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First Drive

Fiat 500X vs Citroen C4 Cactus vs Kia Soul vs Skoda Yeti

The new Fiat 500X joins a rapidly expanding class of affordable SUVs. Can it impress enough to overthrow well-established rivals like the Citroen C4 Cactus?

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Small SUVs, compact crossovers – whatever you call them, the lofty driving position, quirky looks and low costs of this relatively new breed of jacked-up hatchback is a desirable combination.

The Fiat 500X is the latest arrival here and goes up against the funky and frugal Citroën C4 Cactus, the great-value Kia Soul and the practical Skoda Yeti, all of which we’re testing in popular 1.6-litre diesel form. Can the Fiat establish a new benchmark?


THE CONTENDERS

Citroën C4 Cactus BlueHDi 100 Flair

Avant-garde looks and a super-efficient engine will appeal to plenty of buyers.

Fiat 500X 1.6 MultiJet 120 Pop Star

High-riding 500 variant looks cool and promises a step up in quality. It's not cheap, though.

Kia Soul 1.6 CRDi 126 Connect Plus

Loads of space and equipment for a remarkably low price. High CO2 emissions disappoint.

Skoda Yeti 1.6 TDI 105 Greenline S

A favourite in this class but the Yeti gets little equipment in entry-level S trim.

PERFORMANCE

Citroën

Fiat

Kia

Skoda

On paper, the Kia has the most outright power, but the Fiat has more torque and this shows in its real-world performance – if it’s sheer overtaking ability you’re after, the 500X is the car for you. The Fiat is also quickest accelerating from low revs in the high gears.

Still, that’s not to say the Kia is slow. With six-speed manual gearboxes fitted to both it and the Fiat, along with thoughtfully spaced ratios, both cars feel usefully nippy and easy to drive around town. Meanwhile, their engine revs are low enough at 70mph to make for relaxed motorway cruising.

The Citroën and Skoda have five-speed ’boxes, so sometimes you feel caught between ratios, where neither first or second gear feels quite right. That’s frustrating around town and, in the Yeti, is compounded by the engine’s shortage of muscle at low revs; it’s easy to stall when pulling away.

Ultimately, the Skoda is also the slowest to accelerate up to speed, although you need to work the Citroën’s engine quite hard if you want to get anywhere in a hurry. Thankfully, this isn’t too much of
a hardship because the engines in all four cars have a smooth and progressive power delivery.

It’ll take you a while to get used to the Fiat and Citroën’s sharp initial brake response, though, and the Fiat took by far the longest to brake from 70mph in our tests. It was the only one of the four on winter tyres, which probably didn’t help.

0-60mph**30-70mph
(through gears)**

30-50mph
(3rd)

50-70mph
(4th)

Top speed**Citroën**

11.8sec 11.5sec 5.1sec 9.5sec 114mph

Fiat

10.8sec 10.4sec 3.5sec 6.6sec 116mph

Kia

10.9sec 11.4sec 4.6sec 8.2sec 112mph

Skoda

12.2sec12.3sec5.3sec9.3sec109mph


RIDE AND HANDLING

Citroën

Fiat

Kia

Skoda

The Skoda is easily the most fun to drive. Precise, heavily weighted steering delivers good feedback, body roll is kept in check and there’s plenty of front-end grip for decisive direction changes. The only downside to that heavy steering is when parking or manoeuvring.

If it weren’t for the Kia’s less consistent steering – which feels too light and vague at times, yet overly keen to self-centre at others – the Soul would be virtually on a par with the Yeti for handling. It also controls its body movements well through corners, despite that high-sided body, and grips keenly.

Both the Fiat and the Citroën have much softer suspension. Body lean is more pronounced as a result – particularly in the 500X – and both cars run out of grip and start to wash wide through corners earlier than the Yeti or Soul. The winter tyres fitted to our 500X didn’t help here because of the unseasonably warm weather our tests were conducted in.

