Italian car giant Fiat is very close to the country’s international football squad. For a start, it is the team’s official car partner, which is why Fiat chose the team’s training centre in Florence to launch its latest model.
Specifically, it took over the “Luigi Ridolfi” Federal Technical complex in Coverciano in Florence, a centre of excellence for teaching, training and sport, as well as the historic seat of the Italian Football Federation.
But it wasn’t just because of the business relationship. Fiat wanted to emphasise the link between the ability of its new 500X Sport and the characteristics which make up any successful athlete or winning footballer.
It’s a sporty version of the highly successful 500X, a bulbous variation of the iconic revived 500 which itself was modelled on the classic Cinquecento.
It was launched five years ago with a brilliant ad based on a size-enhancing blue pill and the resulting viral video gave the car a massive – if you pardon the pun – boost to a worldwide market of more than 100 countries.
Designed and built in Italy, it’s now the market leader in its home country but hugely popular around the globe, with more than half a million taking to the roads to keep it permanently in the top 10 in Europe.
As Fiat put it, it’s “sending a little bit of Italy to the world”.
Fiat is quick to point out that it may be sportier but it’s not a racing version. It leaves the quick-off-the-mark job to its colleagues at Abarth who do great work in injecting proper oomph into otherwise sedate family transport.
What the Sport has is an emphasis on dynamism, precision and balance to improve agility and return a drive which is fun without compromising comfort.
I was a little concerned when I saw two of the latest models being driven over the manicured training pitch which we weren’t even allowed to walk on, but apparently it was OK for a four-wheeled Fiat. Officials of the Italian squad, including coach Roberto Mancini, appeared on video to praise the new car in an interesting joint exercise in football/car back-slapping.
The new car is only subtly different from the standard model, sitting 13mm lower on the road with recalibrated suspension which helps the driver connect more with the road and feel the corners and balance much better. The combination of the tuned dampers, modified steering and optional 19-inch wheels with high-performance low-shoulder tyres, really does make the car far more agile and precise when road conditions are demanding.
Fiat claims the changes reduce oversteer by 17%, understeer by 26% and improve lateral acceleration by 8% to make it more accurate when entering corners and quicker when leaving.
Outwardly the eagle-eyed can spot revised front and rear bumpers, twin chrome exhaust tailpipes, body-coloured side skirts and wheel arches and a sport logo on the front wings. There are full LED headlights and fog lamps.
The six-speed auto gearbox is linked to a new 1.3 litre Firefly turbo petrol engine which is surprisingly perky when power is called up. The car feels very secure in its handling, precise when pushed and a delight through the bends. For the more reserved, there’s also a one-litre version with 120bhp and a six-speed manual box.
There is a range of new colours including matt grey, but in the UK, the Europe-wide Seduction Red has been replaced by a more sedately-named Sport Red paintjob.
As expected, there’s a full range of driving assistance systems and safety features and all the latest connectivity.
Fiat has also come up with a quirky new advertising campaign which may not achieve the success of the blue pill video. Bizarrely it uses the much-despised mosquito in the shape of bug-eyed Buzz which sees the 500X Sport and immediately falls in love with it… only to splat itself on to the headlights.
- Model: Fiat 500X Sport 1.3 T4 Firefly six-speed auto
- Price: £24,700
- Engine: 1.3 litre Firefly turbo petrol
- Performance: Top speed 124mph, 0-62mph in 9.1 seconds
- Economy: 41mpg combined
- Emissions: 138g/km