On paper, it’s hard to see how the Fiat 500X can fail. Infused with the instantly recognisable retro styling of the 500 city car, but aimed at the heart of a booming compact crossover segment, it must be a dead-cert to follow the 500 and 500L’s lead and fly out of showrooms.

But we had similarly high-hopes for the car it shares an all-new platform with – the Jeep Renegade – and that underwhelmed us, so can the stylish Italian show its American cousin the way?

Measuring 4,273mm long, 1,796mm wide and 1,620mm high it’s longer, wider and higher than the Renault CapturNissan Juke and the MINI Countryman. But at 350-litres, expanding to 1,000-litres with the rear seats folded down, the boot is actually smaller than all of them. Considering 60 per cent of buyers in this class name styling as their number one motivation, though, Fiat won’t be too worried about that.

As part of its online marketing push for the 500X, Fiat released a video on YouTube where a Viagra tablet drops into the 500’s fuel tank, and the 500X is the result – and the analogy isn’t too far wide of the mark.

The double headlights, thin ‘moustache’ grille and curved panels are far more closely aligned with the 500 than the bloated 500L, but the pumped-up shoulder line and wheel arches are more brute than cute. Overall it’s a skillful remoulding of the 500’s shape with just enough ground clearance and cladding to make it look like a real SUV. 

The interior, too, looks to the 500 for inspiration with a large coloured plastic panel sweeping across the dash, or a matt black insert in the case of our test car. Dominating your eyeline is a large 6.5-inch touchscreen that looks great, with Fiat’s latest 3D mapping installed, but feels a little cheap to the touch. Quality improves elsewhere though with soft touch dash, squidgy door pulls and textured materials on all surfaces besides the big door bins and transmission tunnel.

Although you sit higher than in a 500, gone is the sensation of being perched up on your seat. You sit lower within the car in a sportier position, but with a good view all around. In the back, sub-six-foot passengers will have enough legroom and headroom, but any larger and it’s a squeeze, while the split rear seats fold flat and the boot floor can be set at two levels - for maximum space or level with the boot lip for ease of use. 

In an attempt to spread the 500X’s appeal from young to old, men to women and city dwellers to country folk, Fiat will offer the 500X in two separate versions. The first is available only in front-wheel drive and comes with smoother front and rear bumpers for a chic urban look.

The second ‘Cross’ model is only available with four-wheel drive (or front-wheel drive fitted with Fiat’s ‘Traction Plus’ system that shuffles torque between the front wheels) and comes with more rugged underbody protection front a rear, plus better approach and departure angles should you fancy some light off-roading.

Fiat has covered all the bases when it comes to engines and transmissions, too. Petrol options include a 138bhp 1.4-litre turbo and an entry-level 108bhp 1.6 petrol, while diesel choices include a front-wheel drive 118bhp 1.6 Multijet diesel, and the range-topping four-wheel drive 138bhp 2.0 diesel (only available with the more rugged bodywork, four-wheel drive and a new nine-speed automatic gearbox) shown here.

It’s impossible to ignore the eye-watering £25,858 price tag of this flagship 500X, but as a technology demonstrator it’s a beacon for the bran. Unfortunately this engine isn’t Fiat’s finest hour. Acceleration is brisk enough, but it always sounds a little rough and feels reluctant to rev.

The new gearbox is generally smooth when left to its own devices and quick enough in manual mode to give the wheel-mounted paddles a purpose, but shifts at low speeds are occasionally a bit jerky.

Fortunately we also sampled the 1.6-litre Multijet diesel coupled to a six-speed manual ‘box, which is a big improvement. The gearshift isn’t notchy or sporty, but it slots around the gate smoothly enough, and despite a claimed 0-62mph time that’s 0.7 seconds slower than the 2.0-litre, it feels just as fast, keener to rev and much more refined. 

And refinement is a surprise highlight of the 500X. Around town the ride is too firm on the optional 18-inch wheels, so it crashes over bumps and holes, but up the pace on smoother surfaces and it flows along nicely with just a whisper from the tyres and wing mirrors, even at motorway speeds - a big boost for its credentials as a long-distance family car.

Find a few corners and it’s more fun than you’d think, too. The steering (which weights up slightly when you select Sport mode, along with sharper throttle response and more aggressive gearshifts with the auto gearbox) has an artificial feel to it, but responds quickly to small inputs, allowing you to spear into bends at irresponsible speeds.

There’s loads of grip whether you go for four or front-wheel drive, so after the car initially leans on its outside springs the front tyres dig in and catapult you out the other side.  

If you like the look of the more rugged version pictured here, there’s a choice of Cross or Cross Plus trim levels, starting at £18,595 for the 138bhp 1.4-litre Multiair petrol, rising to the obscenely range-topper driven here. Otherwise the smoother-looking urban-friendly model kicks off at £14,595 for the 108bhp 1.6 E-torQ petrol.

Model for model, and with similar equipment levels, it undercuts the MINI Countryman by a few hundred pounds, but can’t match it for fuel efficiency. So it’s a mixed bag for the 500X - it’s not perfect, but it does ooze desirability, so Fiat is hoping its customers will be ruled by their hearts not their heads. 

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