Getting back in touch: The number is Fiat 500X
FIAT's new entry joins crossover fray
I came across an old name and number in my phone contacts list the other day. It must be 10 years since I spoke with the person. Rather than calling, I took the diplomatic route and texted because you never know, do you? Things change a lot.
As I write this I haven't heard back so I must assume the name is no longer associated with the number. Or the person couldn't be bothered. You never know.
It feels nearly as long since I drove a new FIAT on a proper test drive. The little 500 was the last, I think. The years have slipped by and there has been massive change - for everyone, everywhere. But the 500 'name' has made a big difference to FIAT in recent years. It has helped keep a focus and an association through a turbulent period.
They believe they have turned a corner and the likes of the new 500X Crossover, reviewed this week, is regarded as an example of where the modern marque is headed.
A crossover is a good thing to have on the market at this time, as you know. Demand is increasing all the while. But I wondered what FIAT could add to the recipe that would get people to put their hands in their pockets for one.
By way of background: it shares the same platform etc with the Jeep Renegade and they are confident as many as 600 of you will buy one next year. That's a lot of buyers.
The 500X is a smart, if unspectacular looking, little motor (4.25m long 1.80m wide, 1.6m tall) that has a lot of equipment and some excellent engines.
For me, the single most important non-mechanical attribute is that it has a five-year factory warranty. People want hassle/trouble-free ownership these days and that is one major way to provide it. I think it may help remove some preconceptions.
I drove 600kms or so in my Lounge-trim version, mostly with two adult passengers. I have mixed reports for you. As far as I was concerned there was a great driving position - nicely elevated. But the cabin was that bit small for my rear-seat passenger though it is, FIAT claim, roomier than rivals such as the MINI Countryman, Nissan Juke and Renault Captur.
My rear passenger also had complaints about the contours of the seats, which didn't make for a comfortable journey. After trying them I saw what she meant. Yet I know the intention was good - trying to provide lumbar support - and it could suit many.
I was impressed with the 1.6-litre diesel engine (they have a 1.3, too, and a 1.6-petrol to name two). Say what you like but FIAT make great little diesels. With a 6spd gearbox it was decent on fuel, too.
Most of my driving was on motorways/dual carriageways but we encountered an hour or so of grim, north-Kerry back-roads as well. That's where I felt the suspension was too tautly set and the steering a little woolly.
Yet they've done a good job at keeping out engine, wind and road noise. Indeed they've done a good job in the cabin generally. I wouldn't be a fan of the material across the top of the dash and facia but it was of really good quality, as was that of fabrics and inlays throughout.
And it was a nifty little gem to park; its compact dimensions and good all-round visibility making it what I call a "one- attempt" parker:
You can have 2WD drive versions (there's one with special traction, too) and 4WD. And all sorts of personalisation and kit as well as a logical Uconnect infotainment system.
If you want more room, the back seats fold/tumble and the front passenger one can lie flat for awkward loads; boot space starts with 350 litres. Not bad at all.
But why would you buy it? If you're upsizing or downsizing, it is a trendy alternative. It has plenty of equipment, nice pep in the drive - and that five-year warranty.
Against that, there are some exceptional, well-established rivals and it's still early days in our re-acquaintance with FIAT.
People do like to see new models on the road before considering buying them. It's just our nature. But put this little FIAT in your contacts list anyway.
Like my old contact, you might feel like making a call at some stage: The number is 500X.
Facts & figures
FIAT 500X, small SUV/Crossover, 1.6-litre diesel (120bhp, 6spd, 4.1l/100km, 109g/km, €190 road tax).
Prices: From €19,750 (1.6-litre, 110bhp petrol). Car tested, with options, €21,345. Entry version includes 16ins wheels, cruise control/speed limiter, air con, electric windows. 'Pop Star' trim adds 17ins alloys, front fogs, auto climate control, rear parking sensors, 5ins Uconnect infotainment system/Bluetooth. Lounge version (tested) adds tinted rear windows, HID headlamps, adjustable cargo floor, 18ins alloys, 6.5ins infotainment system with nav.
My side of the road
I don't think there is anything more annoying than worn-out wipers. They streak/score your windscreen and sound like chalk on a blackboard. I've driven a couple of older cars lately and they were shocking. We neglect wipers awfully, preferring to peer through grey streaks or put up with that scraping noise rather than spend a few euro on new ones that make driving much safer. Why?