The Fiat is also let down by its steering, which provides slightly less feedback and precision than the Citroën’s. It doesn’t offer much reward out on the open road, either, but it is adequate at steady speeds. The Fiat’s light steering – which can be made even lighter by pressing
a button on the dashboard – makes parking a boon, although its turning circle is the largest here.

None of these small SUVs rides with quite the same sophistication as the best hatchbacks, but the Fiat is the most comfortable. At low speeds, it smooths out big bumps and eroded surfaces. The flipside is that the Fiat’s body bounces a fair bit on undulating roads, and the ride isn’t as settled as you might hope on the motorway.

The Citroën is settled on the motorway and smoother urban roads but crashes over mid-corner bumps and potholes. Like the Fiat, it also suffers poor body control over dips and crests. The Kia’s firmer suspension makes for a choppier ride in town, although things do settle down a bit on the motorway.

It’s the Yeti that strikes the best balance between being responsive yet easy-going. Sure, you’re aware
of things such as expansion joints and manhole covers but the car’s damping is good enough to take the sting out of most bumps, and it has excellent body control.

BEHIND THE WHEEL

Citroën

Fiat

Kia

Skoda

All of these cars have a ratchet lever that you pull or push to raise or lower the driver’s seat. However, while you can set the seatback to any angle you want in the Citroën and Skoda by twisting a knurled knob, the Kia and Fiat’s seats adjust in small steps, meaning some drivers will never find the ideal driving position. Meanwhile, the Cactus has even bigger problems because its steering wheel adjusts only for height (not reach), so you may find yourself sitting too close to, or too far away from, the pedals.

The Citroën’s broad, squishy seats are very inviting and comfortable on short journeys. However, the spongy material isn’t great for posture, which becomes a problem on longer trips. Worse still, you don’t get (and can’t add) adjustable lumbar support.

You can’t have this important feature on the Kia or the Skoda, either, although both have slightly more supportive seats. The Fiat’s are the most comfortable, and it’s the only car available with lumbar support as part of a £250 pack that also brings a front centre armrest and a height-adjustable boot floor.

The Soul and Yeti have the most intuitively laid-out dashboards with clear controls, although the Fiat’s is almost as easy to get the hang of, despite its more eye-catching design. The Citroën is far less impressive. The only way to adjust the air-con is by using the unresponsive touch-screen, which often means changing menus.

INFOTAINMENT

Citroën

Fiat

Kia

Skoda

The Citroën, Fiat and Kia all have a touchscreen mounted in the centre of their dashboards, through which you control all of the infotainment functions.

The Kia’s system is easily the most impressive, though. Not only does it have the biggest screen (a whopping 8.0in) but it’s also the quickest to respond to screen presses, and has the most intuitive menu system. What’s more, you get just about every feature you could hope for, including sat-nav and DAB radio.

Next best is the Fiat’s system, called Uconnect. Like the Kia’s, it’s logical and quick to respond so there are rarely frustrating delays between you pressing the screen and the system doing what you’ve asked. The screen is a dinky 5.0in, though, and that makes it harder to read. What’s more, you have to pay £100 for a DAB radio and an eye-watering £1000 for sat-nav (which also brings a larger, 6.5in screen). Fiat has promised a cheaper nav option before the end of the year.

It we were judging equipment alone, the Citroën would score the highest rating. It gets everything that’s standard on the Kia plus a 16GB hard drive to store your music on. However, infotainment systems need to be easy to operate and the Citroën’s simply isn’t. It’s far too slow to react to commands, and you have to drag you finger across the screen to perform certain functions. The menu system isn’t logical, either.

That leaves the Skoda. We have no complaints about ease of use, but that’s because the system has so few features. The tiny screen simply displays what radio station you’re listening to. You get Bluetooth but even having a USB socket requires you to fork out an extra £185. A sat-nav and a DAB radio are available only on more expensive versions of the Yeti.

