Fiat 500X VS Skoda KAROQ
- Fun looks
- Good interior
- Great safety package
- Iffy transmission
- Oddball ride
- Charming to drive
- Great space utilisation
- Super flexible
- Optional safety gear
- Thirstier than expected
- Gets pricey with all the options
Fiat's indomitable 500 is one of the great survivors - not even VW's recently deceased New Beetle could keep riding the nostalgia wave, partly because it made itself just that little bit out-of-touch by not being a car anyone can buy. The 500 avoided that, particularly in its home market, and is still going strong.
Fiat added the 500X compact SUV a few years ago and at first I thought it was a daft idea. It's a polarising car, partly because some people complain it's capitalising on the 500's history. Well, duh. It's worked out well for Mini, so why not?
I've driven one every year for the last couple so I was keen to see what's up and whether it's still one of the weirdest cars on the road.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Skoda Karoq is a small SUV, but it has big advantages over some of its rivals.
It's compact, tech-heavy, and has seats that you can remove. How good is that? I mean, if you've ever thought to yourself: "Geez, those back seats are really in the way!", then you'll get my drift.
The Karoq has been on sale in Australia for about 12 months now, and is still available in just one spec. In that time, the smallest Skoda SUV has only amassed the same number of sales as Mitsubishi racks up for the ASX in a single week. Yes, you read that right.
But despite the fact its popularity has been quite limited to this point, there's one thing you need to know - it should be on your shopping list.
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The 500X is a fun-looking alternative to the various options available from everyone else and is - overall - better to drive than its Renegade twin.
It packs a very good safety package which you can't ignore but does lose points on the warranty and servicing regime. But it's also built to take four adults in comfort, which not every car in the segment can boast.
Would you choose the Fiat 500X over one its better-known competitors? Tell us in the comments section below.
The Skoda Karoq is a very worthy alternative to the mainstream players in the market, if your budget can stretch to include some of those options - and you might want to include some, if you plan to have an SUV that keeps up with the Joneses.... but add the lot and it starts to look pretty expensive. We wouldn't be surprised if some of the option-only safety items are made standard at some point in order to keep up with other players in the space.
Look, I like the 500X, but I know why people don't. It's clearly a 500X in the way a Mini Countryman is a Mini. It looks like a 500, but get closer and you see the difference. It's chubby like a $10 weekend market Bhudda statue and has great big googly eyes like Mr Magoo. I find this endearing, my wife does not. The looks aren't the only thing she doesn't like.
The cabin is a bit more restrained and I quite like the band of colour stretching across the dash. The 500X is meant to be a bit more grown up than the 500, so there's a proper dash, more sensible design choices but it still has the big buttons, perfect for the meaty fingers of people who won't be buying this car.
It launched about a year ago here, and it still looks more modern than some its competitors. It isn't rugged like a Subaru XV, nor is it as aggressive as a Hyundai Kona. No, it's a bit more like a Nissan Qashqai - inoffensively attractive. That's if you consider it in the same part of the market as those cars.
Skoda pitches the Karoq as its mid-sized SUV - so it should actually be up against the likes of the Hyundai Tucson, Subaru Forester and Nissan X-Trail. Based on its dimensions, that's not really the case - it's 4382mm long, 1841mm wide and 1603mm tall - and that makes it smaller than any of the models in this paragraph, and indeed closer to the ones in the paragraph above. But on price, it's definitely in the upper bracket; we'll get to that soon.
It's a smart and very European design outside, arguably understated - even with optional 18-inch wheels as featured on our car. The LED headlights on our car are optional, but LED daytime running lights are standard. And how about that colour? How good is it to see green again? It's Emerald Green, officially, and it'll cost you $700.
Inside there are new options for the version we're driving, as opposed to the previous version, including the availability to option of the Virtual Cockpit 12.3-inch information display for the driver (which costs $700). Check out the interior images in the next section.
At just 4.25 metres, the 500X isn't big, but makes the most of what it's got. The boot impresses at 350 litres and with the seats down, I think you could reasonably expect to triple that figure, though Fiat doesn't have an official number that I can find. For added Italian feel, you can tip the passenger seat forward to get really long things in, like a Billy bookshelf flat pack from Ikea.
Rear seat passengers sit high and upright meaning leg and kneeroom are maximised and with that tall roof, you won't scrape your head.
The doors each have a small bottle holder for a total of four and Fiat has got serious about cupholders - the 500X now has four.
The only other car that offers up this sort of practicality in such a compact footprint is the Honda HR-V. And we get why that mightn't appeal to you - the shape of that car is more hatchback (or hunchback, according to some!) than SUV.
So if you want that (slightly more) rugged look, the Karoq might be your next best option. It has a really clever interior, with three rear seats that can be slid, folded or even removed individually. That's right - you can essentially turn this in to a van, if you need to.
