The most expensive model in the new Fiat 500X range is far from the best. The 2.0 MultiJet diesel - only available with four-wheel drive and a new nine-speed automatic gearbox - doesn't to shine dynamically and costs a colossal £25,845 before options. The 1.6 MultiJet model we also drove was a big step in the right direction, but what about this petrol-powered 500X?

The front-wheel drive 138bhp 1.4 MultiAir model gets off to a fantastic start. Whether you go for Popstar, Lounge (driven here) or the more rugged-looking Cross trim, it costs £1,500 less than the equivalent 1.6 MultiJet diesel. Fuel economy and CO2 emissions of 47.1mpg and 139g/km trail the diesel’s 68.9mpg and 109g/km, but its 0-62mph time of 9.8 seconds is identical to the range-topping 138bhp 2.0 MultiJet and 0.7 seconds faster than the 118bhp 1.6 MultiJet.

In reality it feels faster than both the diesels and more fun to drive, too. That’s because despite being turbocharged this is an engine that enjoys being revved, and produces a sporty growl when you do so. There’s a brief moment between flooring the throttle and the turbo spooling up, but once it does the 500X shots down the road with plenty of urgency. It has a dual character, too, because at idle and on light throttle loads the engine ticks over in virtual silence – meaning it’s even quieter on the move than the already-impressive diesels.

To keep weight down, costs low and make the most of the 500X’s agile chassis, we’d recommend sticking with the six-speed manual gearbox, which lets you keep the engine in the meat of its torque curve for maximum performance, or select a high gear early to minimise noise intrusion.

The curious thing about the 500X – a compact SUV designed as an extension of the 500 city car family – is that it actually feels more at home when you’re scything around fast bends, or piling down the motorway, than it does on bumpy, low-speed urban roads where the ride on our test car’s 18-inch wheels is a little too firm for comfort. The steering is light, but with fast responses, which helps you dart in an out of traffic, but overall the 500X is much more of a grown up family car.

That’s reflected in its dimensions that, although just a few mm larger then the Renault CapturMINI Countryman and Nissan Juke, put it firmly in family hatchback territory. Which is why Fiat is hoping the 500X might even tempt some VW Golf and Ford Focus owners away from more traditional body styles.

Our lounge-spec test car comes with body-coloured front and rear bumpers - as opposed to black plastic cladding on the Cross and Cross Plus models – and looks great inside and out. The 500’s distinctive face and proportions have been gently massaged into a handsome small SUV with a usefully elevated driving position, while the interior is nicely retro (we love the optional vintage brown leather seats on our test car and cream plastic panel on the dash) without taking things too far.

A little more boot space wouldn’t go amiss, and particularly tall passengers will find leg and headroom in the back a squeeze, but for growing families it provides a decent compromise. For most though that won’t matter, though, what will is it’s now the most desirable car in its class and the best way to stand out from the expanding small SUV pack. Fitted with this 1.4 MultiAir engine it’s one of the best to drive, too.

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