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Ciao! The perpetually smiling face of the 2016 Fiat 500X Lounge always appears happy to see you. Your friendly companion where every drive is a trip to Italy.
Pairing a deep ‘Toscana’ green metallic exterior ($500 option) with a ‘Tobacco’ brown leather interior ($2500 option) – plus a large panoramic sunroof ($2000) – the little lounge certainly looks the part of Tuscan tourer.
Being different has its price though. More succinctly, being different costs $37,000 (before on-road costs). Throw in those $5000 worth of options and that ‘every drive is a trip to Italy’ sensation starts to have the same feeling as paying for everything in Euro.
Weigh that up with not being so different. You can blend in and drive a top-spec Mazda CX-3 or Mitsubishi ASX for almost ten thousand dollars less. Both arguably sound choices and, honestly, more sensible ones.
But look at it this way, our Fiat is a good ten grand cheaper than a comparable Mini Cooper S Countryman. Which again, is arguably a bit more upmarket, but it helps us understand the positioning of the Fiat.
If the Jeep is the adventurer’s choice, the 500X is the fashionista’s choice.
Design is always subjective, but I think the 500X is a really cool looking customer. How can you not love that cute and loveable face, which is begging to be anthropomorphised to join Lightning McQueen and friends on any number of zany adventures.
It’s the right combination of goofy and stylish.
Yes there are six lights and two grilles up front, and a multi-layered bumper and valance sandwich out back. But you get good wheel-gap and a cheery demeanour that everyone wants from a compact SUV. I even challenge that there won’t be one where the buyer hasn’t given it a suitably perky, and likely Italian, name.
The proportions all work well and as a result, the 500X looks bigger than its 4240mm x 1796mm footprint would indicate.
Inside too, those brown seats are very comfortable – well, at least in the front. There’s good support and a decent driving position. You feel high in the 500X, but the rearward vision is hampered by the three headrests in the back.
Storage is great, with twin gloveboxes, a pair of cup-holders and good door bins.
The wheel is pleasant to hold, and has a huge array of buttons to control audio, cruise and telephony functions. Even the instrument binnacle is quite funky in its simplicity, the analogue outside gauges flanking a central unit with configurable 3.5-inch TFT display.
Central to the colour-matched dashboard is the 6.5-inch U-Connect touchscreen, which is well featured - navigation, bluetooth etc - and easy to use. But the volume button is geared to left-hand drive markets and is a bit of a reach, even for the smallish size of the Fiat, and some of the touch functions can be a might fiddly when on the move.
There’s a pre-collision warning and lane departure system, as well as a speed limit and cruise control function. There’s no AEB or head-up display option though, which is the sort of tech that buyers are beginning to expect at this price point.
Jump into the back, and the rear bench is immediately noticeable as being much firmer than the front. It’s not brilliant back here, there is no armrest, plus there are no air vents, and the windows don’t go all the way down. The seats will fold 60:40 – but the larger section is on the curb-side.
Needless to say, my seven-year old review assistant wasn’t too impressed.
In the boot, which isn’t offered with a powered tailgate option, there is 346 litres of cargo volume and a space-saver spare wheel under the floor. The boot entry feels quite narrow too, the wheel arches extending considerably into the load area.
Powered by a 125kW/250Nm 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine, the 500X Lounge is in the mid-range of power available in the category. It’s up on the 103kW Suzuki Vitara Turbo, but down on the 140kW Mini Cooper S Countryman.
Like any true Italian though, performance is only best once the car has come up to temp and had its equivalent of a morning espresso. On chilly mornings, we found the engine and nine-speed automatic gearbox combination very slow to react, even at urban speeds.
Once running though, the Fiat is fun and zippy enough around town. Peak torque is available from 2500rpm, so you do need to get the little Multi-Air humming a little bit, but mid-range response is adequate and there’s a nifty turbo-graph on the LCD instrument cluster, for just that little bit of fun.
The engine note, particularly at high revs, isn’t very pleasant, but we’re pretty sure that isn’t a huge consideration of 500X buyers.
The gearbox too isn’t a highlight of the drive. In automatic mode, the choice of nine ratios seem to be almost confusing the car.
Switching to paddle-operated shifting doesn’t really help, as you find you are working through the gears regularly, particularly on shorter urban hops. We can’t help feel a traditional three-pedal manual transmission would be a better option.
Fiat claims a combined consumption of 6.7L/100km and we saw about 9.5L/100km for our predominantly urban week. Getting used to the gearbox and settling the driving behaviour would no-doubt reduce this over time.
Around urban Melbourne, the 500X is a reasonably nimble machine. It feels light and direct enough for inner-city running and is a breeze to park.
The ride too is on the sportier edge, but generally comfortable and the 500X deals with cobbles and speed humps very well. It’s a very competent city-friendly SUV.
At night, though, the halogen headlights are pretty ordinary. The Lounge is the second-to-top model in the 500X range, and you have to spring an extra gorilla for the $38,000 Cross Plus to get xenon projectors. The inclusion of some cool LED lighting elements would be a welcome update too.
The interior lighting is good though, with nice LED surrounds around the USB and SD ports, which is helpful when fumbling with phone-charge leads on the move.
The 500X is a fun little car, and well suited to an inner-city lifestyle. You can choose from twelve colours and a bunch of personalisation features to make yours stand out even more and for people wanting something different, it is something different.
You don’t buy the 500X based on its value proposition. You buy it because it is different.
In a way, the Fiat is a pseudo-prestige offering. More akin to Renault and Peugeot than Nissan and Mitsubishi. It really ‘should’ be better value – but it isn’t and so it changes the way you look at it.
Lets face it, the Australia market is a combination of niche niches. A cultural melting pot of brands and models where everyone is welcome to join the game, no matter how specific their market may be.
The 2016 Fiat 500X is yet another answer to the broadening ‘which compact SUV is right for me’ question. It’s fun, charming, and a little-bit sporty but comparable only to its premi-ish counterparts by way of price as opposed to quality. A unique option, but one which will come to those who govern with heart over head.
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