FIAT GONE WILD: This the new Fiat 500X will arrive in South Africa in July 2015. There's a 4x4 version but SA won’t see it or the nine-speed auto at launch. Image: Wheels24 / Sergio Davids
TURIN, Italy - An Italian gentleman is invited to the boudoir by his scantily dressed missus. He rushes to the bathroom to grab a Viagra tablet but in his haste drops the little blue pill and it ends up bouncing along rooftops and eventually drops into in a little Fiat 500's fuel tank.
The result, shown by Fiat's hilarious YouTube campaign - the city car is transformed into the rugged 500X, an analogy that isn’t too far off the mark of Fiat's latest SA-bound (around July 2015) offering.
There might be those opposed to Fiat injecting its little 500 full of steroids but the new 500X crossover ticks all of right boxes when it comes to compact SUV's, provided car-buyers think with their hearts that is...
HEADED FOR SA
Wheels24 drove the 500X at Fiat's Balocco proving ground in northern Italy. The car shares DNA with the soon-to-be-launched Jeep Renegade, including its 4x4 engineering and nine-speed auto. It's a crossover that has expanded the local range to three models - the others are the 500 and 500L (launched in 2013)
The 500X for South Africa will have a choice of two four-cylinder petrol engines (1.4 Multi-air and 1.6 E-Torq), three transmissions and three trim options (*Pop, Popstar and Lounge) but only front-wheel drive. SA will not receive the Jeep tech-equipped variant or nine-speed auto used in the Renegade.
Local prices and specifications will be revealed closer to the local launch - bouncing rand and all that.
IMAGE GALLERY: 2015 Fiat 500X
The 500x is 4.2mm long, 1.7m wide, 1.6m tall and has a 2.5m wheelbase. The 4x4 units (just for your information) have 179mm ground clearance, the conventional versions 162mm and its meant to challenge the Mini Countryman with stylish looks, great performance and loads of tech.
Could a taller, more rugged, 500 variant be the sales boon Fiat's been searching for?
The car borrows heavily from the 500L and has the same instantly recognisable retro profile along with the retro 500's round headlights and trapezoidal grille. Its double headlights, thin ‘moustache’ grille and curved panels are more closely aligned with the 500 than the 500L MPV. The 500X has changed the little 500 into a more rugged, practical package with a wider appeal.
Fiat, in an attempt to spread its appeal, offers two versions....
• The front-wheel drive SA-variant has smoother front and rear bumpers for a chic urban design.
• The Cross version, only available in 4x4 (or front-wheel drive fitted with ‘Traction Plus’ system), is tailored for off-roading with tougher belly protection, thick cladding and better approach and departure angles.
South African buyers will have access to tuning specialist Mopar's range of Fiat 500X accessories, among them, trim, rims and interior options. Details will be revealed closer to the SA launch.
The 1.4 turbocharged petrol unit is capable of 103kW/230Nm, the 1.5 unturboed 81kW/152Nm. Fuel consumption for the 1.4l is list as six litres/100km (6.4 for the 1.5) with emissions of 139g/km and 147g/km respectively.
Each comes with a Drive Mood selector, Fiat’s equivalent to the Alfa Romeo DNA switch, which controls a choice of auto, sport and all-weather modes, the last becoming 'Traction on' when so equipped on off-road units. Sport mode tweaks the accelerator and stiffens the steering for a much more responsive ride.
So what's it like to drive? In short, the new Fiat 500X impresses with great performance, adequate road-holding and an overall fun driving experience. Fiat calls it a "compact utility vehicle". It's well-balanced on the road and produces negligible body roll in corners. The smooth and comfortable ride feels at home on the streets of Balocco, while proving agile enough for the areas winding country roads.
It feels more like a car than an SUV and handles as such.
It grips the road rather well. Pushing it to its limit will see the nose run wide but its traction control system will keep you on the tar. Its compact dimensions make manoeuvring in city centres a breeze.
Off-road, the 500X took on the steep hills, muddy roads and tough terrain of Fiat's Balocco test track and did so with aplomb. It's performs remarkably well for a soft-roader. You should avoid full off-roading due to its limited ground clearance but there's enough 4x4 ability to make the best of a moderate off-road adventure.
The interior builds on the 500L design with a large coloured panel across the facia though adds many elements to create its own personality with the instrumentation. It has a large touchscreen benefiting from Fiat’s latest 3D mapping and Uconnect feature, soft-touch trim and textured upholstery.
The cabin quality and layout is perhaps the best Fiat has yet produced and you get the sense the automaker paid meticulous attention to the engineering and design to deliver a haute couture interior.
The Uconnect system provides Bluetooth access to radio, media and phone, aux, USB and voice
commands. There's also Eco:Drive mode, which, Fiat says, "can cut as much as 16% on fuel costs and reduce CO2 emissions".
All versions, bar the entry-level 'Pop', have hill-start assist, fog lights with cornering illumination, power windows and a height-adjustable driver's seat, six airbags, adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes with electronic pressure distribution, electronic parking brake, lane departure warning, reversing camera and auto emergency braking.
Boot capacity is 245 litres, expanding to 910 seats folded.
The 500X will compete with the Mini Countryman, Nissan Juke, Peugeot 2008 and Citroen C4 Picasso. Some might also challenge Mercedes' GLA and Audi Q3.
Fiat has removed the shortcomings of its 500 hatch (compact, impractical for families) and 500L (perceived as a “boring” mom’s taxi) to create a great vehicle that marries a compact SUV and fun-to-drive city car. It does what it says on the tin - a rugged, taller, wider 500 with five doors, providing the practicality of the 500L with (some) the off-road prowess of a Jeep Renegade.
It's stylish, fun, really likeable and sure to be a hit with its intended audience (people who haven't bought a Mini Countryman yet).
Sadly, if sluggish South African sales of the 500L are an indication, buyers will be thinking with their heads rather than their hearts and the 500X will have a tough battle to sway the brand-loyal. The most important factor in its segment is price and while Fiat SA was reluctant to release prices, the automaker has a great opportunity to grab its share of the crossover market.
Fiat has learned from its competition and produced a vehicle that has assertive, unique styling, a chic interior and is grin-inducing behind the wheel (provided you're driving a turbo version). Now if we could just persuade Fiat SA to go for the AWD and nine-speed auto...
JEEP RENEGADE, ALFA 4C SPIDER
The Fiat/Chrysler group will launch quite a number of vehicles in South African in 2015. First will be a new 500L Trekking, a more outdoor-orientated version of the MPV, in January, followed by a front-wheel drive Jeep Renegade in April; the 4x4 version will arrive in September.
The Alfa Romeo 4C Spider (convertible) should arrive in June.