Screen**Sat-navDAB radioUSB socketBluetoothUpgraded stereo**Citroën

7.0in YES YES YES YES £400

Fiat

5.0in £1000 £100 YES YES NO

Kia

8.0in YES YES YES YES NO

Skoda

NO£NONO£185YESNO


QUALITY AND RELIABILITY

Citroën

Fiat

Kia

Skoda

The Fiat’s interior is full of flair but what you might not be expecting is such a sense of quality. The 500X has a far classier interior than any of Fiat’s other models, with plenty of soft-touch materials, and a good fit and finish throughout.

If anything, the Soul has an even better quality cabin with equally solid switchgear yet even plusher materials. However, the overall design is very conservative and a world away from the car’s playful exterior looks.

You’d be hard-pushed to describe the Citroën’s cabin as classy or premium, but it’s welcoming nonetheless. The dashboard materials have been textured in a way that makes them look anything but cheap, even though they aren’t especially dense or plush.

Meanwhile, the Yeti’s interior has barely changed since the model’s launch in 2009. So, while it’s not cutting edge to look at, you can’t fault it for quality. The dashboard is dense and soft to the touch, and controls have a weighty feel.

There’s more good news when it comes to the Skoda’s dependability because the Yeti was the second most reliable small SUV (after the VW Tiguan) in the 2014 JD Power ownership satisfaction survey.

The other three cars were too new to feature, but Kia was the fifth most reliable manufacturer (out of 26). Citroën and Fiat finished 18th and 19th respectively; we only hope these latest models prove more dependable.


EQUIPMENT

Citroën

Fiat

Kia

Skoda

The Citroën is the best equipped of the four. It’s the only one to get rear privacy glass and automatic wipers as standard, and is one of only two cars (along with the Fiat) to get rear parking sensors. The Cactus, like the Soul, also has a reversing camera to make backing into spaces that bit easier. You don’t get, and can’t add, parking aids to this entry-level Yeti.

Despite being the second most expensive car, the Skoda is the most poorly equipped in other respects, too. It has the smallest alloy wheels and is the only one without cruise and climate controls. There’s little between the four cars when it comes to paint options, though – all are available in only one standard colour. Other colours cost extra.

If you want leather trim or a panoramic roof, your only choice is the Citroën or the Fiat – only these two offer them as options.

While the Cactus impresses most on the kit front, it’s worth noting that it has only pop-out rear windows. These don’t open very far, which isn’t ideal for those sitting in the back on a hot day.


Alloys**
Metallic paint**Leather seats**Heated front seatsClimate control**Cruise
control

Rear parking **sensors**

Citroën

17in £495 £695 NO YES YES YES

Fiat

17in £500 £900 £175 YES YES YES

Kia

17in £490 NO NO YES YES NO

Skoda

16in£535NONONONONO

SAFETY AND SECURITY

Citroën

Fiat

Kia

Skoda

Both the Soul and the Cactus achieved four stars in their respective Euro NCAP crash tests. The 500X has yet to be tested, while the Yeti was last reviewed in 2009 and attained the maximum five-star rating – albeit under an older, less stringent set of criteria.

However, a more detailed look at the Euro NCAP results shows that the Soul is the safest option for children, although both the Yeti and the Cactus do a better job of protecting adults.

All four cars have tyre pressure-monitoring systems, although it’s disappointing that Fiat and Skoda both charge extra for a third rear head restraint to make it possible to carry five people safely.

If security is a key concern, it’s the Yeti that will suit you best. Out of a maximum of five stars, security experts Thatcham awarded it five for its resistance to theft and four for guarding against break-ins. Meanwhile, the Kia and Citroën both achieved four and three stars in the same categories, while the Fiat scored four and two – the latter because it has no alarm.

