Tested: 2023 Fiat 500X 1.4T Sport Cabrio DCT

As cute and round as its lovable namesake, this larger and sportier variant had a few surprises in store for us…

So you’re probably well aware of the new Fiat 500 which appeared in 2007 and was face-lifted around 2016. During our recent test of a Dolce Vita model, my colleague and I ignored any stigmas surrounding two adult men in such a little automotive love bubble, because we thoroughly enjoyed bombing around our village streets.

And, despite managing to pile an entire family into said vehicle, we quickly noted that larger groups of people would be better off with this Jeep-related 500X crossover. Which, in case you didn’t know it, has one of the most mischievously wonderful TV ads ever, involving a senior love debacle and little blue pill.

My animated explanation of this clever advertising campaign was almost as well-received as this gleaming red test vehicle when I showed it to some part-Italian friends. Although I pointed out its slightly bulbous nose and oversized alloys, these fashionable folks brushed it all aside with gushing comments.

They were right in identifying its slightly more butch yet confident shape – when compared to a regular Cinquecento. The tail-end received quite a bit of praise with those stylish body-colour light cluster inlays and tasteful pair of chrome exhaust tips. And once I pointed out this model’s fabric convertible roof, the car quickly filled with occupants.

This where everyone discovered the equally stylish interior which obviously offers more space than the two-door love bubble, yet also has some four-door (or X-specific) touches like a proper instrument cluster. The infotainment system may not be a huge ipad as in other marques, but it gets the modern media job done.

The chunky multi-function steering wheel with its array of buttons may take some getting used to, as their commands are sent to either the media system or part-digital gauge cluster. The ventilation controls border on playful, which confirms this car’s lineage almost as much as the fun trio of protruding safety buttons above them.

A large slab of satin silver plastic proudly displays a raised “500” badge, which is mirrored by those on the front seats, as well as a bigger one on the car’s nose. Smaller versions of this logo can be found flanking the two extremely stylish headlights, or sitting inside each of the alloy wheels. The lone “500X” badge sits above the rear number plate.

A charming realization I had at this point was that, due to its charismatic looks and spicy attitude, almost all of its shortcomings were forgiven by this crowd of impromptu inspectors. Passenger space is borderline OK, while the cargo area’s only redeeming feature is that it trumps the tiny two-door model.

Par for the course, everyone agreed.

This forgiving nature may be the car’s saving grace as our southern African market only gets one drivetrain: a 1.4L turbo-petrol 4-cylinder (103kW and 230Nm) with a 6-speed DCT. This type of dual-clutch automated manual transmission has become the darling of the industry as it offers the convenience of an auto with the snappy response of a manual.

I usually tend to disagree as these robotized manual gearboxes can be dim-witted at low speeds but – in a shameless demonstration of this Fiat’s charm – I found its parking behavior no worse than that of its more established rivals. In fact, it’s eager to shift down and/or hold onto gears a little longer, which aids city driving.

Those aforementioned alloy wheels have super-ultra-low profile rubber wrapped around them, so the ride comfort in this car borders on choppy. Hand on heart, I actually expected much worse, but it may be worth your while to go for a lesser model and/or bigger tyre combo if ride comfort is of much importance.

Highway manners were a bit of an eye-opener though, as an early-morning airport run proved that the fabric roof is fairly well insulated but obviously produces an extra degree of wind noise. The 500X rides and cruises beautifully at 120km/h, albeit with a gently swaying speedo needle.

How typically Italian!

Motorway consumption is also a pleasant occurrence as it gets dangerously close to the 5.7L/100km claimed by the manufacturer. With a 48L fuel tank, that means a Fiat 500X can even be a decent December holiday car for small families with insignificant luggage. Or stylish dinks who just buy everything when they get there.

My biggest gripe with this vehicle was confirmed on the return journey where I wanted to get a move on… and the 500X Sport was anything but sporty. Perhaps due to its size and weight, what was an excusable lack of zest around town turned into an alarming power deficit at higher speeds.

Kickdown commands over 100km/h are obeyed fairly instantly but the resulting shove is… somehow missing. The engine struggles to increase momentum in a meaningful way, at medium or high rpm’s. This was concreted by me thoroughly losing a highway battle to a dented old Nissan Livina. Or, in colloquial terms, “a shitbox”.

The data for this dilemma can be extracted from our performance tests, where you’ll find that 0-100km/h took a rather un-sporty 10.16 seconds; and getting to 140km/h took twice as long! The quarter-mile time was 17.41 seconds at 80.65mph while a single brake test from 100km/h took exactly three seconds and 41.96m.

Does that mean you shouldn’t buy the new Fiat 500X Sport? Well, I couldn’t live with its sporty pretenses, but happily there are other models and other buyers around. At just above R580,000 you can find bigger and faster vehicles elsewhere but I promise you that they won’t have the charm and joy of this compact Italian.

Each 500X is sold with a 5-year/100,000km warranty and 3-year/60,000km service plan.

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