FLIP flops or high heels, denim or leather, functional or sexy, practical or passionate - that, says Fiat's chief marketing officer Olivier Francois, is how the Italian manufacturer distinguishes between its products, and the key to offering different markets the cars that make the best economic sense.
In Australia, where Fiat is "unable" to offer cars at the low cost available to European markets, they have opted to push the element of style and cars that pique the interest with an ability to offer alternatives to the ordinary.
Enter the 500X, Fiat's small crossover SUV, based incidentally on the same platform as the Jeep Renegade, but with the same quirky flavour as its Fiat 500 namesake.
Fiat is proud the 500X stands out from the pack and has equipped it with excellent safety and technology features and an adventurous look.
Space is certainly an advantage the 500X has over competitors with a bright airy cabin and passengers, including those in the rear, benefiting from additional leg and head room. Controls and instruments are fun and funky and seats are cushioning and comfortable.
You can really leave your mark here, adding your choice of fabric and leather colours, decals, mirror covers and sill inserts, the personalisation both a refreshing change and a real opportunity to stand out from the crowd.
Storage options are standard fare but the practically sized door bins and larger-than-expected boot (350 litres) are a nice surprise.
Some of the materials feel cheap, with the rear door casings, for example, lacking the soft-touch surfaces present in the front - small fry, I know, but noticeable when you are parting with a fair amount of cash.
On the road
There is a single engine available, a 1.4-litre turbo-petrol offering two power outputs, and three transmission choices.
The front-wheel-drive 103kW Pop is paired with a six-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch auto with the Pop Star available in auto only.
The 125kW Lounge and Cross Plus sport nine-speed automatic transmissions and are all-wheel drive.
Our launch drive - a mix of stop-start city driving and twisty poorly surfaced secondary roads - gave the 500X ample opportunity to showcase its talents and it managed to confound and impress in equal measure.
This is an easy car to drive, vision is excellent and steering, while not instinctive, is fairly direct. Apart from a little tyre roar, the cabin is pretty quiet but the ride, while truly acceptable, lacks that real sparky fun and sporty pleasure you get in the 500.
There is that slight bit of expected understeer when pushed around corners but it is the uncomfortable jolting over bumpy sections that leaves no doubt this 500X was not tuned for Australian conditions.
A mood selector in the Pop Star, Lounge and Cross Plus allows you to select a driving style appropriate to the conditions with a choice of Auto, Sport and All Weather in the former two and the Cross Plus replacing All Weather with a Traction function for additional wheel slip in off-road conditions. Let's face it, you are unlikely to take the 500X off the beaten path but it doesn't hurt to look the part.
What do you get?
The entry-level Pop is well-equipped in terms of features and comforts including a Uconnect infotainment system with five-inch colour touchscreen, Bluetooth interface with voice commands, reverse camera, air-conditioning, cruise control, tilt and telescopic steering column, 16-inch alloys, daytime running lights, and 16-inch aluminium wheels.
The Pop Star adds sat-nav, rain sensing wipers, auto headlights, mood selector, paddle shifts and power adjustable driver's seat while the Lounge also includes a 3.5-inch TFT cluster display, dual-zone climate control, 18-inch wheels, and auto high-beam headlights.
For $1000 more, the Cross Plus features a unique dashboard and exterior features. The 500X has a four-star Euro safety rating but Fiat is confident of a five-star tick here thanks to seven airbags, lane departure warning, blind-spot assist with rear cross path detection, forward collision warning and electronic stability control with electronic roll mitigation.
Fuel consumption figures range from 5.7l/100km for the Pop to 6.7l/100km for the Cross Plus.
Fiat offers three years or 150,000km warranty with roadside assist for that same period. Capped-price servicing is $1346 over three years.
This is an interesting segment with competition varying from the Holden Trax (from $23,990), Skoda Yeti (from $23,490), Ford EcoSport (from $27,790), Mazda CX-3 (from $19,990), Renault Captur (from $22,990) to the Honda HR-V (from $24,990) and Suzuki SX4 S-Cross (from $32,990).
The spacious second row and boot ensure the 500X fits a small family and probably a smallish pram too at a squeeze. It has a good turning circle, is easy to manoeuvre in the city and can find the get-up-and-go when needed on highways too. The safety inclusions are great, really, but the five-star stamp would be a better seal of approval. It is, however, quite a soft soft-roader but Fiat says it is for weekends away rather than a get-away-from-it-all trip.
This 500X is all about fun and funk. The double headlamps and rounded clamshell hood pays homage to its Cinquecento heritage while the Cross Plus features a unique front and rear fascia and a more muscly purposeful stance.
There is little doubt that the Fiat 500X adds a little bit of interest to this segment, that Italian uniqueness and sense of style that is difficult to quantify. It is a car for people who want something a touch different, a small crossover with a big presence. Price may be a stumbling block but perhaps not if you want to stand out from the crowd.
What matters most
What we liked: Sense of fun, flair, personalisation.
What we'd like to see: Diesel engine, more dynamic drive, better ride comfort, lower price point.
Warranty and servicing: 3 year/150,000km warranty with capped-price servicing
Model: Fiat 500X.
Details: Five-door two-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive small SUV.
Engines: 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol generating maximum power of either 103kW or 125kW and peak torque of 230Nm and 250Nm respectively.
Transmissions: Six-speed manual, six-speed dual-clutch auto and nine-speed auto.
Consumption: 5.7 litres -6.7 litres/100km combined.
Bottom line plus on-roads: Pop - $28,000 for manual and $30,000 for auto, Pop Star - $33,000, Lounge - $38,000, Cross Plus - $39,000.
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