Round about now you’ll be finding yourself the target of a very smart advertising and promotional campaign.
If you’re a young person you’ll be seeing lots of social media stuff and if you’re more of a feet-up-in-front-of-the-telly type you may have noticed a very clever and amusing ad involving a blue pill which inadvertently slips out of the hands of an elderly but enthusiastic lothario who is poised in an upper-floor flat. It disappears down a drainpipe and follows a circuitous and noisy route until it eventually pops into the fuel filler of a Fiat 500 being topped up by its innocent owner. The effect is dramatic and immediate.
The car’s body panels bulge and as we watch, the modest city runabout morphs into the significant compact crossover, the 500X. It’s like a bodybuilding exercise speeded up where the weedy wimp suddenly takes on a new lease of life and reappears with rippling muscles ready to take on all comers who think they’re tough enough.
While the marketing technology is bang up to date, the Fiat concept for the 500X is nothing new. Try parking a modern car in any garage more than a couple of decades old. You’ll get the car in but it’s unlikely you’ll then be able to ease yourself out through the doors, which will be jammed against the walls. All cars are exhibiting expanding waistlines.
The 21st century version of the classic Fiat 500 has been a master stroke for the Italian company and to say it’s been a huge success is a major understatement. Last year saw record sales of 44,000, making a total of almost 218,000 taking to our roads since it was first introduced eight years ago.
It’s about half as big again as the original Cinquecento on which it’s based, but now the latest manifestation, the extra large 500X looks like it’s been on some very effective medication – and not just some blue pills.
The designers have done a great job in creating a much bigger car, while retaining the character and appeal of its wee brother, to take on the likes of the MINI Countryman, Renault Captur and Nissan Juke.
It comes from the heart of Fiat’s creative operations in Turin, Centro Stile, where the team have carried over some of the features of the iconic 1957 original such as the large circular headlamps, its unmistakable nose and clamshell bonnet. On the inside, you’ll also find the signature round headrests.
It follows on from the enlarged MPV, the 500L, with the same aim of attracting a wide range of customers and their varied lifestyles but in two distinct offerings.
One is a simple, stylish and economical city car in Pop, Pop Star and Lounge trim levels and the other is a more rugged version, in Cross and Cross Plus spec, for those with more active adventures in mind.
There will be a choice of three petrol and two diesel engines initially but eventually it’s aimed to have around 25 engine versions with a range of outputs.
Fiat brought some of the first UK specification cars to Scotland last week ahead of the official launch and used the magnificent Floors Castle at Kelso as the backdrop.
I drove the 1.4-litre petrol with 140bhp and while it was nippy on the twisting roads of the Borders, I preferred the 1.6 diesel with lower output of 120hp but almost a third more torque.
The most interesting version though is the top-of-the-range 2-litre diesel Cross Plus of the featured test car. It has on- demand four-wheel drive delivered through a lovely nine-speed automatic transmission, which is the first in its class.
There is a price penalty of about £4,000 over the equivalent 1.6 diesel with only two-wheel drive but the Drive Mood Selector which is available on all but the entry level, has three different modes for engine performance, power steering settings, ESC calibration, shift patterns for automatic transmissions and the All Weather mode adjusts the vehicle settings for low-grip conditions.
On the more rugged Cross and Cross Plus versions, that’s replaced by the Traction function, which speeds up torque to the rear axle. That gives added security to drivers who encounter extreme low-traction situations only occasionally without the additional cost of a conventional four-wheel drive system.
It was certainly well up to the task on some gentle tracks and fields around the Duke of Roxburgh’s estate and I felt it could happily embark on something more demanding without taking fright.
The car has great appeal as part of the growing Fiat 500 family and this biggest one of all will go down well with outdoor-type families by combining sexy cool Italian style with crossover practicality.
The figures stack up too. It’s already claiming the best residual values in its class and offers remarkable finance packages.
Fiat believe they have yet another winner on their hands. Prices for the 500X range start at £14,595 and they’re aiming to sell 10,000 of them in the UK in the coming year, with 70 per cent of customers being attracted from other makes. It’s a tall order but already, with only limited marketing mainly on social media, more than 90,000 have registered an interest in the new car.
Stand back and wait for the response once the full marketing gets underway.
Fiat 500X 2.0 Multijet II 140hp Automatic Cross Plus
PRICE: £25,845 (£28,345 as tested)
ENGINE: 1956cc four-cylinder diesel. Power 140bhp. Torque 258lb/ft
PERFORMANCE: Top speed 118mph. 0-62mph 9.8 secs
ECONOMY: 51 mpg combined