Road tests by motoring journalist Tim Saunders
Above: Tim Saunders with Vicki Butler-Henderson
Teenagers standing by the roadside clapping and cheering.
Not something that I expect as I drive past in the Fiat 500x and at first I am oblivious but then slowly realise it’s the bright Amalfi yellow exterior - costing in excess of £1,000 - that’s really brought us to their attention.
Few vehicles on Britain’s roads have this effect and that alone makes you stand back and admire this characterful Italian.
Fiat has really achieved something special with this sports utility vehicle. It’s a difficult thing to do when considering the competition from the likes of the eye-catching Nissan Juke and Qashqai etc. etc.
To look at it seems very much like an oversized family hatchback and were it not for the flash colour I very much doubt that it would cause such a buzz.
There are so many things right with it. Keyless entry allows for unlocking it without even pushing a button or fiddling about trying to find the key. This is especially helpful when you’ve got a heavy and awkward parcel in your hands.
The higher than usual ride height gives the driver a great command of the road and helps them feel even more in control. It’s a great driver’s car. During the test I get to take it in the depths of the Hampshire countryside, not entirely my own choice but thanks to the satellite navigation system. I need to vent my frustration with this. It seems to prefer avoiding motorways altogether and taking the driver on scenic routes. I really have seen parts of Hampshire that I did not know existed. When time is an issue this is not always appreciated. However, on the subsequent quiet country roads where there is no traffic other than a beautiful Roe Deer and a few pheasants, I get to try out its abilities. The ride height allows the driver to see way ahead and over the top of hedges, allowing this vehicle to be driven fast – safely. It’s got a good set of brakes, too. When we do meet an oncoming vehicle and have overshot a lay-by the 500X is a doddle to reverse back into it. It feels a very agile vehicle, which is just the right size. While it is fitted with a reversing camera, I have no need for it. Other neat touches include a switch on the driver’s seat that electrically adjusts the lumbar support, which is very effective. It’s good to see that the wing mirrors are power folding and I like the six speed gearbox although when in second it does feel as if it should slot in a little further. Generally it’s a decent gearbox. There is an easy to operate steering wheel mounted cruise control but I find with the irritatingly slow nature of traffic on our overcrowded main roads that it’s easier not to use this function. The black leather seats are not only supportive but hardwearing and the centre armrest in the front is in the right place, not always the case.
Overall this is a great family vehicle that is versatile, sporty and funky and can be all things to pretty much everybody.
Top speed: 115mph
By Tim Saunders
“You just push that button to start,” says my daughter Harriett (5), as I try and figure out how to get the Nissan Navara going. She’s a clever girl but then she would be with me as her father…
Harriett loves the orange colour of our test truck and the chrome sidesteps, which she enjoys using to make her way around the vehicle. “Can we keep it Daddy?”
It’s a high up 4x4 and the double cab complete with hardwearing black leather seats allows for five passengers to be easily transported in comfort. One of the first things I notice is the electrically powered tilt/slide glass sunroof, which is a welcome addition to the cabin. And this is in addition to air conditioning. The six-speed manual gearbox is notchy and takes some time to get used to but the more it is driven the better it gets. Nevertheless this brute is a joy to drive. Its chunky tyres and raised ride height provide an excellent command of the road. Although a sizeable truck it does not feel overly cumbersome. There’s an attractive and distinctive sound from the diesel engine as it makes progress.
The joy of such a vehicle is its sheer load carrying capacity and when moving house as we are, few vehicles could in fact be any better. And I am comparing it to vans as well. As I sit behind one with our massive tandem kayak strapped to the rear it is quite clear that such a cumbersome load would never fit in a standard van. Additionally, there is a tray that sits at the rear enabling the Navara to transport 300kg, making it a builder’s delight. The open back means that such things as settees and chests of drawers or bricks and concrete can be transported with ease, as long as the weather behaves itself and fortunately it does. It is also helpful that the strap holes at the rear can be easily adjusted to accommodate most loads.
A car is parked outside our new house making reversing such a sizeable vehicle almost impossible. There’s a sloping grass verge above the kerb opposite and so the Navara allows me to use the verge as a means of manoeuvring, not ideal but it’s either that or move the neighbour's car. This still does not give me the turning circle I require so I have to drive up the steep verge. Not a problem in the Navara because four wheel drive can be selected at the turn of a dial. And then we reverse without fuss slowly and carefully with the help of the reversing camera, into the driveway. And that’s with a massive Chesterfield settee on the back. It’s as easy to perform this manoeuvre in the Navara as it is in my tiny Ford Fiesta. I like the traditional handbrake, none of this electric nonsense, which is finding its way into so many vehicles these days.
Later, as I drive to collect my daughter from school, I spy a black Navara sitting on a pavement outside a plot of land just sold for development. Yes, I can see how the Navara appeals to builders and property developers. Not overly expensive, bags of street cred and nobody argues with you. Moving from our old house I park on the busy main road outside and nobody dares to complain as they see me jumping up into the back and then out again to load various items. This is certainly a heavy duty vehicle and very user-friendly. I think it would be helpful if anti-scratch paint could be applied to the rear and the roof so that if any awkward loads need to be carried the driver can rest in the knowledge that the paintwork can stand up to it.
Facts at a glance
Nissan NP300 Navara 2.3dCi 188bhp Tekna
Price: start from £24,293
Engine: 2.3-litre diesel