Since its launch in 2007, the “new” Fiat 500 has sold like hot cakes, leading to a string of “specials”. But not all are up to speed, as Charlie Flindt discovers with the Fiat 500X Plus 4WD
The Fiat 500X Plus 4WD is another example of Fiat building on the 500’s success. Since its launch in 2007, the Fiat 500 has been infinitely popular. But the new special, an off-road crossover, just don’t have the original’s charm and wit, says Charlie Flindt.
For a new compact crossover and great mile-eater, read Charlie Flindt’s review of the Mercedes GLA 220 CDI.
FIAT 500X PLUS 4WD
The world fell in love with the “new” Fiat 500 when it was launched in 2007. The timing was right – 50 years after the launch of the previous 500 – and the styling was just right, too, borrowing many design clues from its ancestor.
Nearly a decade on, and it still sells like hot cakes, accounting for one in seven sales in the “mini cars” segment. One in seven-and-a-bit was the Fiat Panda – so the Italian maker has a pretty good grip on this sector of the market.
Fiat has kept the 500 fresh, with countless special editions: one by Abarth was for petrolheads, Gucci and Diesel kept the fashionistas happy, and the Pink and Barbie versions were perfect for, um, those who like pink and Barbie. Two more “specials” have sneaked out recently, but they’re not all they seem. The elongated 500L and the “off-road” crossover, the 500X Plus (this month’s test car) may have that magic number in the badge, but they’re built on a completely different platform.
MISSING THE 500’S CHARM AND WIT
And it really shows. The Fiat 500X Plus 4WD is almost completely missing the charm and wit of the proper 500. It should be roomy and comfortable but manages to be awkward and uneasy. Getting a good pedal/seat/steering wheel arrangement is near impossible. Nostalgic as we may be for Italian driving positions of old, that’s taking the concept a bit too far.
I also struggled with the dashboard. I like dials rather than digital readouts, but the all-important 30mph on the speedo was tucked away in the bottom left-hand corner, hard to find and difficult to see. Luckily, the Fiat 500X Plus 4WD is a bit of lard-bucket when it comes to performance, not helped by the nine-speed auto gearbox. Nine? How on earth did we get by with three and an overdrive in the old days? The engine hardly changes revs, sitting at around 2,000rpm, while the box shunts up and down uneasily. It brought to mind the engineers’ debate about torque curves and gearboxes that raged in a university lecture room 30-something years ago – a new generation of engines with broad, flat torque curves would mean fewer gears and simpler gearboxes. Fat lot of good that prediction turned out to be. The Fiat 500X Plus 4WD sits uneasily on the road too, wandering and weaving.
Off road? It did a bit, but I didn’t dare do a lot.
It dawned on me that this 500 is a bit of an imposter. The “500” badge is a bit of a sneaky trick to increase the appeal of a much larger car. You can’t blame Fiat for trying it, though. MINI has been at it for years, and Fiat’s track record with big cars is dismal – the queue for the Argenta was as long the one for the Alfa 6 and the Talbot Tagora: not very long.
But if you were hoping the Fiat 500X Plus 4WD would provide the fun factor of all the smaller versions, you’d be disappointed. Not so much hot cake as stale bun.
FIAT 500X PLUS 4WD
Engine: 1,956cc diesel
Max speed: 118mph
Performance 0 to 62: 9.8 seconds
Combined fuel economy: 51.4mpg
Insurance group: 15
Would suit: plus-size Barbie