Fiat expands its 500X range with this soft top version. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Fiat 500X Dolcevita offers something different in the small SUV segment: open-topped motoring. If that appeals, then there's nothing else quite like one of these.
Fiat's 500X small SUV needed a unique selling point. Well, this Dolcevita open-topped version has it. There simply isn't another open-topped model in the small Crossover segment. This isn't a proper convertible; instead, as with the Fiat 500 C city car, what you get is what amounts to a huge fabric sunroof, though a very big one, extending the entire surface of the roof.
Though the 500X continues to be based around Jeep Renegade underpinnings, quite a lot has changed in recent years with this car from an engineering perspective. Diesel engines are no more and you can't now get 4WD either. Instead, the range is primarily based around a latest-generation family of petrol engines - a three cylinder 1.0-litre unit (which only comes with manual transmission) and a four cylinder 1.3 (which only comes as a DCT auto).
The 1.0-litre models will probably suit most customers best, this 120hp powerplant developing a more than sufficient 190Nm of pulling power and being paired with a 6-speed manual gearbox. In this form, this car is impressively refined at motorway speeds. Rest to 62mph in the 1.0-litre models takes 10.9s en route to 117mph. If you go for the four cylinder 1.3-litre unit (which has 150hp and 270Nm of torque), your car will feature Fiat's 6-speed dual clutch DCT automatic transmission. The ride on the move is a touch on the firm side, but this does help to restrict body movement through the corners. Steering feel is well-weighted but not especially communicative.
Design and Build
The 500X Dolcevita's canvas soft top opens at the touch of a button in 15 seconds, even while driving at up to 62mph, and has been engineered to have an unchanged load capacity compared to the hard top 500X. It also ensures good visibility and an open-air experience, even for passengers in the back. The canvas is available in black, grey and red, to match the ten body colours available.
Designed in the Centro Stile FIAT, the 500X measures 4.25m in length, 1.80m in width and 1.60m in height. You get a spacious 350-litre luggage compartment which can be extended using the Fold&Tumble rear seats and the fold-flat front passenger seat. The cabin features wraparound bolstering and arm rests placed in the centre console and on the door trims to aid relaxed cruising. The cabin has a 7-inch central UConnect infotainment screen and top variants get a 3.5-inch screen in the instrument cluster too.
Market and Model
Prices start from around £24,000 - which is quite a step up from the cost of an equivalent base-trim fixed-top 500X, around £21,000. As in the fixed top range, there are three trim levels - 'Connect', 'Cross' and 'Sport', the latter two offering the option of 1.3-litre petrol power as an alternative to the 1.0-litre base unit.
The 'Connect' trim level includes a 7-inch Uconnect infotainment system with DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Other features include a techno-leather steering wheel and 17-inch alloy wheels, plus blacked-out windows, fog lights and LED DRLs. In its 'Cross' trim level, the 500X offers smarter seats with a camouflage-patterned centre panel, vinyl inserts, 19-inch alloy wheels, automatic air conditioning and parking sensors. The top of the range 'Sport' trim level gets burnished black 19-inch alloy wheels, side skirts, a rear spoiler, black fabric sports seats with red piping, automatic air conditioning, a matte titanium dashboard and a 3.5-inch colour TFT screen in the instrument cluster.
Cost of Ownership
The market for boutique small Crossovers such as the 500X isn't anything like as price sensitive as those of other small cars and cost of ownership figures consequently come a bit further down the priorities scale. Nevertheless, the 500X utilises engines from other Fiat Group models where buyers are putting the budget under a bit more scrutiny. The unit most UK buyers will choose, the 1.0-litre three cylinder petrol, returns some decent efficiency figures; netting 45.6mpg on the combined cycle with emissions of up to 142g/km. For the 1.3-litre auto variant, the CO2 return best is also 142g/km, with up to 44.1mpg.
You can also do your bit on the frugality side in this model, thanks to the clever 'eco:Drive LIVE' system that's built into the centre-dash infotainment screen. Fiat says it's a bit like having a personal trainer on board. This electronic coach isn't looking to fight the flab, but instead is looking to trim your figures rather than your figure; specifically those for fuel and CO2 efficiency. Earlier versions of the 'eco:Drive' system did this by monitoring your driving style, then producing a report you had to download onto a USB stick, then view on your home PC - which was all a bit nerdish. Here, it's all done with live assistance, analysing your driving in real time and making suggestions instantly displayed on the dash-mounted UConnect infotainment screen.
Every model in the range is covered by a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty and there's 36 months of breakdown cover included as well. Should you have a problem on a journey, you can use the 'Uconnect' infotainment system to contact roadside assistance and the same set-up can also be used to book routine services.
The 500X hasn't sold as well as it should have for Fiat, but there's still time for the Italian brand to turn that around. Recent updates and this Dolcevita open-topped version should help. The slow-selling diesel and 4WD models have been dropped from the range and buyers are now at last treated to a properly efficient range of modern petrol units.
We're a little disappointed that the price increment for Dolcevita motoring is so high, but what you're getting is so rare in the compact SUV segment that some buyers might not care. And you're now getting a far more class-competitive product that has more than a dash of Italian flair. Indeed, we continue to think that this car sets a template for how a retro-style citycar shape can be expanded into something more family-sized. In short, this car deserves a place on your small SUV shortlist.