Mini SUV with added 4×4

by Huw Thomas THE formation of FCA (FIAT Chrysler Automobiles) earlier this year marked the end of a tortuous trail for America’s Chrysler Corporation. Dissolution of DaimlerChrysler and a stand-alone period under a venture capitalist group led to bankruptcy administration in the 2008-2009 crash. FIAT Group invested and, having bought out the remaining shareholders, now has full ownership as integration of the two groups gathers pace. Jeep is one of Chrysler’s iconic brands and the Cherokee compact SUV launched earlier this year sits on a FIAT-derived platform used first for Alfa Romeo’s Giulietta. Similarly, the new FIAT 500X (due here in April) shares its underpinnings with the Jeep Renegade (scheduled to reach showrooms in February) – the first small Jeep. The platform is an evolution of the FIAT 500L structure, the 500X of course – the latest offspring of the 500 family. FIAT’s response to BMW’s resurrection of the MINI was easily the most convincing. Front engine and front wheel drive notwithstanding, it was a “character-full” evocation of the rear-engined 500 of 1960s Dolce Vita fame. Having already pitched the 500 into larger-than-mini form with the 500L and 500L MPW 7 seat (5+2) compact people carrier, the way was open for something more ambitious. As for the bigger Cherokee, the 500L platform has been substantially re-worked/reenforced for 4×4 use. A new rear subframe with more sophisticated independent suspension, for example, improves ride and roadholding for both front and all-wheel drive models. As an SUV-like crossover, the 500X clearly justifies its “new car” billing and takes FIAT into direct contention with Nissan’s Juke, Peugeot’s 2008, Renault’s Captur and Vauxhall’s Mokka. Unlike Peugeot and Renault, FIAT offers 4×4 on the 500X – more than one variant actually as for the Mokka and in contrast to the token 4×4 (auto only) Juke. The 500X, nonetheless, is an occasional off-roader whereas the Jeep’s platform is tweaked further for more intense off-tarmac activity. The 500X models available in the UK as a 4×4 are the Cross and Cross plus coupled to a 2.0 litre Turbo MultiJet II 140 Diesel driving through a 6-speed manual gearbox or 9-speed automatic. (The non-4×4 FWD variants – Pop, Pop Star and Lounge – are competitive compact family hatch propositions straddling, size-wise, the super-mini and lower-medium brackets.) Cross/Cross plus 4×2 versions can also come with “Traction Plus”. This electronic device simulates the function of a limited slip differential which optimises the grip of the front driven wheels. With appropriate tyres, this could cope with the odd slippery surface, grassy slope etc, if not the kind of terrain which demands all-wheel drive. A “Drive Mode” control alters the response and handling of the car (Auto, Sport, All Weather) but on Cross and Cross plus All Weather is replaced by Traction which activates the EDL on FWD variants or speeds up rear axle intervention on the 4x4s – the all wheel drive system is (automatically) on-demand rather than permanent. As expected the Cross/Cross plus cars get a body-kit which projects a more “rugged” image together with larger (alloy) wheels. Seating is slightly higher too. A major effort has gone into improving the quality of the cabin and trim. Front seats and driving position are pretty comfortable and supportive. The dashboard’s 6.5” touchscreen controls the Sat- Nav (extra cost option) and/or interacts with a smart-phone. Asking prices for the 500X will range from £14,595 to £25,845 with the UK’s two 4×4 models at £24,095 (Cross) and £25,845 (Cross plus). Not cheap but the combination of competent on-road dynamics, a degree of real off-road capability and improved fit and finish do make the new FIAT a credible competitor in amongst the class leaders.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.