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The 2016 Fiat 500X small SUV is the best-featured and most practical model from the Italian brand to date, but with prices starting from $28,000, does it stack up in this ultra-competitive segment?
The Fiat 500X has the potential to become a very popular choice as buyers continue their shift away from small cars to small SUVs, but the challenge (and perhaps advantage) remains its Italian-DNA and price, which goes head-to-head with the established might of the dominant Japanese competitors.
Though sharing the famous Fiat 500 nameplate, the 500X is built on an entirely new platform, but offers the same ideals of Italian flavour and difference.
From the outside the Fiat 500X looks a little like a more stylish version of a Mini Countryman, particularly from the rear. Which is not a bad thing. The interior too, though somewhat overwhelmed by hard surfaces, has an upmarket feel to it that is lacking from the majority of its Asian competitors (Mazda CX-3 being the exception).
There are literally hundreds of thousands of different ways one can customise the 500X, allowing those that want something truly unique more choice. In saying that, the French seem to do this even better with the new similarly-sized but even more outrageous(ly good) Citroen Cactus.
We found the interior pleasant, with good use of colours and contrasts and particularly with all models bar the base POP, the 6.5-inch infotainment Uconnect system with navigation helps elevate the cabin ambience.
If you are willing to spend upwards of $38,000 for the ‘Lounge’ ($1000 more for the off-roading wannabe ‘Cross Pop’), there’s even the inclusion of a six-speaker (plus sub) Beats audio system. Though during our testing we found it – strangely, considering what Beats is known for – lacking credible bass in the low to mid volume spectrum. Only at the higher end of the dial did the bass really come to life.
The back seats will easily take two child seats (two ISOFIX points) or two average-sized adults with sufficient leg and headroom even for taller passengers. Though you will really be pushing your luck to fit three adults in the back comfortably.
Powering the 500X is a choice of one engine in two different states of tune. The base models send their might to the front wheels, while the Lounge and Cross Pop power all four wheels.
The 1.4-litre turbocharged multi-air four-cylinder engine produces 103kW of power and 230Nm of torque or 125kW of power and 250Nm of torque depending on the depths of your pocket.
To make matters even more confusing, the lower output engine can only be had with a six-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission driving the front-wheels while the more powerful engine gets the ZF 9-speed automatic transmission (AWD only) first introduced in the Jeep Cherokee (and used even in the Land Rover Discovery Sport and updated Range Rover Evoque).
We found the lower output engine with a six-speed dual clutch transmission a far smoother experience at low traffic speeds, with smooth and rapid changes at all speeds, meanwhile the 9-speed seemed to hesitate at times trying to work out which gear it wanted to be in and then occasionally changing at the wrong time delivering an unpleasant jerk.
In saying that, and as this writer actually owns a car with that exact gearbox in it, the ZF system takes some time to adapt to the driver and its hesitation is a software adaptation issue rather than a design or hardware flaw. In other words, it will learn your driving style and adjust.
Both engines provide more than sufficient power for the daily commute, with the more powerful engine's extra might somewhat muted by the additional weight of the AWD and transmission system (105kg).
Around town and in traffic, the 500X behaves itself well, is easy to manevoure and possesses sharp steering. Even so, the 18-inch wheels fitted to our test car certainly helped us feel the bumps and uneven surfaces of Sydney’s terrible roads. It rides well enough, but it can be on the firm side of things.
Fiat Australia decided to launch the 500X over the twisty roads of Akuna Bay in the north side of Sydney. Not exactly the type of roads where this small SUV would often do its work, however it did highlight the car’s dynamic ability, which to be frank, is really no better or worse than the class-benchmark that is the CX-3, though the not-so-little Fiat certainly did do its best to produce as much tyre noise as could be deemed possible.
Although Fiat offers the AWD Cross Pop, which is desperately trying to look off-road capable, it’s somewhat pointless unless you intend to take it on soft sand and need the limited four-wheel drive capability.
Both front and all-wheel drive models drive with a sense of purpose, presenting no torquesteer or vague steering. There’s the usual amount of body roll expected from a small SUV when pushed hard into a corner – and it will understeer willingly if taken past its comfort zone – but it’s more than good enough for its intended purpose.
Despite its few drawbacks, the 500X is actually an excellent choice if you’re willing to pay that little bit more. It offers an amazing array of active safety features, such as blindspot monitoring, forward collision assist and emergency braking as well as being dynamically capable with very practical packaging (350L luggage capacity).
Its appeal is to bridge the gap between the mainstream offerings of the Japanese and the premium models from the German trio and Lexus. Though its price is on the high side, it aims to still be seen as a more affordable choice for something more unique and not just another small Japanese SUV.
Our advice for the Fiat 500X range is to pick the front-wheel drive Pop Star with its low output engine and six-speed dual clutch transmission at $33,000. It offers the best features of the range with the better gearbox, smaller 17-inch wheels (for better ride) and misses out on the unnecessary AWD system.
Fiat Australia will offer the 500X in four variants, with prices starting from $28,000 for the base model manual Pop and going up to $39,000 for the Cross Plus. Full specification and pricing of the models can be found here.
Those prices put the 500X at the more pricey point of the segment, particularly considering the very popular Mazda CX-3 starts at just $19,990. Fiat says that while it can’t directly compete on price with such rivals, it offers something more for the additional cost, and we tend to agree.