2021 Fiat 500X Urban 1.0T Pop (GB)

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When the Fiat 500X was being conceived, it is clear that two big ideas were in its maker’s mind: the relentless market shift from conventional hatchbacks to crossover type cars meant that a model of this type was a far higher priority than developing a direct replacement for the short-lived Bravo hatch; and a belief that the huge popularity of the small Fiat 500 could be replicated by taking some of the design and style ideas and applying them to larger cars, potentially even charging a small premium for the end result. The first Fiat to go down this route was the 500L of 2013 and the results were generally deemed less than successful by many although the car has sold well in its native Italy. Early spy photos suggested that the same styling idea but scaled up for a C-segment crossover would work rather better and so it proved when the 500X arrived in October 2014 as the third model in the 500-family. Few people expressed any issue with the car’s looks, but what everyone wanted to know was whether this would be a car that would imbue the same sense of fun as the smaller 500 from behind the wheel as well as delivering the practical aspects of space for the family and their luggage. The 500X shares much under the skin with the Jeep Renegade, and indeed the two are built at the same plant, and that car had not scored as direct a hit as a river’s car as we had all hoped. This is a hugely competitive market segment and yet more rivals have been added or refreshed since the 500X’s arrival, notable among them the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur and VW T-ROC. Sales in Italy of the 500X have been strong, but elsewhere, it has not made that big an impression, sadly. I was keen to find out why that might be, but every time I booked a rental car where the cited example was a 500X, always seemed to get upgraded into something else. Finally my chance came when Johnson’s in Swindon allocated one to me as a loan car whilst my Abarth was being serviced.

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There was never much wrong with the looks of the 500X, to my mind, but inevitably when the time came in 2018 for a mid-cycle refresh, or whatever the manufacturer’s PR department want to call a facelift these days, there were a few subtle tweaks, with rear light clusters that copy those of the smaller 500 and have a plastic inset that matches the body colour being an obvious recognition point, along with other subtle changes to the lights and bumpers and badging. More significantly, the revised cars saw the introduction of the new Firefly petrol engines to replace the MultiAir units which had been used,  the removal of diesel engines and four wheel drive, extra equipment being added and a split in the range with two distinct body styles on offer, one called Urban and the other Cross, with more emphasis on the tougher SUV-like appearance with extra lower body cladding and scuff plates.

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This was my first experience of the Firefly engine which has now appeared in a number of FCA products. It is a 1.0 litre unit developing 120 bhp. If you did not know, you would pretty quickly work out the 3 cylinder configuration as that characteristic sound you get from all 3 cylinder units is here, though engine noise is generally reasonably well muted and indeed with the exception of some roads noise the 500X proved to be fairly quiet and refined. The engine is willing and smooth and it does encourage you to rev it, which you will need to do, to get the best out of it, with it coming to life above around 2200 rpm. The test car had the standard 6 speed manual gearbox. There is quite a long, wand like gear lever, but it actually slots cleanly into place. As with so many modern cars, there is not much acceleration in 5th or 6th gears and certainly if you want anything whilst in 6th at around 50 mph, you will need to change down a couple of ratios to get some meaningful extra speed. Fiat are not aiming the 500X at driving enthusiasts, and that shows most obviously with the steering which is extremely light and lacking in much of the way in feel. And that is before you press the City button which certainly makes it even easier to get into a parking space, but you would not want to use this at any other time. The car is set up to be predictable and easy to drive. It will understeer quite readily from modest speed, but there is plenty of grip and body roll is less pronounced that you may have feared. More importantly for family transport, perhaps, the ride on the standard and surprisingly high profile by modern standards 215/60 R16 wheels is good. The brakes proved powerful and effective. There is an electronic handbrake as is so often the way these days, but it seemed to disengage readily so there not real issues in using it. Visibility is generally reasonable with rear parking sensors making it easier to judge the back of the car when reversing.

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There is a definite family resemblance to the smaller 500 model inside the car, with design cues whose inspiration is clear, such as the 500 logo on the dash, the quirky metal door handles, the hard round head restraints, the boiled sweet-like buttons and the pool ball-style gear knob but look closer and you will see that many of the overall details are different. Overall, the 500X does just about enough to persuade you that it is a rather more up-market proposition. There was some navy cloth trim on the dash and the steering wheel is leather-wrapped. There are three dials grouped together with a large central one, much like you would find a 500, but with slightly smaller dials to either side, one for the speedometer and the other for the rev counter while the central one shows both fuel level and water temperature.  There is a digital repeater of the speedometer and there is also speed limit recognition, which is useful. The column stalks are different to those in the 500, but operate the same functions of indicators, wipers whilst lights are on a rotary dial on the dash to the right of the wheel. The steering wheel boss contains buttons for both cruise control and  audio repeater functions. The centre of the dash is dominated by the 7” colour touch screen for the uConnect system which looks the same as the one you will find in the latest versions of the smaller 500, though there are more functions on offer here including Apple Car Play and Android Auto. This is one of the better systems out there and is easy to use, and the system is responsive. Beneath this are the controls for the standard air conditioning system. The overall impression is one of relative simplicity and a lack of fussiness.