With the seats in their most passenger-friendly setting, you'll still have 479 litres of cargo capacity to play with. While if you slide them all the way forward, you'll see the boot expand to 588L. Fold them down, and that jumps to 1605L. Remove them and you've got a staggering 1810L available. All that, and you still get a space-saver spare wheel, too.
This is clearly a family-friendly boot, with enough room to store our umbrella pram quite easily. It also coped with three suitcases. It even managed to fit the largest case and the pram in together. Unprecedented!
In the cabin there is enough room for someone my size (six feet tall, or 182cm) to sit behind a driver of the same size. Knee room is a little tight, but headroom, toe room and shoulder room is surprisingly good.
The back seat includes dual map pockets, good door pockets and rear seat air-vents, too. And if you need cup holders in between the seats, you can fold down the centre seat backrest. A nice note for parents - there are three top-tether points, and ISOFIX attachments for the two outside rear seats. Plus there are standard tablet holders for rear seat occupants that buckle on to the front headrests.
Up front there are big door pockets and a few decent loose item storage pockets, but the cupholders are smaller than average. The controls all fall to hand logically, and the materials are mostly pretty good, though there is quite a bit of hard plastic throughout (easy to wipe down if you have youngsters, I guess).
The media screen in our test car is the optional one, a 9.2-inch display with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, sat nav, Bluetooth - all the stuff you'd want, excluding a volume knob. Instead you've got to use the 'button' elements on the screen, which is annoying (yes, there is a steering-wheel mounted scroller, but what if the passenger wants to turn something up or down?!).
It's a crisp and lovely display, it's easy to learn, and it links well with the (also optional) Virtual Cockpit screen in front of the driver. Both add to the 'almost an Audi' feeling you get in the Karoq, but at a price.
Price and features
I drove the Pop Star, which is the second of the now-two model "regular" range, the other being the, er, Pop. I drove a Special Edition in 2018 and it's not clear if it is Special as there's also an Amalfi Special edition. Anyway.
The $30,990 (plus on-road costs) Pop Star has 17-inch alloys, six-speaker Beats-branded stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, active cruise control, sat nav, auto headlights and wipers, leather shifter and steering wheel and a space-saver spare.
The Beats-branded stereo speakers are supplied with noise from FCA's UConnect on a 7.0-inch touchscreen. The same system is in a Maserati, don't you know. Offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, UConnect loses points by shrinking the Apple interface into a lurid red frame. Android Auto properly fills the screen, for some reason which is ironic given Apple owns the Beats brand.
You know what would be really great? If Skoda Australia put a Karoq on fleet that wasn't laden with optional equipment. We get it - the company is trying to showcase everything you can get in a Karoq.
But with a list price of $32,290 plus on-road costs, and an as-tested price of $41,590 (plus on-roads) for the model we're testing, it's a little difficult to judge it on its actual merits. I mean, there's almost 30 per cent additional cost on our test car.
First, we'll have a look at what you would get if you bought a standard car, then we'll go through what's optionally fitted to our test vehicle.
The Karoq's standard gear list includes: an 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a reversing camera, USB input (only one, though...), Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, an eight-speaker sound system, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, keyless entry and push-button start, and adaptive cruise control.
The standard wheel setup is a 17-inch pack with a space-saver spare, and there are roof rails, LED daytime running lights and LED tail-lights (but not LED main beams), auto headlights and wipers, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors with auto-stop (to avoid back-up bumps). More on that in the safety section below.
The cabin is usually trimmed with fabric seats, but you still get a leather-lined steering wheel and gear selector, plus a reversible floor mat for the boot.
Now, the option packs. Our car has the Premium Tech & Travel Pack, which is a combined dealio with a $7900 price tag.
It includes adaptive LED headlights, front parking sensors, 18-inch alloy wheels, an electric tailgate, leather seat trim, electric driver's seat adjustment with memory settings, heated front seats, auto-dimming side mirrors with auto folding, stainless steel pedals, drive mode select, a 9.2-inch media screen with DAB digital radio and gesture control, wireless phone charging, a 10-speaker Canton sound system, semi-automated parking, and extra safety gear in the form of blind spot monitoring, 'Emergency Assist' which can pull the car over if it thinks you're unresponsive, and Traffic Jam assist that can take over most of the driving at speeds below 60km/h.
Sure, it's expensive, but you get a lot for the money. The other options on our car include the Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster, which is new, and costs $700. Plus metallic paint, at $700.
Engine & trans
Fiat's rather excellent 1.4-litre turbo MultiAir does duty under the stubby bonnet, making 103kW and 230Nm. Rather less excellent is the six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which sends power through the front wheels only.
This grade of Karoq is called the 110TSI, and it has a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, and it produces 110kW of power (from 5000-6000rpm) and 250Nm of torque (from 1500-3500rpm). That's plenty for this size of car, and indeed more torque than plenty of the Karoq's rivals.
