Fiat looking for crossover comeback

The same but bigger? Actually, the 500X – despite styling similarity to Fiat’s staple city car – is a whole new thing.


THE biggest loser in a winning sales year is looking to reset its fortunes with a typically non-conformist crossover.

Fiat, which despite last year bringing an unprecedented count of new car registrations still managed to clock the industry’s biggest fall in registrations, a sobering 24.2 percent drop, is now looking to find its way back into greater relevance by introducing the 500X.

However, it seems to be a cautious start for the five-seater which stands out by applying the 500 city car’s iconic, retro-refreshed styling theme onto a larger crossover, with just the least expensive variants coming here out of broader family that has settled into Australia, which has the same distributor.

 Policy to restrict to the manual Pop and automatic Pop Star editions and leave the Lounge and Cross Plus models in reserve means there is clear air between the Fiat cars and the Jeep Renegade.

The cars use the same Turin-produced platform and 103kW/230Nm Fiat 1.4-litre and roll out of the same plant in Italy.

Renegade has been subject to price cuts, after repositioning the top-line Trailhawk to $44,990 and the front-drive Limited to $38,990, Jeep this week announced the addition of a $34,995 special edition 75th anniversary car.

Even so, the 500X places even lower still, with the Pop Star coming in for $29,990 plus on-roads and the Pop placing at $22,990.

Both editions run six-speed gearboxes, but the cheaper of the two in manual while the Star delivers with a dual clutch auto.

Both top out at 190kmh but the Pop, which rides on 215/60 R16 wheels, is claimed to reach 100kmh from a standing start in 9.8 seconds, a 0.1s advantage over the 215/55 R17-shod Pop Star. Optimum combined economy counts are also close, but this time the Pop Star has advantage, with 5.7 litres per 100km against the Pop’s 6.0.

The 500X models here are more crossovers in ethos than ability; it seems the NZ-spec cars are the City look variants designed to tackle the urban jungle. Fiat also has a more rugged Off-Road package, with the option of four-wheel-drive.

One reason for Pop Star (pictured) costing so much more than the Pop is that it comes with Fiat Mood Selector, which tweaks the brakes, transmission, engine and steering to suit the driver, with modes including Auto, Sport and All Weather.

The 500X uses a MacPherson strut front suspension set-up and an isolated rear cradle. The front axle has a dual-function cross-member, which, according to the company, ensures greater rigidity and impressive acoustic comfort.

The 500X weighs from 1295kg and at 4248mm long, 1796mm wide, 1600-1620mm high and with a 2570mm wheelbase is shorter and wider than a Mazda CX-3 but has the same wheelbase. Cargo space is listed as 346 litres with the rear seats up.

Fiat says more than 60 safety and security features have been packed in to the 500X, including a reversing camera standard across the range, seven airbags, tyre-pressure monitoring, reverse parking sensors, stability control with hill-start assist and ‘electronic roll mitigation’.

The Pop features a 12V power outlet, a 5.0-inch touchscreen housing the Uconnect multimedia hub that includes Bluetooth and voice command, six-speaker audio, USB port and auxiliary jack, daytime running lights, power windows, a space-saver spare tyre and alloy wheels. 

It also gets cruise control, a 3.5-inch TFT display leather gear knob on the auto, refrigerated glove compartment, removable cargo cover, paddle shifters and steering wheel controls. 

Pop Star adds an auto-dimming mirror, the Fiat Mood Selector, driver’s seat power lumbar adjustment, 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, front foglights, power folding mirrors, keyless entry and start and a 6.5-inch touchscreen. But no sat nav. Also, the in-vogue features of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto don’t feature in Fiat world.

David Smitherman, chief executive officer of Fiat in New Zealand, believes the 500X should be considered as a 500 for families on a budget.

“It is spacious, well equipped, safe and economical to own … it still has those cheeky, friendly and unique good looks that have made the Fiat 500 a worldwide success. In short, the Bambino has grown up into a great family car.”

And as for Fiat’s poor form last year? Reportedly that had a lot to do with a paucity of product, with some versions exhausting. A better year ahead, no doubt.