Fiat’s first crossover trades on its strong visual association with the perky 500 compact hatchback, while packaging it up in a higher-riding, bigger-bodied form factor that promises greater versatility and contemporary appeal.
Updated earlier this year with the addition of lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, AEB and adaptive cruise control – plus the deletion of AWD variants from the range – the 500X’s only natural competitors in the ‘fashionable European five-door’ set are the Mini Cooper 5-door and Citroen C4 Cactus. It inhabits a competitive segment and packs plenty of kit, however is that enough to elevate the small Italian to the pointy end of the market?
The 500X Pop Star Launch edition is the priciest variant in a line up that starts at $24,990, but given all models are powered by the same 103kW 1.4-litre engine and boast the same front-wheel drive mechanical layout, what extra value does one get when opting for the range-topping Launch Edition?
At $32,990, the Launch Edition is $3000 more than the Pop Star grade it’s based upon. The extra outlay brings a dash of extra luxe – which we’ll cover in the next section – and an automatic transmission is standard, but when compared against many other mainstream five-door hatches and compact SUVs, its value-for-money is only average.
Similarly-priced vehicles like the Hyundai Kona Elite/Highlander and Toyota C-HR Koba present similar value. However, if you specifically have something European in mind, your only other real options are lower-spec versions of the larger Skoda Karoq and VW Tiguan, or the Citroen C4 Cactus. Only the Cactus boasts the same kind of visual eccentricity as the Fiat, but it’s priced lower – and specced to a lesser level as well.
Running costs should at least be reasonable. With a claimed fuel consumption of 5.7 litres per 100km and the ability to run on 91-octane petrol, keeping the 500X juiced up should be relatively gentle on your wallet.
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Exclusive to the Launch Edition are partial-leather upholstery, power-adjustable front seats, power-folding mirrors and a more highly-specced sound system by Beats Audio.
That’s on top of standard features like keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone climate control, active cruise control, rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlamps, fog-lamps, 17-inch alloys and a seven-inch colour touchscreen display with sat-nav and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring.
The 500X measures 4.25 metres long and 1.79 metres wide, which puts it somewhere in the middle of the small SUV category for size. The Mitsubishi ASX and Toyota’s C-HR are slightly bigger, while other rivals like the Hyundai Kona are fractionally shorter.
Boot capacity is just 350 litres, however, which is getting on the small side even for a small hatchback – SUV segment rivals typically tote more.
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Safety equipment is quite good in the 500X Pop Star. On top of the now-mandatory electronic safety aids like stability control, traction control and ABS, the 500X Pop Star also gets a forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and blind spot monitoring.
Those looking at the entry-level 500X Pop should note that those aforementioned additional safety features are not standard at that grade.
Seven airbags are standard across the range, however, with full-length curtain airbags providing head protection for those in the back. Crash protection was assessed by ANCAP back in 2016, with the 500X scoring a five-star result.
Though the 500X looks big from the outside, venturing within quickly reveals some packaging shortcomings. The front seats are roomy enough, but the rear seats are sorely lacking legroom. Flat and firm seat cushions don’t’ do the rear bench any favours either, nor does the surprisingly high window sill – if you’re short, it may feel like you’re sitting in a bathtub back there.
The pedals/steering/wheel/seat relationship also could benefit from a greater degree of adjustability to improve driver ergonomics, but the interior’s presentation is at least faithful to Fiat’s established style. The body-coloured dashboard trim is a nice retro throwback – and cleverly conceals the upper glovebox – and the high-set infotainment screen is easy to use. Bright sunlight can, however, make it a little hard to read.
Material quality could be better as well. An over-reliance on hard, coarse-textured plastics brings down the ambience somewhat, despite the presence of leather and faux-metal finishes elsewhere.
ON THE ROAD
Given the right engine, the 500X actually feels like it would make a better performance hatch than it does a compact SUV. It rides firmly, corners reasonably well, its dual-clutch gearbox bangs out ultra-crisp gearchanges and there are even shift paddles for you to indulge your inner race driver.
But sportiness isn’t a priority for the average SUV buyer. Comfort would arguably be several rungs higher up on the list of wants and needs, and unfortunately that’s something that the 500X fails to provide its driver and passengers.
It’s brittle and sharp even over mild bumps, and you’ll feel every catseye and expansion gap through the 500X’s leather-wrapped wheel.
It’s quite noisy inside too, especially when the engine is being asked to work hard. Given the turbo 1.4-litre only puts out 103kW and 230Nm, it will definitely spend more time in the upper reaches of its rev range than, say, the Hyundai Kona’s more powerful (and relaxed) 130kW turbo 1.6.
There are some fundamental flaws with the 500X that likely won’t sit well with those just looking for a competent, yet compact, SUV.
A lack of rear cabin space and a smallish boot rob it of the versatility that SUV buyers seek, while its stiff-legged ride means even those in the front will have something to complain about.
If you’re seeking a certain aesthetic or have an ingrained fondness for Fiats, the 500X may prove enticing. Its feature list is certainly rich enough at the Launch Edition level, but assessed on purely practical and objective grounds the 500X is difficult to recommend over the bulk of its competitors.