**

REFINEMENT**

Citroën

Fiat

Kia

Skoda

If you’re after a quiet life the 500X has plenty of appeal; it recorded the lowest decibel readings at both 30mph and 70mph in our noise tests. That muted manner is partly down to the small amount of road and wind noise that finds its way into the cabin, but is also thanks to the hushed Multijet engine. Fiat deserves a lot of credit for this because its diesels haven’t always been especially refined. We only hope forthcoming right-hand-drive models are as quiet as our early left-hand-drive test car.

The Kia’s engine impresses, too. It’s virtually as hushed as the Fiat’s at low revs and at a steady cruise, even though it does emit more of a lorry-like clatter when you work it hard. Meanwhile, the Citroën’s engine is that bit louder and boomier no matter how you treat it, although it’s still preferable to the Yeti’s, which is decidedly gruff and transmits an irritating buzz through the pedals.

That isn’t what grates the most when driving the Skoda, though; instead it’s the incessant ‘boom, boom, boom’ from the suspension on any road that isn’t billiard-table smooth. The Yeti also lets the most road noise into its cabin, while the Cactus and Soul are worst for wind noise at motorway speeds; you hear a continual whistle from around the front pillars, even on relatively calm days.

The Kia has the slickest gearshift of the bunch, although the Yeti’s isn’t far behind and the Skoda has the most positive-feeling clutch pedal. Meanwhile, the 500X’s gearshift is rather numb and vague, although it’s still preferable to the Citroën’s horribly long and mushy throw.

Noise at 30mph**Noise at 70mph**Citroën

62.9dB 69.5dB

Fiat

62.0dB 68.5dB

Kia

63.1dB 70.2dB

Skoda

64.5dB71.0dB

SPACE AND PRACTICALITY

Citroën

Fiat

Kia

Skoda

Unless you’re seriously tall you won’t have issues with the amount of space in the front of any of these cars. However, tall adults will be most comfortable in the back of the Kia because it has far more knee room than the others and considerably more head room. It’s also the only car here without a raised tunnel running along the centre of the floor, so is easily the best choice for carrying five.

The Citroën is the only one you’re likely to feel cramped in the back of because, as well as offering the smallest amount of leg room, the Cactus also has the least head room – a problem made worse if you add the seemingly good-value panoramic glass roof (£425).

The Yeti is the only one of the four with any clever seating tricks; all three of its rear chairs slide and recline independently. You can even remove them from the car for a van-like load area.

The Skoda has the biggest boot, too. It’s the largest for outright capacity and is easily the tallest when you remove the parcel shelf. The Citroën’s load bay is even longer but shallower, while the Kia has the widest but shortest boot. Meanwhile, the Fiat has the smallest boot, but not by much.

All four cars have rear seats that can be folded for extra-long items. However, the Citroën’s folds in one long piece and lies at a pronounced angle, whereas the seats in the others lie virtually flat.

None of these small SUVs has a height-adjustable boot floor, so there’s a big lip at their entrances. However, Skoda will fit one for £200, while Fiat charges £250 – a price that includes a front armrest and adjustable lumbar support.

BUYING AND OWNING

Citroën

Fiat

Kia

Skoda

It's the popular and durable Yeti that will cost you the least in depreciation. So, while it isn’t the cheapest of the four to buy (the Soul will cost £1235 less initially), it will actually cost you the least to own by some £1800, assuming you sell after three years.

Not many people buy their cars outright these days, though, so it’s the differences in monthly PCP finance costs that will be more important to most buyers. Again, the Yeti works out cheapest, though, because if you put down a deposit of £5000 it will set you back £177 a month, compared with £187 for the Soul, £203 for the 500X and a hefty £217 for the Cactus. These are all three-year deals with annual mileage limits of 12,000 and final ‘balloon’ payments ranging from £5600 for the Kia to £8000 for the Yeti – although most PCP buyers simply upgrade at this point.

Company car drivers will want to steer well clear of the Soul because its high CO2 emissions translate to pricey benefit-in-kind tax bills. Meanwhile, the Citroën is by far the cheapest company option; as a 40% rate taxpayer you’ll have to sacrifice £24 less of your salary each month than for the Fiat, and £32 less than if you choose the Skoda.

