FUNKY, FRESH COMPACT SUVS, LIKE THE 2016 FIAT 500X, REALLY GET TO THE HEART OF 'VEHICLE PERSONALISATION' IN A WAY NO OTHER CLASS OF CAR SEEMS TO MATCH.
Just like the diminutive 500 hatch before it, the 500X takes on the retro styling of Fiats past and throws in a healthy dose of today’s safety and technology.
Despite the similar name, the two couldn’t be more different in size, with the 500X appearing comically large next to the tot-sized city hatchback. It’s still compact though, and just right for that ‘next stage’ of urban living.
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
Price: $33,000 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 103kW/230Nm 1.4 4cyl turbo petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.7 l/100km | tested: 9.8 l/100km
The four-model Fiat 500X range divides itself neatly into two even halves: the Pop and Pop Star powered by a 103kW 1.4 litre turbo engine, or the more upmarket Lounge and Cross Plus, offering 125kW.
We’re looking at the Pop Star here, the ‘sweet spot’ of the range. It comes as an automatic only, unlike the Pop which also offers a manual option, and, as the name suggests, there’s some added glitz and glam both inside and out.
Despite the SUV style there’s no all-wheel-drive sitting below the Pop Star (that’s reserved for the more powerful Lounge and Cross Plus models), so the price is kept down.
But, with a starting ticket of $33,000, the 500X Pop Star isn’t exactly a budget buy.
You do get some decent equipment at that price, blind spot monitoring is an unusual (but welcomed) inclusion, along with keyless entry and start, 6.5-inch touchscreen media, dual-zone climate control, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
- Standard equipment: Cloth seat trim, cruise control, manual air conditioning, self-dimming rear view mirror, fold-forward passenger seat, powered lumbar adjustment (driver’s seat), auto lights and wipers, proximity key and push-button start, 17-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 6.5-inch Uconnect touchscreen, satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio, six speakers, USB and Aux inputs
- Cargo volume: 346 litres minimum, expandable via 60:40 folding rear seats
Probably the most commented-upon feature of the tiny 500 hatch is its retro interior design, and, like that smallest family member, the 500X comes with retro themes, mixed with modern amenities.
The high-gloss dash panel matched to the exterior finish has that whiff of 1950s about it, but the instrument cluster is a little more conventional, and there’s an integrated space for the 6.5-inch touchscreen.
A pair of gloveboxes, with the top one cooled, is a handy way to stash all your gear out of sight. Along with deep door-bins and largish centre console, the 500X has lots of places for 'stuff'.
The interior screams cool and comes in a variety of colour combinations. In this tester, red ‘scuba’ cloth uppers and grey micro-check cloth look the business.
I made the mistake of wearing a red cap and a grey T-shirt in the 500X one day - providing a unique awkward moment where you turn up dressed the same as your car (oh, the finger-pointing and the shame).
Humanoid colouring aside, the driving position won’t be to all tastes. The steering wheel is positioned very high, even in its lowest setting, making you feel a bit like a kid behind the wheel and making it tricky to get settled in properly.
Space isn’t an issue though, with the tall roof providing plenty of room above, and even the back seat is pretty generous for a pair of adults.
Thumbs up to the black and white TFT screen in the instrument cluster which delivers a range of vehicle info at a glance with one of the largest and most legible digital speedos you’ll find.
Thumbs down to the scuba cloth on the centre armrest (and other spots in the cabin) which, even on a relatively new car, was already starting to show signs of premature wear.
At 346 litres, there are no complaints about the size of the boot. The boot floor is a little on the high side, but there’s no lip to load over and the rear seats offer 60:40 folding for more storage space.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 103kW/230Nm 1.4 litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
- Transmission: Six-speed dual clutch automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
- Brakes: Four wheel disc brakes with ventilated front rotors
- Steering: Electrically assisted
- Towing capacity: 1200kg braked, 600kg unbraked
The 500X Pop Star offers a single powertrain; a 1.4 litre turbocharged four cylinder engine producing 103kW at 5000rpm and 230Nm from 1750rpm. It’s linked to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
And there's nothing wrong with the willing little engine. Thanks to the extra shove of turbocharged torque it feels right at home doing the city-street shuffle (among petrol-powered peers, the 500X sits towards the top of the class for power and torque).
While the six-speed automatic works just fine in most situations, it suffers from some of the typical dual-clutch niggles that don’t affect a conventional automatic.
Very low speed work, like parking, or three-point turns will see the car shake and shudder a little. Getting off and back on the throttle can also sometimes confuse the transmission causing a lengthy pause with no acceleration while it sorts itself out.
On a few occasions, it just revved from a standstill instead of moving forward as intended. To make matters worse, there are times where the stop-start system gives you a few panic-laden seconds of ‘dead air’ before whirring the engine back to life.
Once you are underway though, the 500X is a much happier camper, zipping about with alacrity in town, and quite decent at keeping pace out of town.
Ride quality is a little on the bouncy side when there's just the driver on board; at times over bumpy streets I felt a bit like a bobble-head doll as the 500X lurched back and forth, tumbling over speed humps and potholes.
Add a couple of passengers though and that settles down nicely, and at no time do any of those little urban annoyances, (like catseyes, train tracks, and expansion joints) ever filter though to make a nuisance of themselves.
Far from being set up for enthusiast appeal, the super-light steering of the 500X makes it feel right at home in tight city streets and carparks. But, as speeds rise, so too does the feeling of disconnection.
It can feel a little disconnected from things on the freeway and highway.
Also, as a result of the 500X’s form over function design, rearward and over-the-shoulder visibility can be restricted. This, of course, makes the Pop Star’s inclusion of blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert all the more useful.
Open road cruising is pretty relaxed, with a decent amount of sound insulation keeping road and wind noise at bay, with the biggest disturbance coming from the at-times buzzy engine.
ANCAP rating: The Fiat 500X has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: All 500X models feature seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain, and driver’s knee), ABS brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, electronic stability and traction control, and tyre pressure monitoring.
The Pop Star adds blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, and a rear view camera. The Pop Star also offers optional forward collision alert and lane departure warning for as part of the Advanced Tech Pack for $1000.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
There’s no shortage of compact SUVs on offer, but if you’re looking at the 500X for its sense of style, you might also like the Mazda CX-3: similarly upmarket inside, but with a more modern, high tech appearance.
There’s also the Jeep Renegade, it’s the 500X’s twin beneath the skin, but thanks to its boxy styling and utilitarian interior it might appeal to those looking for more-outdoor adventures.
If you’re feeling sensible, perhaps the Nissan Qashqai is a more logical choice, but if individualisation is really your thing then the Citroen C4 Cactus offers more colour combinations and trim options than you can shake a stick at
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Fiat 500X is such a cheery little thing - bright and colourful to look at, with quite a sunny disposition on the road.
The price doesn’t fall at the pointy end of the value spectrum, but for the Pop Star’s $33k plus on-roads there’s actually quite a bit of high-tech equipment packed in, like that blind spot monitoring.
But as an aspirational buy for city-dwelling young singles and couples who value fashion over function, the 500X nails its brief.
It’s effortlessly cool, bright, and funky - with an open invitation to personalise it via the huge range of Mopar wheels, decals, and coloured trim pieces available.
MORE: Fiat News and Reviews
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