The Fiat 500 is now in fam­ily-friendly gear, PAUL GOVER writes

Geelong Advertiser - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE -

THERE’S a lot to like about the puffed-up Fiat 500 — car I’d rec­om­mend friends.

A fam­ily-friendly sounds all wrong. The cutesy has been a youth­ful tid­dler from day one, with barely enough room for couple of twenty-some­things and pic­nic even af­ter its 21st cen­tury rein­ven­tion.

But the ar­rival of the puffed-up 500X changes ev­ery­thing, with­out chang­ing any­thing.

It still looks and be­haves like a 500, which makes you smile, but it has enough rear-seat space for reg­u­lar­sized adults a boot that fits more than just brief­case. It is even avail­able with all-wheel drive, if you want.

The start­ing price not bril­liant, from $28,000 for the man­ual fron­twheel drive Pop, but that’s partly down to weak­ness of Aus­tralian dol­lar.

It’s con­sid­er­ably big­ger than likes of the Mazda CX-3 and cheaper by $1500 than Jeep Rene­gade.

That’s heart of story, be­cause X-car the Rene­gade are twins un­der skin, de­signed with same me­chan­i­cal base. The two branches Fiat-Chrysler em­pire added their own body­work.

The pack­age is fa­mil­iar on all fronts, from the front-drive lay­out to 1.4-litre Mul­tiAir en­gine (103kW/230Nm) in Pop and Pop Star trim. In Lounge Cross Plus AWD, car­ry­ing ex­tra weight higher expectations, the gets

tune (125kW/250Nm). The comes with seven airbags, cruise con­trol and air­con and a stan­dard re­vers­ing cam­era, choice of six speed man­ual or du­al­clutch auto for an ex­tra $2000.

$33,000 Pop Star is six-speed only, but adds big­ger screen with sat­nav, key­less en­try, auto head­lights and wipers, blind-spot mon­i­tor­ing, rear cross-traf­fic alert, and 17 inch al­loys.

The all-wheel drive Lounge and Cross Plus step up to a nine speed auto, with top­ping the pric­ing from $39,000 with Xenon head­lamps, 18-inch al­loys more.

Buy­ers can per­son­alise car a range of body colours, mir­ror caps and sev­eral types stripes.

The 500X is con­sid­er­ably big­ger than the ba­sic 500, re­flected in its length (4.2m) boot (350L). It’s only four-star NCAP car Europe but FCA Aus­tralia aims for a fifth star with safety equip­ment fit­ted Aus­tralia.

Mini is the most ob­vi­ous ri­val. Smaller and cheaper SUVs are sell­ing well in but 500X is some­thing dif­fer­ent. Fiat does not ex­pect many peo­ple to cross-shop the 500X Rene­gade be­cause of their rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent looks.

Not un­til I get close, then jump in­side, do I ap­pre­ci­ate the 500X’s ex­tra size. It is big for a lit­tle car. Into rear seat, dis­cover fit, and it’s easy to get in and out, boot is fine — al­though fit­ting pram could be a task.

Joy of joys, for the first time there are seats that fit me. The buck­ets in the reg­u­lar 500 are too nar­row for me, with­out much sup­port, but th­ese are full-size with lots of com­fort.

There is a front-and-cen­tre in­fo­tain­ment screen, heigh­tad­justable driver’s seat and de­cent au­dio setup. The cabin fin­ish­ing is good for the price class.

500X easy to han­dle around city streets ba­sic Pop quick enough, with an ex­tra burst if I switch to Sports mode for turbo en­gine.

But the ride is very bouncy and over-sprung (some­thing to check when I switch from front all-wheel drive). The steer­ing re­spon­sive, the brakes ef­fec­tive. In the AWD, the ride is much bet­ter and more con­trolled but the steer­ing is over-ag­gres­sive. So I find my­self want­ing from AWD car front-driver, not that it’s go­ing to hap­pen. can’t feel any ex­tra power in the

but that’s a big com­plaint.

It gets along well enough for sub­urbs and some hills out of town. There is a lot to like in the 500X

it’s go­ing suit ur­ban fam­i­lies.

It’s definitely an al­ter­na­tive to a Mini Club­man and well priced that class.

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