Fiat 500X Popstar Automatic 2016 Review | Road Test
Fiat 500X Popstar Automatic 2016 Review | Road Test

Fiat 500X Popstar Automatic 2016 Review | Road Test


Peter Anderson has put Fiat’s compact SUV, the 500X through the urban grind, and finds the mid-spec Popstar variant on-song in some areas, but leaving the audience wanting more in others. Stand-out cheeky looks and impressive space-efficiency are offset by unconvincing dynamics and a surprisingly large price tag.

There are times in this business where you scratch your head so hard you wear the skin through to the bone. The subject of today's graphic metaphor is Fiat's mini-SUV, the 500X. The inflated Cinquecento is priced from $26,000 which isn't a terrible price but once you hit Popstar spec, it's already at a slightly vertigo-inducing $32,000. That seems like a lot.

The story doesn't end there, though, because a dive into the spec sheet yields some surprises that might - or might not - justify this brave figure. You have to remember, this segment has expanded at roughly the speed of light since the 500X's inception, with incoming product from Ford, Holden, Renault and Mazda, not to mention Audi's forthcoming Q2. There's a lot going on and, to make life harder, the next size up can be had for the same price from Hyundai, Kia and Volkswagen if you don't mind slumming it a bit on the spec sheet.

Price and features

The Popstar is one step up from the bottom of the 500X range, which starts with the $26,000 Pop manual and ends with the $38,000 CrossPlus via the $37,000 Lounge.

It certainly doesn't feel like it's well over 1.3 tonnes.

The 500X Popstar pootles on to your driveway in an Italianate manner with 17-inch alloy wheels, a six speaker stereo with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, air-con, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, rear parking sensors, cruise control, sat nav, auto headlights and wipers, front fog lights, leather wheel and gear selector, heated and folding mirrors and cloth trim.

Metallic paint - like our Toscana Green - adds anything from $500, up to $1800 for Pearl Red. Four of the 12 available colours are free, three come in at $500, two at $1500 and one at $1800. The panoramic sunroof weighs in at $2000, leather seats at $2500 and an Advanced Tech Pack (auto emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and lane keep assist) for $2500.

Our car had the metallic paint and the sunroof, bringing the total to $34,500. You can drop a shedload more if you dip into the Mopar brochure which has decals, mouldings, sticker packs, luggage organisation systems, wheels and probably gutter twangers if you look closely enough (that last item is a lie).

(It's worth noting that at the time of writing, the Popstar was available for $29,000 driveaway with three years free servicing - that seems like better value)

Practicality

The 500X has a surprising amount of space given its small-ish dimensions. It's an upright sort of cabin, with high-set seats front and rear meaning an easy step in if you're over 175cm, more of a step-up if you're not. CX-3-low this isn't.

Front seat passengers have the luxury of two cupholders and a cooled glovebox, all four doors have bottle holders, although the rears are restricted to 500ml, and back seat passengers are left without cupholders at all. Or air-conditioning vents...

The boot is a reasonable 346 litres with the seats up and around 1000 litres with the seats down. When flopped down, the seatbacks don't lie flat, which is kind of irritating but not uncommon.

Design

This is where the fun starts. If you're willing to forget the six decades of history behind the 500, the 500X is a cheeky-chappy sort of design that stands apart from almost every other mini-SUV on the planet. It sits among the highest of them, too, so is as imposing as a car this small can be. It sports 500-alike shapes but, when all is said and done, it's not especially convincing. It looks like a Mini Countryman went a bit hard at the dessert bar (another car that upsets people).

Inside is bright and airy, particularly with the dual-pane sunroof option. You get a good view out, chunky 500-style dials and buttons and a titchy-looking 6.5-inch screen set into the slab of body-coloured plastic stretching across the dash. Less pleasant is the fake carbon-fibre inserts and the neoprene-style seat coverings were not universally well-liked. I didn't mind them, but against bare legs, they weren't popular.

Engine and transmission

The Popstar shares the Pop's 103kW version of Fiat's acclaimed MultiAir turbo four cylinder petrol engine. Its 230Nm turn the front wheels through a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission

Despite being front-wheel drive, there are three drive modes (Fiat calls this the Mood Selector) which tweaks the way the stability and traction controls work, in this case for off-road use and sporty use.

All 500Xs are rated to tow 1200kg braked and 600kg unbraked.

Fuel consumption

Fiat claims a combined cycle average of 5.7L/100km. Our traffic-marred time with the 500X saw us reach an average of 7.9L/100km and, being European, that's premium unleaded.

Driving

If you ask anything of the front-wheel drive 500X over and above a sleepy driving experience, you're going to be disappointed. The front wheels are stricken with a bit of torque steer once the 1.4's turbo has hit boost and if you keep accelerating, the wheels will follow every imperfection in the road like a dog chasing a scent, the chunky steering wheel writhing in your hands. The electric assistance makes a valiant attempt to mask this effect, upping the assistance so you just need to nudge it this way and that rather than manhandle it.

The low-speed ride is okay but once you get some speed on, it fails to settle, leaving you a bit frazzled after a few kilometres, you just want it to calm down and be reasonable. It's not lumpy or going to chuck you and your chattels around the cabin and it's not so frustrating I'll label it fidgety, it's just not smooth. In fact, it feels like the smaller 500 which you can forgive because it's such a lot fun. And doesn't torque steer.

The 500X is a bit of fun, though. Body roll is kept in check, you can chuck it a corner and it won't chuck you off unless you're driving like a complete idiot. It certainly doesn't feel like it's well over 1.3 tonnes.

Other minor complaints include the amount of engine noise that makes its way into the cabin, particularly at high revs, and a slightly odd dashboard layout. And the tachometer is too small.

Safety

This is where the 500X might make the most sense. 

Seven airbags (including driver's knee), ABS, stability and traction control, blind spot sensors, reverse cross traffic alert and rollover protection. 

The 500X scored five ANCAP stars in December 2016, the maximum available.

The $2500 Advanced Tech Pack seems almost reasonably priced and could be worth looking at if you're chasing that kind of tech. The Popstar has a number of safety features standard you won't see - or can't get - on some similarly-priced mini-SUVs. 

Mazda's CX-3 Akari can match some of these items, as well as those found in the Tech Pack, but for a little extra outlay and you will lose a some interior space...but gain all-wheel drive.

Ownership

The 500X comes with Fiat's three-year/150,000km warranty, which on the distance front is uncommonly generous. On top of that, you'll get three years roadside assist. Annoyingly, there is no routine fixed or capped price servicing regime but you can wait for a promotion which usually includes three years free servicing along with a hefty cut of the RRP.


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