Crossover from Fiat
When Fiat made its big return to America in 2010, its only entry in the U.S. market wasn’t big at all — the tiny 500. For the 2014 model year, the company added the larger — and a little odd looking — 500L, but there’s good reason to believe that the 2016 500X will be the brand’s most successful model yet. Unlike the first two offerings, this small crossover was designed specifically for the North American market, and Fiat views the model as its halo car. The 500X is a 4-door hatchback with available all-wheel drive. Although it’s still a small car, it looks gigantic when parked next to the original 500. But the family resemblance is spot-on — the 500X is exactly the crossover you’d expect from Fiat.
There are five versions of the new 500X, starting with the most basic — the 500X Pop. It comes with many standard safety features: traction control, ABS, stability control and a hill-start assist that works quite well. An AM/FM stereo with USB port and auxiliary jack are also standard. With a starting price of $20,000, the Pop is the only 500X available with a manual transmission, but it’s not available with all-wheel drive. Fiat expects the Pop to be about 5 percent of overall sales.
Street and Trekking Series
The remaining four trims are split into two styles: Street Series (Easy and Lounge) and Trekking Series (Trekking and Trekking Plus). All four come standard with a 2.4-liter engine and an automatic transmission, as well as Fiat’s Dynamic selector that allows the driver to choose Auto, Sport or Traction+. These trims have standard front-wheel drive and are available with all-wheel drive for an additional $1,900.
Street Series — Easy and Lounge
Starting at $22,300, 500X Easy upgrades the Pop with the Uconnect 5.0 which includes a 5-inch color touchscreen display, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, voice command and a one-year subscription to Sirius XM Satellite Radio. A leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard, as is remote start and 17-inch alloy wheels. At $24,850 the Lounge adds an upgraded audio system with larger 6.5-inch display screen, GPS navigation, premium cloth seats, a heated power driver’s seat, a heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, fog lights, and a backup camera. Lounge is also available with leather seats.
Trekking Series — Trekking and Trekking Plus
Trekking and Trekking Plus versions get slightly different exterior styling —a unique front fascia for a more aggressive look, employing satin silver accents rather than chrome. Priced at $23,100, the Trekking features are basically identical to those found on the Easy, with the exception of upgraded seats and the option of 18-inch alloys. Trekking Plus is the top-level 500X, priced at $27,100. Equivalent in most equipment to the Lounge, the Trekking Plus does add 18-inch alloy wheels, rear park assist and leather seats as standard equipment.
Under the Hood
Two engines are available in the 500X. Standard on the Pop is the 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo which produces 160 horsepower and 184 ft-lb of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard, and purchasing the Pop is the only way to get a manual in the 500X. The rest of the lineup comes standard with a 2.4-liter Tigershark 4-cylinder engine teamed with a 9-speed automatic transmission. Power is rated at 180 horsepower with 175 lb-ft of torque. This engine/transmission combination is also available on the Pop for an additional $1,500. Fuel economy numbers have not been released, but the company expects to see highway mileage exceed 30 mpg.
The 500X — with the exception of the Pop — can be equipped with all-wheel drive. Similar to other front-drive models in the FCA family, the AWD system completely disconnects the rear axle when the system is not needed to reduce drag and improve fuel economy. The system adds about 60 pounds to the overall weight, and increases ground clearance by about one inch. Fiat expects about 40 percent of the cars to be equipped with AWD.
Roomy Front Seat
The 500X may be one of the smallest crossovers on the road, but it doesn’t feel small inside — at least in the front seat. We had a chance to try the top-level leather seats in the Trekking Plus — the surfaces are soft and the seats are excellent. Even the most basic seats in the Pop are quite good, providing firm support without being too stiff.
Tight Rear Seat
Unfortunately the rear seat is pretty cramped – with the front seat positioned for people of average height, rear-seat occupants will like have their knees against the front seatback. The 500X does officially seat five, but the three in back seat will need to be of small stature. The cargo area is surprisingly large and includes a hidden compartment below the load floor. Rear seats fold flat for an impressive amount of space, although we’re left wondering why Fiat didn’t prioritize rear-seat legroom over cargo space.
The interior of choice is in the Trekking series, which uses satin silver trim accents — it looks like brushed aluminum and goes nicely with the rest of the materials. The Trekking Plus we drove also came equipped with the largest display screen, which is easy to use and read . Our 500X also had the optional large panoramic sunroof, giving the interior a more open feel.
Fun to Drive
We had a chance to push the 500X around some twisty roads in southern California, and it definitely exudes fun. We anticipated it would feel a bit top-heavy in sharp corners, but instead the 500X feels nimble through tight turns. Although the suspension does a great job on winding roads, we found the ride a bit stiff and bumpy overall, even on a relatively smooth pavement.
Although the 4-cylinder engine sounds a bit overtaxed when accelerating up steep hills, during our drive lack of power never became an issue. However, the 500X is certainly never going to win any races — full throttle from a standstill is not exactly exciting, but it’s what you’d expect from a small crossover.
The 9-speed automatic shifts smoothly and quietly — its anonymity being a good thing. However, the manual transmission in the Pop is much more fun and engaging, even with the smaller engine under the hood. Call us nostalgic, but it’s a shame that the manual is limited to the most basic 500X, since it seems to fit this small vehicle so well. That said, Fiat’s decision makes sense — most customers shopping for a crossover are not going to be interested in the manual.
Not for Off-Roading
During our press trip we drove both front-wheel and all-wheel-drive versions of 500X, but on paved roads in sunny Los Angeles there was no detectable difference between the two. Fiat is billing this AWD system for use in snow or slick conditions — not for going off-road — which shouldn’t be an issue for most crossover owners. If you’re looking to go off-road, consider the 500X’s close cousin, the Jeep Renegade. The two vehicles are designed for different purposes , although they use the same architecture and share about 40 percent of the same components.
Right for You?
We enjoyed our time in the 500X — it’s fun, versatile, and has attractive looks. We didn’t have a chance to try out the AWD system, but based on other FCA vehicles there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t perform well. If you like to stand out from the crowd and are in the market for a small, fuel-efficient crossover, the 500X would be an excellent choice. One caveat — with top-level versions the price starts to approach $30,000, and there are a lot of great crossovers on the market at that price point. That said, you won’t be disappointed with the 500X in your garage.
Bottom Line: Fiat brings a fun, small crossover to America to lead the brand.
Pros: great handling, comfortable front seat, cute styling
Cons: cramped rear seat, high price for top features, stiff ride