Break the mould with X fac­tor

Fiat adds space and com­forts to build a 500 for the fam­ily

Herald Sun - Motoring - - THE TICK -

THERE is fi­nally a Fiat 500 that works for a fam­ily.

The 1950s orig­i­nal, called the Cin­que­cento, might have done the job at a (big) pinch in Italy but the born-again 500 has strug­gled in Aus­tralia for any­one with more than a dog or a cou­ple of friends to carry.

Now we have the 500X. It looks like a reg­u­lar 500 from a dis­tance but is much big­ger when you get up close. Jump in­side and there is real room for four adults and the sort of breath­ing space and com­fort I’ve craved from the 500.

It’s not a per­fect car, given the cost, short­age of boot space and the nine-speed au­to­matic in the Carsguide test car is re­ally only an eight-speed and not par­tic­u­larly friendly — but it’s way bet­ter for me than most of the mini-SUVs in show­rooms.

The X-fac­tor has been added to the 500 thanks to a joint de­vel­op­ment pro­gram that twinned the su­per­sized 500 with the all-new Jeep Renegade. But they are only twins un­der the skin, with very dif­fer­ent bodywork and driv­ing dy­nam­ics.

Even the funk fac­tor, so im­por­tant for sales to 20- and 30-some­things, is way dif­fer­ent be­tween the Fiat and Jeep ar­rivals and that runs right down to em­boss­ing on plas­tic parts and the lay­out of the glove­box.

The other change is pric­ing, as the start­ing sticker for the 500X has been held at $28,500 while Jeep has slashed up to $2500 from the Renegade, bring­ing the base price down to $28,000 af­ter early sales re­sis­tance.

There’s plenty to be said on that front about the im­pact of the Aus­tralian dol­lar’s slide, which in­creased the price of the 500X and Renegade by more than $4000 from their orig­i­nal tar­get, but not to­day.

Af­ter an in­tro­duc­tion to the 500X last year, when I was happy but not to­tally con­vinced, it’s good to get some fam­ily time at home.

The co-driver is happy and says she much prefers it to a Mini or a lot of the pseudo SUVs that run through the garage, while the six-year-old is comfy and smil­ing. He picks it sev­eral times from a range of ri­vals in­clud­ing a Mercedes-Benz C63 and says it def­i­nitely de­serves his tick.

The test car is a fully loaded all-wheel drive 500X, so I tackle a bit of muddy track to con­firm it will do the sort of gen­tle of­froad stuff I would tackle in a Subaru. It’s enough for me, and the sort of peo­ple who want a bit of se­cu­rity for gravel-road travel or a week­end in the snow.

The baby petrol turbo en­gine is ea­ger and light on fuel, but I’m not re­motely happy with the au­to­matic gear­box. At its best, the changes are light and easy but it gets con­fused a lot about what I want and holds a high gear for too long or re­fuses to shift quickly up through its ra­tios.

As for the nine-speed claim, it will only hold eighth at 110km/h on the free­way.

So, un­less you live on the Stu­art High­way with­out a limit, or drive a 500X in Europe, the top ra­tio is ir­rel­e­vant and use­less. And it’s only an eight-speeder.

I like the ride com­fort and grip in the all-wheel drive X,

which is slightly firm but not too sporty. The steer­ing feel is good, the con­trols and well laid out and I like the di­als and even the two-storey glove­box with two sep­a­rate lids.

The seats are great, fi­nally wide enough for me and with good sup­port, the cabin is quiet, the au­dio works well and there is plenty of elec­tronic safety gear.

On the safety front, we’re still wait­ing for an ANCAP score but it’s likely to make five stars.

It can also tow 1200kg, which would be fine for a trailer with dirt bikes or a light pop-up camper.

The qual­ity in the cabin is fine, the lights are very good and it’s easy to park.

But the boot space is more pinched than I ex­pect, par­tic­u­larly for an air­port pickup with a cou­ple of weary trav­ellers who have been in Europe for close to a month. One of their over­full suit­cases even­tu­ally shares the back seat, which is not good.

The boot could and should be deeper and even the load- through space into the rear seat is not good enough for a moun­tain bike with the front wheel in place. But the X-car would han­dle a pram and that’s the ob­vi­ous chal­lenge, since the fam­ily Fiat is re­ally for peo­ple who put form ahead of func­tion for a lot of the time.

So the 500X emerges as the sort of car that a lot of mod­ern fam­i­lies will ap­pre­ci­ate, and way more prac­ti­cal than one of the new-age SUV tid­dlers — Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V among them — which are do­ing so well. It’s more costly at the start, and a lot more costly if its fully loaded like the tester, but still a good fam­ily choice.

For me, it also works a lot bet­ter than any Mini I have driven (the new Club­man is just around the cor­ner so that may change).


All-up and allin, de­spite the gear­box and the lim­ited boot space, I like the 500X more than enough to give it The Tick.

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