FERTILE GROUND FOR FIAT
REMEMBER the TV ad where the old bloke drops his last Viagra tablet, which bounces off various surfaces and ends up in the petrol tank of a Fiat 500?
It then swells to a greater size, gains an extra two doors and, as P.G. Wodehouse might have said, gadzooks; it becomes the Fiat 500X.
The mini SUV is quite a hottie in looks, equipment and performance, and comes in four-model range that starts at $26,000 for the Pop, $33,000 for the Pop Star, $37,000 for the Lounge and $38,000 for the Cross Plus.
Lounge and Cross Plus have all-wheel drive, nine-speed automatic transmission and 125kW/ 250Nm 1.4litre turbo engines.
The Pop models are frontwheel drive with 103kW motors.
Ours was the top-spec Cross Plus, which differs from others in the 500X family in having protection bars front and rear, better ramp angles – just in case you want to wander off the beaten track – 18-inch aluminium wheels with matte chrome shadow finish, a slightly different dash and Xenon projector headlights. Ours also sported a panoramic sunroof, one of its (great) many options.
Standard equipment is extensive and goes some way in justifying the vehicle's comparatively high prices.
Electronic stability control (ESC) with Hill-start Assist and electronic roll mitigation is standard on all models, likewise a reversing camera, alloy wheels, cruise control, steering wheelmounted audio controls, a touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity and seven airbags.
The Cross Plus has a big colour TFT instrument display, automatic high-beam, satnav, a Beats Premium audio system with subwoofer and eight speakers, dualzone automatic aircon, interior ambient lighting and two-tone premium interior trim.
It's a fairly tall car, easy for folk with creaky joints to get in and out of, and it will accommodate driver and up to four more people, plus it has a fair-sized cargo area.
Visibility is excellent and the 500X has impressive ride comfort and neutral handling. It's also quieter inside than most SUVs.
The multi-function steering wheel is the same as fitted to the three-times pricier Jeep Grand Chero SRT and the Fiat comes with a smart electronic parking brake, while the big Jeep has to make do with an awkward footoperated contraption.
The specs say the 500X has a nine-speed ZF transmission, but it probably only gets into ninth at higher speeds than our laws allow. So eighth is where it runs at 110km/h, and it returns around 8litres/100km on average. The transmission also has sport and offroad modes, switchable via a rotary knob on the console.
The 1.4 MultiAir is a feisty little motor and with that touch of Viagra in its tank, especially so in Sport mode, it can propel the 500X to 100km/h in about 9seconds and on to a top speed of close on 200km/h.
The auto trannie does a bit of hunting around for the right cog, but it's actually a clever device that gradually adapts to driver habits, sort of like a marriage.
The nicely finished and builtin-Italia 500X has a delightful air of charm, a cheerful cabin and a lot of amore throughout.
And if you want to play dressups, well, you can choose from 12 body colours, 15 decals, nine different door mirror covers, five door-sill inserts, sunroof, bright pedals, door sill guards, air fragrance diffuser and about 80 other things.
Verdict: Bella, bella!
Fiat's 500 gets the X-factor.