Drive Life

2017 Fiat 500X – Car Review – the American Italian

2017 Fiat 500X – Car Review – the American Italian

When I heard I’d be testing the Fiat 500X I was a little worried; in the photos, it looked like Fiat had taken the fun and funky Fiat 500 and fed it a high-carb diet, so it bulged out in all sorts of places. It reminded me of John Travolta in Hairspray when he had that fat suit on.

Actually the 500X is built on the same platform as the Jeep Renegade, so that gives you some idea of its size. I guess it had to happen – there was no way Fiat could fit a 4-door body on the tiny 500 wheelbase. But did they need to? Is there a market for a fattened-up, 4-door Fiat 500?

And more importantly – would it be any good?

The Range

There’s just two models in the 500X range; the Pop, and the model we tested, the Pop Star (who came up with that name?!). The Pop retails at $22,990 and the Pop Star at $29,990.

Mechanically they are the same, both FWD and fitted with a 1.4-litre MultiAir2 SOHC turbo petrol engine that puts out 103Kw of power and 230Nm of torque. The Pop is manual only, and the Pop Star is a 6-speed dual-clutch auto trans only.

That’s not the only difference in the $7K price gap.

With the Pop, you get 16” alloys, a 3.5” driver’s colour display, cruise control, rear park sensors, a leather steering wheel, refrigerated glove box, projector headlights, DRLs, heated mirrors, power windows with auto down for the front, electric park brake, remote keyless entry, tyre pressure monitoring system, a 6-speaker audio system, and a 5.0” central colour display running Chrysler’s Uconnect system version 5.0.

The Pop Star then adds 17” alloys, auto headlights, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, Fiat’s Mood Selector, auto-dipping rear view mirror, electric driver’s seat with 4-way electric lumbar adjust, front fog lights with cornering function, 9-speaker BeatsAudio system, engine auto-stop, keyless entry and start, a reversing camera, auto wipers and an upgrade to a 6.5” central colour display with Uconnect 6.5 with SatNav.

Our test car was also fitted with a manual dual sunroof ($2,000), and the Leather Seats package ($3,000) with power driver and passenger’s seats, both with 4-way electric lumbar adjust, pushing the price up to $34,990.

First Impressions

For some reason when I started writing this review, I kept writing ‘Fiat 500XL’ as a model name. I don’t know why, really. I think one day I saw a picture and my mind said it was an XL-sized Fiat 500. It is a big car – think of the difference between the original Mini and the latest models – that’s the comparison between the original Fiat 500 and the 500XL. Compared to the latest Fiat 500, it’s 700mm longer, 110mm taller and 122mm wider.

Interestingly, the car is available in just 5 colours; white, silver, grey (all boring), black, and the Passion Red our test car was delivered in. I would have thought a bright yellow and at least a blue and/or green would have been thrown in there. It’s like Fiat knew it would not be taken as a fun and funky car, so will only sell it in subdued (boring) colours? The 500 model is available in 14 colours, including purple, yellow, light blue, a medium blue, and others.

Still, it does stand out in Passion Red; people look at this car. Perhaps some of them are thinking, “is that a Fiat 500?” It’s definitely similar, but not as fun looking as its 2-door sibling. On the other hand, it is different from the rest of the pack, and you have to give Fiat points for that.

Some boring colours – yes – but not a boring shape. Most of the comments I got on the shape of the car were pretty complimentary.

The Inside

One thing instantly catches your eye when you open the door – the red painted parts of the dash that spread right across the car. It looks great and after a stream of cars with all black dashboards, it was a breath of fresh air.

And spread across it does – the 500XL is nearly two metres wide. This means a reasonable amount of room in the cabin from side to side – nothing like a 500 at all in this respect.

The next thing you may notice are the front seats; it’s almost like climbing up into an SUV. Ok, not that high, but pretty surprising just how tall this car is. Once you get in, you really get the feeling that this is a car you sit on, and not in – reinforcing that SUV feeling.

Sitting in the driver’s seat, my first thought was I was sitting in my Dodge Challenger – the steering wheel is almost exactly the same, bar the Fiat badge in the middle. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s leather of course and good size, and feels nice to the touch, with perfectly positioned thumb grips.

