Car reviews - Fiat - 500X - range
Unique looks, comfortable ride, appealing and spacious cabin, impressive noise levels
Room for improvement
It’s expensive, six-speed dual-clutch is twitchy, not dynamically strong
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7 Dec 2015
THE 500X crossover marks the changing face of the Fiat brand Down Under, which is odd, given its face is pretty familiar from the 500 hatch that has been on sale here since 2008.
There is absolutely no relationship between the Bambino and the 500X apart from the name, and some styling cues, but the jacked-up Fiat has more in common with the Jeep Renegade with which it shares its underpinnings.
While the Renegade is a go-(almost)-anywhere rugged compact SUV, the 500X offers more in the way of creature comforts and is far better suited to the urban jungle than the actual jungle.
Fiat is pitching the Italian-built 500X at a higher price point than a lot of the big players in the small-SUV segment, with prices starting at $28,000 plus on-road costs for the base two-wheel drive Pop and topping out at $39,000 for the four-wheel drive Cross Plus.
This starting point is about $8000 dearer than that of the Mazda CX-3 and $3000 more than the Honda HR-V, but in terms of European fare, it is close to $6000 cheaper than the entry level Mini Countryman.
Thankfully there is a good level of kit for the money from the base variant up including a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, cruise control, leather steering wheel, the Uconnect connectivity system with a 5.0-inch touchscreen and a strong list of standard safety gear.
On terms of design, the 500X carries some basic design cues of the tiny 500 hatch – the big bug-eyed headlights, the grille, the look of the tail-lights – but in the metal the size of the car is surprising.
Given its namesake, you’d be forgiven for expecting a tiny crossover in the vein of Mazda’s CX-3, but despite the fact that it and the 500X have the same 2570mm wheelbase, the Italian is a big car.
The exterior design will likely polarise, but the cabin should appeal to most buyers with its mix of retro touches like the door handles, and its use of modern tech, with the touchscreen sitting atop the centre stack sitting in an attractive surround.
There are lots of cool shapes and materials in the cabin, some of which are soft-touch, and the chunky leather-wrapped wheel feels great in hand.
Occupants are greeted with an upright seating position and a higher ride height that many buyers seek. The interior space is also surprising. Up front there is an abundance of head and shoulder-room, while in the rear, your 183cm-tall correspondent could easily sit behind his own seating position.
The seats themselves come in a number of different materials and colours/patterns so buyers have a lot of choice if they want to individualise their 500X. They offer decent levels of cushioning, and are very comfortable.
The 346-litre boot capacity is also pretty solid for the segment.
With everything coming to hand easily, connectivity systems that are easy to use, an appealing look and high levels of passenger comfort, the 500X interior is indeed a lovely place to spend a few hours.
The first variant on the test is the $38,000 500X Lounge, which uses a 215kW/250Nm 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine matched with the ZF nine-speed automatic transmission that is found in the Renegade and the Cherokee.
Our time behind the wheel of the Lounge was brief, but it did highlight the efforts Fiat has gone to in ensuring excellent noise, vibration and harshness levels, with very little noise penetrating the cabin on varied road surfaces.
The company has made a big deal about its nine-speed transmission, but we did not get past seventh gear given the speed restrictions. The unit is smooth enough and changes up and down without fuss, but we found the turbo-petrol engine to be somewhat lackluster when pushed.
The only other variant we sampled was the $33,000 two-wheel drive Pop Star that uses a down-rated version of the same engine, delivering 103kW/230Nm and is matched with a six speed dual-clutch transmission.
Where the nine-speed is uncomplicated, the six-speed DDCT is a bit more manic, changing down at inappropriate times and holding the wrong gear, which causes that unappealing revving sound.
For some reason, the less powerful of the two powertrains feels a bit more sprightly – perhaps given its lower kerb weight – making getting off the line a bit more fun than the Lounge. All the more disappointing then that the transmission was acting up.
While some crossover competitors are dynamically a joy to drive – Mazda’s CX-3 is a top pic – the 500X was less nimble when tackling bends, producing very noticeable bodyroll.
It does, however, have a beautifully cossetting ride, with the MacPherson strut suspension set-up making for a composed ride that outshines many of its competitors, particularly the Europeans.
There is an overly light steering feel for our liking, but this might not bother others.
We can’t help but think that while the 500X is aimed at younger, urban dwellers, it might end up in the garages of baby boomers in a similar way that Kia’s “funky” Soul has.
It has a high hip point, a high seating position, good cargo space, heaps of storage nooks and an extremely comfortable ride. All things that generally appeal to older buyers.
Its price point might keep it off the shopping lists of a few younger buyers too.
Whoever ends up choosing the 500X, they will certainly get a unique offering in a segment that is becoming a little bit generic.
If you prefer a comfortable ride over a dynamic, engaging driving experience, and are after something different to show off your personality, then the 500X is worth a look. But there are a lot of alternatives in the segment that do more things better, and for a cheaper price.
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