The Fiat 500 coupe is a quirky little city car that’s fun to drive and fun to be seen in. But for real-world driving, Fiat now offers the 500X, a bigger, four-door mini-SUV that stays true to the brand’s styling cues on a more-substantial crossover.
The 500X is a much more practical vehicle for American drivers who want to stand apart from the herd but still keep up with the traffic flow. The fact that the Pope chose to ride in one during his visit puts the Vatican seal of approval on Fiat’s latest endeavor.
Fiat already has a bigger model in the U.S. market with the 500L, but that crossover misses the mark in styling, which is bulbous and buglike, and in drivability, which is soft and featureless. The 500X is more on target in carrying the message of the Italian brand, which is that Fiat is stylish and maneuverable. And as noted earlier, fun to drive and fun to be seen in, which the 500L is decidedly not.
The Fiat game plan seems similar to Mini’s, which first introduced its small sporty car, then developed additional models. The 500X is to the 500 what the Mini Countryman is the Mini, a bigger four-door derivative that carries forth the brand with the same design but a different mission.
The 500X shares Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s global platform with the Jeep Renegade, which I also drove recently, though it shows a different sort of character than the adventure-oriented Renegade. Where the Renegade strives to show off its trail-ready Jeep credentials, the 500X seems friendlier, more urban and more laid back.
I found the Fiat approach to be favorable, with a style that seems more appropriate than the boxy Renegade’s for its size and car-based structure. The 500X looks cool, definitely derived from its tiny sibling, with the chirpy face nicely integrated into the form and a nicely sloping hatchback with square, oversized taillights. The Fiat is distinctive and stands out among the herd of compact crossover wagons that have emerged as America’s favorite form of mobility.
“Style” seems to be the key word with 500X, with the sculpted look of the body extending into the meticulously designed interior, which features a body-colored dashboard and an array of retro-looking gauges. The 500X offers an array of convenience and entertainment features, available in trim levels starting with the base Pop and ascending through the Easy, Trekking, Lounge, and Trekking Plus.
The Trekking versions add rugged-looking off-road design elements, though any treks off the pavement would require some restraint. Don’t expect to perform any rock climbing in this cute ute.
The test 500X was an Easy model with front-wheel drive (AWD is available with an automatic disconnecting rear axle for improved fuel mileage) outfitted with the Convenience Group and the Safety Group, which provide a decent level of equipment. Standard on the Easy is a five-inch UConnect touchscreen, navigation, six-speaker audio system with satellite radio and leather-rimmed steering wheel with audio and cruise-control buttons.
The Safety Group provides FCA’s suite of electronic gear, such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, a lane-departure warning system, electronic stability control, hill-start assist and forward-collision warning system.
The 500X Easy and all other models above the Pop base version (with manual transmission) get the 180-horsepower 2.4-liter Tigershark MultiAir2 four-cylinder engine mated with the nine-speed automatic transmission that we’ve seen on other recent FCA vehicles. Stick shift is available only in the stripped-down Pop model, and powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir engine, which provides less horsepower but more torque than the Tigershark.
So if you want a stick shift 500X, you have to suffer for it. You can get a shift-for-yourself six-speed only with the base model with the smaller engine, and with essentially none of the options available in the higher trim levels. FCA folk say it’s due to economics because so few buyers choose manual, but maybe if they offered stick in the higher trim levels, more people would opt for it. Chicken and egg. Mini does it that way, so why not Fiat?
The Tigershark and nine-speed run out well, however, and the driver does have the capability of picking a gear with the console shifter, though it is kind of challenging with so many from which to choose. The automatic is a nice piece of technology, which operates smoothly and seamlessly seems to put you in the right gear for whatever the driving situation.
Handling is decent and the steering is crisp, both important Italian attributes, about on par with the better compact-crossover competition.
Pricing starts just over $20,000 for the base Pop with manual transmission. The Easy that I drove had a base price of $22,300 with a bottom line including shipping of $24,700. That’s not bad for such a stylish craft that’s made in Italy.
The 500X brings a boost to the Fiat brand with an attractive runabout that has the right look and feel on a more-usable platform. This could be the winning formula for the Italian wing of FCA.
2016 Fiat 500X Easy
Vehicle type: Five-passenger, five-door crossover, front-wheel drive
Base price: $22,300 Price as tested: $24,700
Engine: 2.4-liter inline-4, 180 horsepower at 6,400 rpm, 175 pound-feet of torque at 3.900 rpm Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches Overall length/width: 167.2 inches / 75.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,095 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 22 city / 31 highway / 25 combined
Assembled in: Melfi, Italy