On the front of the wheel are controls for the driver’s information display and phone on one side, and cruise control on the other. On the backside of the wheel are the audio controls. I’m glad to see Chrysler has listened to my complaint, and have moved the mute button to the same control as the volume up/down button, instead of with the change track button.

In front of the driver sits three pods for your speedo on the left, rev counter on the right, and driver info display in the middle. There are a multitude of screens you can flick to, typical of Chrysler. My favourite, as always, is the digital speedo; this is one of the better ones, big, chunky digits that you can read in an instant.

The cabin is nicely finished, but there are quite a lot of hard plastics when you look around. Still, that red splash across the dash breaks everything up nicely.

As well as the red on the dash, there is also some red leather on one side of each of the front seats. My passengers commented on this, and it was a shame there were not more red leather touches about the cabin.

Looking down, the centre console is a little classy with a stainless steel finish, with Fiat’s Mood Selector next to the shift lever. No, the Mood Selector doesn’t actually change your mood, but it does alter driving styles. More on this later.

Our test car had the optional dual sunroofs, and these let lots more natural light into the cabin. I’m not sure how the car would feel without the sunroofs, potentially it could feel quite closed in. The sunroofs also have blinds for front and rear to keep that sun out when it gets too much. However they are a mesh type of blind, so don’t completely block out the sun. During my week with the 500X, I barely saw any sun so cannot confirm this.

In the rear, well things are a bit tight. There’s little legroom and it’s not somewhere for a tallish person to sit for a long time. I’m only 5”7 but with the driver’s seat adjusted right for me, I had little space in the back seat.

The back seats are split 60/40 and are comfy enough – remember our test car has the Leather Seats package. They are firm but comfortable – as are the front.

The boot is reasonable in size, with 350 litres with the rear seats up, and 1000 litres with them down. Those are pretty respectable numbers.

The Pop Star comes with a decent stereo option, and it works just fine. Right in front on the console are a USB port, SD card slot and AUX port – nice that they aren’t hidden away in the centre console cubby. Actually the centre console cubby is not the biggest – it won’t fit an SLR camera in there, but still usable.

Also appreciated were the simple AC controls – three dials. No need to change this for something any more complicated, but I was surprised the AC wasn’t climate controlled on this top-range model. Also surprising was the omission of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay; but you do get SatNav in this model, so almost not needed.

The SatNav is the standard uConnect fare, and works perfectly well, and simply. As it should, once you set a destination the driver gets turn-by-turn instructions right in front of him.

You do get two good-sized gloveboxes on the 500X, with one red metal and one black plastic – both about the same size.

The Drive

After driving the car for a week, I sat down to write this review. When I checked the specs for the car, and I simply could not believe it was a turbocharged engine. Even more unbelievable it has 103Kw of power and 230Nm of torque. It’s not slow, but it never feels like it has a turbo, or that much torque. I would have laid money down on that one.

Still, it’s likely a small turbo is just to add some power to make for more of a fun drive. Does it? Uh, not really. As I say, I never would have believed it had a turbo, it feels quite lethargic most of the time. To get this car to move quickly, you have to rev it out. Normally I love to rev cars out, but not in normal daily driving. I kept the car at lower revs because I felt this is where it would spend most of its time, and while it doesn’t struggle to keep up with traffic, it never feels as peppy as a Fiat 500 should.

The other issue with driving the 500X is smoothness – it’s hard to drive smoothly, with sometimes clunky changes, and an engine that feels like it’s surging off and on. And I don’t mean turbo surge – I mean like old-school blocked fuel filter surging. It’s not fun at low speeds. I know this is common of any DCT auto transmission, but it makes for an annoying drive at times.

One other problem I had with driving it is when using the paddle shifters to change down a gear – there’s a half or one-second gap between changing down and the actual change down. Add to this brakes that are excellent – but almost too touchy. It took me a while to get used to being very gentle with the brake pedal. It just all adds to the lack of smooth driving. If you peek inside the wheels, you’ll see the Mopar brakes hiding in there. Not quite Brembos, but they are up to the task as far as power to stop you quickly goes but far too touchy.

The 500X has a Mood Selector, which is a drive mode controller to you and me. You get to pick from three settings; Sport, Normal and Traction. After my disappointment with the performance, I switched it to Sport Mode and this certainly changed things – instant acceleration and much better gear changes. I was tempted to leave it in Sport Mode to overcome the lethargic-ness, but it was too frantic for that.

