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We’d forgive you for taking one look at the ‘new’ 500X, deciding it’s basically the same as before and buying something else. But there is more to like about Fiat’s crossover than you’d imagine, and much of that is thanks to the mechanical changes.
The new 1.0-litre three-cylinder is a really good fit for the 500X, and an engine that Fiat has been crying out for to hopefully replace the characterful but gruff (and surprisingly inefficient) TwinAir two-cylinder found in smaller models.
Its 140lb ft of torque provides much of the low- to mid-range response owners of the outgoing diesel will be used to, which was Fiat’s target. But, other than a bit of a shaky idle, it has refinement those diesel drivers could only dream of, with markedly low NVH levels throughout the rev range and a distant, characterful thrum when extended.
It’s by no means fast, as the 10.9sec 0-62mph time reflects, but it feels perkier than that figure suggests, so there’s sufficient performance here to satisfy the target market. Keeping it on the boil is made easier by a six-speed manual gearbox that’s much less recalcitrant than it used to be.
It’s a pity, then, that the 500X’s chassis feels like it’s been set up for about-town pottering rather than anything more taxing. The primary ride is relatively soft and forgiving, batting away large bumps and potholes at low speeds better than a few more firmly sprung rivals. But its composure unravels outside city limits, where the series of surface imperfections found on a typical British B-road cause it to fidget and bounce more than is desired. Road noise isn’t too intrusive, but there’s a substantial amount of wind rustle revealing that the 500X isn’t perhaps the most aerodynamic shape.
Similarly, a light and quick steering rack makes low-speed manoeuvring a doddle, and brings an initial feeling of agility. Yet zero feel and inconsistent weighting give it an arcade game quality, meaning there’s little fun to be had when pushing on. That’s arguably low on the list of priorities for your average small SUV, but a Seat Arona or Mazda CX-3 are far superior dynamically regardless.
Neither of those cars can match the 500X’s styling flair, however, nor the sense of occasion in the cabin. It looks good and most of materials are pleasing to the touch, although a few suspect trim bits – such as the clunky, hollow indicator stalks – show that it’s not quite up to the best in class when it comes to perceived quality.
The new touchscreen is much improved over the dinky affair offered in the pre-facelift model, but the graphics aren’t particularly classy and it’s not the most responsive unit around. It’s reasonably practical, however, with enough room for two average-sized adults to sit in the back in comfort, and a boot with a usefully wide opening.