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Fiat fires 500X into compact SUV fight

Big brother: the 500X will key off the worldwide success of its little sibling, the 500.

The fastest-growing segment in local motoring scores another player in Fiat’s 500X

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Fiat logo10 Mar 2015

By TIM ROBSON

FIAT Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is confident the Italian brand will continue its unprecedented sales growth in Australia with the launch of the all-new 500X crossover.

Marking a further expansion of the iconic 500 mini range that includes the 500 bambino and 500C sold here, and larger 500L derivatives available overseas, the new B-segment crossover will land right in the heart of the hot-selling light-sized SUV segment in August and, before long, is expected to take the Fiat brand well beyond 10,000 annual sales.

Presented to select Australian and other international media in Turin last week, including GoAuto, the curvaceous 500X is unmistakeably a member of the Fiat range and is built at the company’s Melfi plant in southern Italy alongside the related Jeep Renegade – the first Jeep produced outside America for the global market.

But just as FCA is counting on the Renegade to continue the US off-road brand’s remarkable growth in Australia, the company is preparing to ensure its lower-volume but nonetheless significant Italian sister brand will not be left behind.

Under factory control for less than three years, Fiat car sales have increased from around 500 in 2013 to almost 6000 last year, while light commercials have climbed from circa 900 to beyond 1200 sales over the same period.

All up, the Italian brand outsold Peugeot (4394) and Citroen (1307) combined last year, as well as Volvo (4693), Skoda (3853) and Mini (2570). It finished half a dozen units shy of Lexus (7000).

“The Fiat 500 has been a resounding success, both in Australia and overseas,” said FCA Australia president and CEO Pat Dougherty.

“Its popularity instilled our designers and engineers with confidence that there will always be room in the market for vehicles with a focus on quality, style and fun – the kinds of cars that put the joy into motoring.

“I have little doubt that the success of the Fiat 500 globally was a key motivator in producing the 500X, a premium offering that hasn’t lost that sense of history, style and fun that’s now so intrinsically linked with the Fiat 500.”

Australian pricing for the four-model range is yet to be finalised, however FCA Australia has indicated that the 500X would be priced to “sit in the middle” of the fast-growing segment that, with the recent launch of the Renault Captur and Honda HR-V, now has almost two dozen entrants in the mainstream category, with more to come including the Mazda CX-3 next week.

This “middle” positioning should see the 500X kick off from below $28,000 with the entry-level Pop variant, fitted with a manual gearbox.

“While we don’t comment on specific sales projections, we anticipate the 500X will be a success in Australia, and will become a key player in the Fiat line-up here,” Mr Dougherty said.

The 500X will be offered in Australia in four specification levels, featuring two versions of Fiat’s MultiAir II 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine and three transmissions.

The chassis is set up with MacPherson strut-equipped independent suspension front and rear, with an unusual two-point mount on the front end.

Inside, the 500X seats five, with a 60/40 rear seat arrangement that sports a fold-and-tumble design. The front passenger seat can also be folded flat.

Measuring 4250mm long, 1800mm wide and 1610mm high, the SUV takes visual clues from the style of the new-era 500, with bold headlights and tail-lights as well as black plastic overfenders and side skirt trims.

Luggage room behind the seats is 350 litres, while dropping the false floor on the FWD models will increase that measurement slightly.

The range-opening Pop is the only one of the four to be offered with a six-speed manual gearbox option.

Its spec level is notably lower than the other three vehicles, missing out on a reversing camera and blind-spot warning system that are fitted as standard to the other three, as well as a satellite navigation system and Fiat’s ‘Mood Selector’ driving mode adjuster.

The front-wheel-drive Pop is equipped with a 103kW/230kW version of the 1.4-litre MultiAir II petrol engine, with buyers given the choice between the six-speed manual gearbox and Fiat’s own six-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Standard features will include a five-inch touchscreen-based Uconnect infotainment system with Bluetooth functionality, automatic engine idle-stop, automatic lights/wipers, an electronic handbrake, seven airbags, ESC, torque vectoring control, rollover mitigation and hill-start assist.

It is yet to be tested by the independent NCAP safety authority.

The front-drive Pop Star – which also uses the 103kW engine to propel it from 0-100km/h in 9.8 seconds – has the six-speed dual-clutch transmission as standard, along with a larger 6.5-inch Uconnect system with satellite navigation, foglights with a corner illumination function, a dash-mounted 3.5-inch TFT information screen, rearview camera, lane departure warning and automatic windscreen demisting.

It also adds the Mood Selector dial which allows Sport, Auto or All Weather driving modes to be selected, adjusting the throttle, shift points, brake and steering feel.

Lounge and the range-topping Cross Plus variants will be offered with a 125kW version of the same MultiAir II engine and all-wheel-drive as standard.

Both models will be offered with a single transmission option, the ZF nine-speed automatic used in the Renegade and the Range Rover Evoque.

The AWD versions substitute a Traction mode for the All Weather setting on the Mood Selector, which brings greater off-road functionality to the 500X via low-speed traction settings and negates the need for a heavier, costlier AWD arrangement.

Both top-end variants also add adaptive cruise control and a forward collision warning system to their active safety suites.

Check GoAuto.com.au on Friday March 20 for our first drive impressions of the Fiat 500X.

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