Sport Mode is supposed to increase feeling for steering, and while the steering got heavier I didn’t notice any extra feel coming through. When you switch the car to Sport Mode, the driver’s display switches to a G-forces meter.

Your other option is Traction Mode, and Fiat says: In conditions with poor or no grip on a drive wheel, the control unit detects drive wheel slippage and instructs the hydraulic circuit to apply braking force to the wheel with lower grip, thus transferring power to the wheel on the surface providing the better grip. This improves handling, maintains directional stability and control, and ensures the best possible traction even over very rough or poor grip terrain.

When in Traction Mode, the central display switches to show how much drive is being sent to each front wheel.

The ride is a bit jiggly at times, especially at low speeds, but average for the class. It’s much better on the open road in this respect. Visibility is generally good except for C pillar, but you do get Blind Spot Monitoring so that’s a help. One thing you will notice while driving is the fat A pillars. I know they need to be chunky for safety, but these ones are enormous and while driving, you need to make sure you are looking around them when going through intersections.

Last thing you will notice? The noise. Road noise, tyre noise, wind noise – they are all present at different levels.

I covered 400km in the 500X, and managed 8.9l/100km, which is high for a 1.4-litre engine. In saying that, it’s exactly the same figure I got out of the 1.4-litre petrol turbo Skoda Kodiaq last week – but the Skoda is a big 7-seater. Fiat claims a combined rating of 5.7 l/100km, so you can see I was a fair whack away from that.

The Competition

The 500XL has the most power and torque in our comparison chart, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

Brand/Model Engine Power/Torque 0-100kmh, seconds Fuel L/100km Price – High to Low
Mini Cooper Hatch 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder turbo petrol 100Kw/220Nm 8.2 4.9 $36,590
Volkswagen Golf Comfortline 1.4-litre, 4-cylinder turbo petrol 92Kw/200Nm 9.1 5.7 $33,990
Peugeot 208 Alure 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder turbo petrol 81Kw/205Nm 10.9 4.5 $28,990
Fiat 500X Pop Star 1.4-litre, 4-cylinder turbo petrol 103Kw/230Nm 9.8 5.7 $29,990
Renault Clio Expression 1.2-litre, 4-cylinder turbo petrol 88Kw/190Nm 9.4 5.2 $26,990
Skoda Fabia Ambition 1.2-litre, 4-cylinder turbo petrol 81Kw/175Nm 9.4 4.7 $25,390
Citroen C3 Executive 1.6-litre 4-cylinder petrol 88Kw/160Nm 10.9 6.6 $24,990

The Pros and Cons

  • Pleasing design
  • Build quality
  • Funky interior design
  • Surges at low revs
  • Performance lacking without lots of revs
  • Tight rear legroom
  • Fuel economy
  • Tyre, road, wind noise
  • Chunky A pillars

What do we think of it?

I see the 500X as a funky commuter car – something different for someone who wants to get A2B, but wants a bit of style along with it. The Fiat website sort of shows this with the type of photos depicting the 500X. And the 500X has some style and does look different, but I don’t see too much else.

Could it be a good commuter? With a 1.4 turbo petrol engine you would think so, but you really have to thrash it to get the best out of it – that doesn’t make for a good commuter. Add into that the jerkiness at low speeds and it’s not a pleasant commuter at all.

At the end of this review, I was hoping to say the 500X is as fun as the Panda, but with more space. It’s not, and that’s a real shame.

3.o chevrons.

Vehicle Type Medium-sized 5-door hatchback
Starting Price $22,990
Tested as Price $34,990
Engine 1.4-litre, SOHC, 4-cylinder turbo petrol
Transmission 6-speed dry dual-clutch automatic
Kerb Weight, Kg 1320
Length x Width x Height, mm 4248x1976x1600
Cargo Capacity, litres 350/1000
Fuel Tank, litres 48
Fuel Economy Manufacturer’s rating, combined: 5.7 L/100Km

Real World: 8.9 L/100Km

ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 Star
Warranty 3 years, 150,000Km

3 years Roadside Assistance

 

How an earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? Recently my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz I am heavily into the motorbike scene as well, and my current ride is a BMW K1200GT. There is nothing like a ride on a bike!

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