There’s less to split the four when it comes to contract hire. The Cactus will cost you the least each month at £217, but you can have the Fiat for an extra fiver. Even the most expensive (the Yeti) costs £240.

List price**Target PriceMonthly BIK (40%)Contract hireResale value (3 yrs)True MPGCO2 output**Citroën

£18,092 £17,368 £96 £217 42% 60.1 92g/km

Fiat

£19,095 £18,584 £121 £222 44% 49.5 109g/km

Kia

£17,700 £15,641 £141 £233 40% 46.0 132g/km

Skoda

£18,405£16,876£128£24051%55.7119g/km

OUR VERDICT

The Kia comes out on top. It’s incredible value for money when you consider how generously equipped it is, plus it’s decent to drive and easily the most spacious for anyone sitting in the back. Yes, it’s the least frugal car here – both officially and in the real-world – but the fact it’s so well priced to start with more than makes amends.

Runner-up spot goes to the Fiat. It’s undoubtedly the best car the company has launched in the past five years and has very few serious flaws. It’s nippy, refined and relatively comfortable, and practical enough for most small families’ needs. In fact, only a high price and a shortage of standard equipment really count against it.

You might be surprised to see the popular Yeti languishing in third place – especially since it’s the most practical of the four and even cheaper than the Kia to own privately. However, while petrol Yetis make plenty of sense, this diesel model is hampered by leggy gearing and a gruff, inflexible engine. At this price you can only have entry-level S trim, too, which means you get little standard kit.

Company car drivers may be tempted by the Citroën’s low CO2 emissions. Private buyers should steer clear of this range-topping diesel model, though. It’s well equipped but its flaws can’t be overlooked at this price.

Before you rush out and buy any of these cars, though, it’s worth considering that, if you’re prepared to forgo SUV styling, there are better options at this price in the form of conventional hatchbacks.

1st


Kia Soul 1.6 CRDi 126 Connect Plus

**

For **Great value; spacious cabin; lots of standard kit; superb infotainment

Against High CO2 emissions; real-world fuel economy; steering

Verdict Makes a great deal of sense for private buyers

2nd

Fiat 500X 1.6 Multijet 120 Pop Star

**

For** Strong engine; decently refined; practical and classy cabin

Against Price; numb steering; not much standard kit

Verdict The best Fiat for years despite the relatively high price

3rd

Skoda Yeti 1.6 TDI 105 Greenline S

**

For** Big and practical interior; great driving positions; slow depreciation

Against Poor performance; unrefined engine; very short on kit

Verdict A fine car, let down by its engine and gearbox

4th

**Citroën C4 Cactus BlueHDi 100 Flair
**

**

For** Lots of kit; low CO2 emissions

Against Fiddly touchscreen; sluggish performance; no reach adjustment on a steering wheel

Verdict Cheaper versions of the Cactus make far more sense

Citroën C4 Cactus

Engine size

1.6-litre diesell

Price from

£18,092 (list)

Power

98bhp

Torque

187lb ft

0-60mph

11.8 seconds

Top speed

114mph

Fuel economy

60.1mpg

CO2

92g/km

Fiat 500X

Engine size

1.6-litre diesel

Price from

£19,095 (list)

Power

118bhp

Torque

236lb ft

0-60mph

10.8 seconds

Top speed

116mph

Fuel economy

49.5mpg

CO2

109g/km

Kia Soul

Engine size

1.6-litre diesel

Price from

£17,700 (list)

Power

126bhp

Torque

192lb ft

0-60mph

10.9 seconds

Top speed

112mph

Fuel economy

46.0mpg

CO2

132g/km

Skoda Yeti

Engine size

1.6-litre diesel

Price from

£18,405 (list)

Power

104bhp

Torque

184lb ft

0-62mph

12.2 seconds

Top speed

109mph

Fuel economy

55.7mpg

CO2

119g/km