(Pocket-lint) - There's something strange happening on our roads. Where we once had reasonably well defined types of car, we now have an assortment of the weird and wonderful.
The crossover segment is popular and rightly so. Smaller and more affordable than a conventional SUV, you get the advantages of a domineering position on the road and great visibility, but in a car that's still relatively compact like a hatchback.
The emphasis is on fun - focusing on lifestyle rather than outright utility - and Fiat seems to be having more fun than most with its Fiat 500. Having seen the successful rebirth of the 500, opening the roof for the 500C and making it all larger for the 500L, the latest model to join the party is the 500X.
Not only does that X match its crossover ambitions, it matches the lengths to which this model goes, including a four-wheel drive version for those who want to take their 500X a little further into the unknown.
One glance at the 500X and you might question how it fits the family. The styling of the bonnet, the drop of the back and those rounded headlights hint at the 500, squint your eyes and in profile you'll see it. But by the time you get to this size, we can't help feeling it's some way removed from Fiat's supermini, in the same way that BMW's Mini Paceman is a hefty step on from the Mini. Like the 500L, the X doesn't have the cutsey looks of the baby Fiat and that may divide opinion, especially once you add roof rails and raise the suspension further for the Cross models.
Sitting in the crossover segment, the 500X is really up against cars like the Renault Captur, Nissan Juke, Skoda Yeti or the Kia Soul Mixx, all of which offer quirky design in place of identikit SUV looks and they bring a little variety to our roads.
In that there's some appeal. With wheels close to the corners, it looks a little more toy like and Fiat has stuck with the fun trim names. Starting with Pop, you'll find dash panels matching the exterior colour - a signature of the 500 - but once you've moved through Pop Star and Lounge you'll arrive at Cross and Cross Plus, with chunkier offroad ambitions.
Although everything about the 500X feels ruggedly urban, there is a tale of two cars here: the 500X that wants to be your city runaround and the 500X that wants to abandon the road and take you further afield. With protective bottom plates and roof rails, the Cross models are ready to be loaded up for extra-urban adventures, or at least give the impression that that's what you do when you're not in the Waitrose car park.
Inside that body colouring is a reminder of where you are on those city models, but it's almost a shame that in "upgrading" the dash quality for the Cross, it sort of loses some of the 500 personality, in terms of internal colours at least. But the modular nature of the interior's rounded constructions keeps the fun and the use of big dials and buttons makes things easy to find.
There's a range of options for seats, the Cross' fabric-leather mix offering a lovely comfortable seat, with no shortage of quality. The leather topping to the armrest and door inserts put a quality finish on these touch points, but if we had one interior criticism of the Cross (sitting fairly high up in the trim levels) it's the number of different materials and textures used inside the cabin.
That aside, there's plenty of fun to be had with the infotainment system. The Uconnect system offers satnav provided by TomTom, which we'd give the thumbs-up over some manufacturer alternatives we've used in the past. It offers both touch and button controls, and steering wheel controls are standard across the range.
There's an optional Beats Audio sound system, offering 9 speakers, as well as options for Bluetooth connectivity - with only the Pop entry-trim missing out on the centre touchscreen display. The buttons surrounding the display might feel a little loose to the touch, but it's all easy to use.
The Fiat 500X offers a new three dial driver display, the centre of which can be configured to carry the information you want. Switching over to the Sport driving "mood", sees the centre display showing your turbo pressure gauge which is a bit of fun, but otherwise you can get all your essential information right infront of you, including navigation, entertainment details, or regular motoring information.
The driving moods let you change the character of the car and come as standard on all models except the entry-level Pop. Calling them mood might tempt you into thinking there's some emotional involvement, but really it's a predicable auto mode for daily driving, sport if you want sharper steering and more aggressive throttle response, and traction (or all-weather) designed to keep you on the road in poor driving conditions. We found Sport the most fun to drive, but it's going to be less efficient and in reality, Auto saw us through most of our driving.
The cabin is spacious and there's certainly plenty of headroom for both front and rear passengers, although there isn't a huge amount of legroom in the rear. For the school run you'll be fine, but taking four adults away for the weekend is more of a squeeze. This is pared with a 350 litre boot that shrinks to 245 litres if you opt for a proper spare wheel, seeing it back in hatch territory. It's not hugely capacious, where some SUVs are.
The ride height means good visibility on the road, although the rear window is a little squished to fit the styling. Larger wing mirrors give plenty of view as compensation, and the rear camera fitted to the test vehicles we drove was really handy when reversing.
You have options for a wide range of technologies to keep you safe, including parking and braking assists as well as lane departure systems. These are divided into a number of packs for upgrading your standard car, and in many cases these packs are sensibly priced in the hundreds rather than thousands.
The Fiat 500X is a comfortable car to drive. There will be two petrol and two diesel engine options. They start with a smallest 1.6 litre 110HP petrol, progressing up to 140HP and petrol and diesel options. The latter is paired with a 9-speed automatic gearbox and is fitted to the 4x4, claiming to offer 51.4mpg on a combined cycle. Those looking for the most efficient option will want the 1.6 120HP manual, claiming 68.9mpg and emissions as low as 109g/km.
There's plenty of low-end torque on the 2-litre diesel model and in our brief drive across country using it, we found it handled the loose hills and steep descents we put in front of it, with plenty of traction and plenty of comfort.
The 6-speed manual box was crisp enough and paired with the 140HP petrol engine made for a playful drive. We suspect that the forthcoming 1.6-litre 110HP engine will feel a little underpowered, unless you're strictly sticking to city driving.
On the Cross model we tested on the roads we found it comfortable to drive. Despite the chunky nature and elevated ground clearance, the Fiat 500X doesn't wallow around in corners so it's fun to drive without feeling too sloppy. When you hit the motorway there's a little increase in wind noise from those big mirrors, but we love the visibility, which is the real appeal of this type of car.
One of the other appealing things is how much personalisation you'll be able to apply. The seat finishes don't look standard or boring at any level, there are lots of wheel options, as well as colour packs for the exterior, so you can create a unique look. That's something that the Fiat 500 (as well as those rival Minis) has been doing for a while and it's nice to see the trend continue.
Starting at just over £14,000 and costing £25,000 by the time you reach the Cross Plus 4x4, it's easy to see the 500X as an expensive bumped up hatch. But there's a playfulness that's refreshing in the crossover segment, even if you're being asked to pay a little more for it. The Fiat might not be quite as dramatic in design as the Nissan Juke, but this is Fiat keeping it fun and doing so with a dab more style than the 500L.