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There is manual adjustment for the front seats, including a height adjuster only for the driver. There is a wide range of travel and the SUV-esque styling means that there is more than ample headroom. Despite appearances, the seats themselves felt a bit flat, so I do wonder how comfortable they would prove to be on much longer journeys than I was able to undertake in my time with the car. Rear seat space is generous, with sufficient legroom available even when the front seats are set well back, and once again the headroom is particularly good. Fiat perhaps realise that this car is not quite big enough for three large adults to sit here as they only provide 2 headrests. There is a single map-pocket, on the back of the passenger seat, and some useful bins on the doors. The boot is a good size, both wide and deep, with plenty of space available even with the parcel shelf in place. More room can be made available by dropping the asymmetrically split rear seat backrests, though the resulting area is not flat. Under the boot floor, there is no spare, just a moulded tray with the alternative can of gunk. There is no space for odds and ends to be hidden away here. Inside the cabin there is a useful split-level glovebox and the door bins are big and would easily hold a large bottle. There are further places for bits and pieces in the central area between the seats, with a useful well in front of the gearlever. There is no central armrest but there are cupholders and there is a stowage recess though this is set well back.

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Fiat have revised the trim levels several times during the life of the 500X. The latest changes came in early 2021, with the range now comprising Pop, Connect, Cross and Sport, with engine choice confined to the 120 bhp 1.0 unit with a manual gearbox or a 4 cylinder 150 bhp 1.3 litre with an automatic. Prior to this, the range had comprised the Urban, City Cross, Cross Plus and from 2019, Sport. The entry level Urban had the older 1.6 litre 110 bhp petrol engine. Originally, the most affordable model was the 500X Pop, which featured 16-inch steel wheels, cruise control, electric windows and an electronic parking brake as standard. Next up was the Fiat 500X Pop Star (yes, it was called that) which added 17-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights with cornering illumination, climate control and rear parking sensors. It also brought selectable drive modes and a small 5.0-inch Uconnect infotainment system with Bluetooth. The high-spec Fiat 500X Lounge was one of the more desirable models, with highlights including 18-inch alloys, a bigger 6.5-inch infotainment system with navigation and chrome exterior styling. It even got a leather-trimmed gear shifter, an adjustable front armrest and fancy ambient interior lighting. The Fiat 500X Cross was the off-road model, with bespoke 17-inch alloy wheels, an advanced traction control system and tinted rear windows. Other off-roady exterior features included the bespoke front and rear bumpers, chrome exhaust trims and roof bars, while the inside got a leather-trimmed gear shifter and a special dashboard finish as well as an adjustable front armrest with storage. The Fiat 500X Cross Plus built on this with 18-inch alloy wheels, the 6.5-inch media system with navigation, HID headlights, an adjustable cargo floor, front floor mats and ambient interior lighting. When the Fiat 500X range was face-lifted in 2018, the line-up was simplified somewhat. The new entry-level model was badged the Fiat 500X Urban, with spec highlights including LED DRL and rear lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, Techno-leather steering wheel,  a 7-inch media system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and double USB ports, cruise control and Lane Assist with Intelligent Speed Assist as well as air conditioning, cruise control, electric parking brake.  The standard equipment is completed by the new Traffic Sign Recognition and Speed Advisor driving assist systems, as well as Lane Assist system, 6 airbags and Electronic Stability Control (ESC). The Fiat 500X City Cross added more rugged front and rear bumpers, chrome exterior highlights, fog lights and rear parking sensors. It also features 17-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured electrically adjustable door mirrors, automatic dual-zone climate control and a 3.5-inch colour TFT display. The top-spec Fiat 500X Cross Plus comes with all of these features as well as LED headlights, roof rails, part-leather interior upholstery, dark tinted windows, a dusk sensor, front armrest with storage compartment and a rear-view camera. It also gets a seven-inch navigation system and 18-inch alloy wheels. For the 2021 models, the Pop adopts the equipment tally that was found in the model formerly known as Urban. The Connect trim level offers a high level of technology as standard, with the 7-inch Uconnect infotainment system with DAB radio, Apple CarPlay™ and Android Auto™. On all three models, new seats are paired with a brand-new dashboard finish in matt silver. The 500X Connect comes with black seats, techno-leather steering wheel with audio controls and 17-inch alloy wheels. It also features dark tinted rear windows, fog lights, LED DRLs, parking sensors and dusk and rain sensors. In its Cross trim level, on top of the Connect specification, the 500X has new seats with a camouflage-patterned centre panel and vinyl inserts, plus 19-inch alloy wheels, roof rack and automatic air conditioning as standard. The top of the range is the Sport trim is enhanced by 18-inch alloy wheels in burnished black, or optional 19-inch wheels, and exclusive matt Fashion grey livery.  The distinct character of the trim levels can be further enhanced to customise the 500X while offering significant financial saving. These include the Magic Eye Pack which includes front parking sensors and rear camera, NAVI pack and ADAS pack with Blind Spot Detection and Adaptive Cruise Control. Available on Connect and Cross, the Comfort Pack which includes automatic air conditioning and adjustable seats, visibility pack with xenon headlights, electrochromatic rear view mirror and dusk and rain sensors. Available on Pop, Cross and Sport, the Style Pack includes chrome-plated details and privacy glass with the full-LED pack Available on Connect.

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I thought the 500X to be a perfectly pleasant car that would serve a family well. It does successfully bring a dose of that Fiat 500 style to a much larger product offering and has all the attributes of space and comfort that are sought for in a family car. The Firefly engine is clearly a good unit and hopefully will see wider application across the Group’s cars, and the 500X is better to drive than the motoring press may have had you believe. Add in the fact that the car is good value and after a few years of sales it has proved to be reliable, so the case for this car is quite strong. The Italians clearly get all this and they buy the car in quantity, with the model regularly featuring in the top 5 sellers in the market, but in the UK, where Fiat has become much more of a niche brand, and one where only the 500 and Panda sell in any quantity, it remains a slightly left field choice in the eyes of many, but from this experience perhaps undeservedly so.

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