plan.

Fact file

  • Name: Fiat 500X 1.4 TJET Cross auto
  • Body type: Compact crossover
  • Engine capacity: 1,4-litre turbo petrol
  • Power output: 103kW Torque: 230Nm
  • Price: R360 000

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