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Fiat 500's new make over is Xtra special

Tom Wiltshire says the Fiat 500's facelift is a massive success

Whichever Fiat board member suggested expanding the 500 range beyond the cute city car is a genius.

Though the iconic 500's two larger siblings - the 500L and 500X - aren't best-sellers in the UK, they lead their respective segments on the continent and make the brand a tidy packet.

But the 500X has always been slightly old-fashioned, trading on its retro appeal, so Fiat has seen fit to give it a substantial mid-life facelift.

What's new?

Re-profiled bumpers front and rear give a neater aesthetic. Of more appeal are the new lights - standard LED daytime running lights and tail lights, with optional full LED headlights.

They really bring the car up to date and look rather slick, in particular the 500-aping, ring-shaped tail lights.

Of the three engines on offer, two are all-new: A 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, and a 1.3-litre, four-cylinder.

They join a new suite of safety tech, as well as an interior that's been updated with smartphone connectivity and a more legible instrument panel.

What's under the bonnet?

We tried both the new petrol engines, of which the 1.0-litre will likely be the biggest seller. We're glad to report it's an excellent unit - very refined for a three-cylinder engine, refusing to sound strained even at higher rpms.

It's also decently powerful, with 118bhp on tap and a 10.7-second 0-60mph sprint, meaning there's plenty of punch for town driving.

With 148bhp, the 1.3-litre is a rival for the likes of the VW T-Roc's 1.5-litre TSI EVO engine, and there's also a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated petrol carried over from the old model, which will be at its happiest in the city.

What's it like to drive?

Key to the 500X's appeal will be how it handles rutted surfaces and tight city streets. It dealt with the tight confines of Turin with aplomb, thanks to quick steering, good visibility and an easy manual gear shift. And a firm ride does pay dividends on faster roads, where the 500X corners very tidily.

How does it look?

The retro-pastiche looks of the standard 500 translate far better onto the 500X than they do on the 500L mini-MPV.

This is a really appealing small crossover, with two distinct "flavours". Urban models feature body-coloured bumpers and fewer trim additions, while City Cross and Cross Plus trims get beefy faux skidplates, black cladding around the wheel arches and an altogether more rugged aesthetic.

There's no doubt a Volkswagen T-Roc or Renault Captur feature a more premium look both inside and out, but the 500X takes a different route and profits from it.

It certainly seems to work. Fiat claims that 64% of the 500X's buyers are attracted from other brands, and haven't owned a Fiat before.

What's it like inside?

A wide swathe of body-coloured material across the dashboard brightens up this interior, which can feel dark in places. It's showing its age too - most of the new switchgear is clustered on the steering wheel, making it feel crowded.

Material quality is good, though, as is space: four 6ft adults can travel in reasonable comfort. At 350 litres, boot space is less than you'd get on a family hatchback such as a Golf, but it's reasonable. Visibility is good and the new instrument panel is clear and easy to read. There's also an updated Uconnect touchscreen.

What's the spec like?

The new LED daytime running lights and tail lights are standard across the range, though full LED headlights are only standard on top-spec Cross Plus models. Mercifully standard are alloy wheels and Android Auto and Apple Carplay connectivity, accessed through a 7-inch touchscreen.

You'll need to step up to City Cross trim to access the two new engines. That also brings a colour screen in the instrument panel, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and 17-inch alloy wheels. Cross Plus brings heated front seats, the aforementioned LED lights, lane assist, a rear parking camera and 18-inch wheels.

Verdict

If style matters and you've outgrown a regular 500, the 500X is a great choice thanks to its retro charm, but the welcome tech boost and excellent new 1.0-litre engine ensure there's some substance to the style. It's decent to drive, spacious enough for a young family and well-priced.

Facts at a glance

Model as tested: Fiat 500X City Cross 1.0 Turbo

Price: £18,995

Engine: 1.0-litre, 3cyl petrol

Power: 118bhp

Torque (Nm): 190Nm

Max speed (mph): 117mph

0-60mph: 10.7s

MPG: 40mpg

Emissions (g/km): 133g/km

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