We've heard from Skoda that a Karoq 140TDI 4x4 diesel variant is coming in 2020, if that interests you.
Fiat rather optimistically suggest you'll get a combined cycle figure of 5.7L/100km but try as I might, I couldn't do better than 11.2L/100km. What's worse, it demands 98RON fuel, so it's not the cheapest car to run. This figure us consistent with past weeks in the 500X and no, I wasn't thrashing it.
Official combined cycle fuel consumption for the Karoq 110TSI is listed at 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres, and you might see that if you do a lot of country driving... but we didn't, so we didn't.
Instead, our test - which incorporated plenty of city running and a couple of highway stints - returned 9.6L/100km.
It's interesting to note that relatively high number (well, it is 65 per cent over the claim!) was despite the fact the Karoq's cylinder deactivation technology - which allows it to run on two cylinders under light loads - was in use quite a bit. There's an 'eco' display on the dash and an almost imperceptible rumble from the engine when its running in this mode.
Again, I shouldn't like the 500X but I really don't mind it. It's flawed, which might be why.
The dual-clutch transmission is dumber than a box of loose cogs, lurching from start and looking the other way when you expect it to shift. We know the engine is a good one and I think part of the reason it's so thirsty is the confused way the transmission goes about its business. I'd love to drive a manual to see what it's like.
The 500X initially feels worse than its Jeep Renegade sibling-under-the-skin, which is quite an achievement. Part of that is to do with the ride, which is very choppy below 60km/h. The first 500X I drove wallowed about but this one is a bit tauter, which would be good if you weren't punished with this bounciness.
The seats themselves comfortable and the interior is a good place to hang out. It's reasonably quiet, too, which is at odds with the old-school silliness of its conduct. It feels like Labrador let out of after day kept inside.
And that's where the car I shouldn't like is a car I do like - I really like that it feels like you're on Roman cobblestones, the type that make your knees hurt when you walk on them for a day. The steering wheel is too fat and is at a weird angle, but you kind of square up to it and drive the car like your life depends on it. You have to take it by the scruff, correct the shifts with the paddles and show it who's boss.
Obviously, that's not for everyone. If you drive it really gently, it's a very different experience, but that means going slowly everywhere, which is no fun at all and not at all Italian.
That's because it's built on the same platform as the likes of the Audi A3, Q2 and Q3, and the VW Golf and Tiguan, among others. And the overarching goodness of those models spreads across to the Karoq, because it's a really nice car to drive.
The ride is quite well sorted, with only a bit of sharp-edge thump because of those larger-than-standard alloy wheels. Around town over speed humps and roads riddled with pockmarks and lumps it was very nicely controlled and comfortable, while on the open road it felt like a bigger vehicle, with a really secure feel to it.
The steering is accurate and easy to judge, not too heavy when you're trying to park it, and not to light when you're on the open road.
And the drivetrain is mostly pretty good, too. There is some hesitation when you initially apply throttle, which is a common complaint for cars with dual-clutch automatic transmissions like this one. It does take some getting used to - and if you think you'll be able to just jump in and gun it away from the traffic lights without any lag, then you'll be disappointed because there is lag to contend with.
But I honestly found it fine, and accustomed my driving to suit. The benefits of that transmission are evident in other situations, because it offers really crisp and clever shifts at speeds from 10km/h to 110km/h.
Out of the box, you get seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward collision warning, high and low speed AEB, active cruise control, rollover stability, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot sensor and rear cross traffic alert. That's not bad for a $30,000 car full stop, let alone a Fiat.
There are two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors for baby seats.
The 500X scored a five-star ANCAP rating in December 2016.
The standard safety spec of the Karoq is good, but not class-leading.
You get a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, auto emergency braking (AEB), driver fatigue monitoring, tyre pressure monitoring, multi-collision braking (to stop you careening into other road users in the event of an accident).
You'll need to option advanced safety gear like blind spot monitoring and lane keeping assistance. But while it lacks traditional rear cross-traffic alert, it does have Manoeuvre Assist, which can auto-brake the car when reversing if an obstacle is detected at speeds below 10km/h.
The Karoq has seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver's knee), and there are three top-tether and two ISOFIX child-seat anchor points.
Service intervals arrive once a year or 15,000km. There is no fixed or capped-price servicing program for the 500X.
Skoda offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty for all of its models, which is bang-on par with the rest of the mainstream makers, but not as good as you'll get at Kia or Toyota, which offer seven years warranty (Kia as standard, Toyota if you service your car on time).
The brand offers the choice of pre-purchasing your maintenance, or paying as you go, with intervals set every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. The PAYG option will set you back an average of $447 per visit, before additional items.
If you pre-pay, you can choose either a three-year pack ($790, or about $263 per year) or a five-year plan ($1650, or $330 per year). So pre-purchase. Do it. It's totally worth it. And you can roll it in to your finance plan, so you'll barely even notice it.