Fiat 500X adds flair to a genre known more for its economy

By Paul Borden

(March 24, 2017) Subcompact cars are usually more about functionality and fuel-saving than they are about style. Not that they are all inherently ugly, but style is not the first thing that comes to mind about them. Fiat’s 500 series, however, is one exception. With its Italian flair and carefree air — the front fascia even has a rather impish look about it — the Fiat 500 series adds a little chicness to a segment that tends to lean toward “cute” when it comes to appearance.

The first Fiat 500s landed in the U.S. about five years ago with the 500 hatchback, convertible and performance-oriented Abarth models, and an electric version came a year later. They were all nimble two-door cars with an appeal to a young, fun-loving market.

A couple of years later Fiat added the 500L wagon and the 500X followed a couple of years ago. (You may remember 500X from the clever Super Bowl commercial in which a “little blue pill” bounced its way into its gas tank, giving the 500 hatchback bulging fenders and a couple of extra doors. If not, you can look it up on Youtube.)

My recent ride was the top-of-line Lounge model of the 2017 Fiat 500X. It comes in two other flavors, Pop and Trekking, for a total of three trims, two fewer than when it was introduced. Easy and Trekking-Plus trims were discontinued for 2017.

The Lounge trim features the larger of the two engines offered on the 500X, a 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder rated at 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. It’s also standard on 500X Trekking models and available as an option on the Pop, which gets a 1.4-liter 4-banger as standard.

Front-wheel drive is standard on all trims with AWD available as an option. The 2.4-liter gets a nine-speed automatic transmission as standard, the 1.4-liter a six-speed manual. That’s kind of a shame since I would have liked to tried out the manual with the larger engine. It would have been more fun to drive than the the automatic.

With the automatic, performance may fall short of some of its competitors, but when Sport mode is selected (accomplished by turning a knob on the console), the pace is picked up. Fuel economy is a bit on the low side for the class, however, with the 2.4-liter rated at 22 miles-per-gallon city, 30 highway, and 25 combined with FWD drinking regular 87 octane fuel. (Regular also is acceptable on the 1.4-liter, but premium 91 octane is recommended for it.)

The emphasis on design also carries over into the interior. It’s not luxury class, of course, and the dash features a wide band of plastic across the front, but the 6.5-inch display screen is nicely integrated into the flow of the dash. Overall, there is a nice ambiance about the cabin. The backs of the two-tone front seats are embossed with a “500” logo, a nice touch.

The Lounge trim comes with Fiat’s UConnect system for operation of the infotainment system with functions via the touchscreen or voice commands that responded readily, and accurately, during my week’s trial. There are also two knobs to operate the radio and three larger knobs for controlling the dual-zone air conditioner/heater.

The 6.5-inch NAV UConnect system is standard on the 500X Lounge (optional on Trekking). It includes navigation, Bluetooth handsfree phone, and satellite radio in the base MSRP of $25,150.

But to get the latest safety features you’re going to have to delve into the options. A rear-view camera is standard on the 500X Lounge (it’s only an option on the Pop and Trekking models), but to get the features like lane departure warning, full-speed frontal collision warning with active braking, rear park assist, blind-spot monitoring, automatic high beam headlight control, and rain-sensitive windshield wipers you’re going to have to add the Advanced Safety Package for $1,295.

Adding an optional Premium Package (upgraded sound system), dual-pane sunroof, and 18-inch wheels with all-season tires plus the $995 destination and delivery charge put the final price tag of my test 500X at $28,935. That put this 500X Lounge at the higher end of the segment pricing.

What I liked about the 2017 Fiat 500X Lounge: It’s pretty spacious for passengers and even offers pretty good legroom (up to 34.8 inches) in the second row. Features such as navigation, audio, and climate control systems are very user-friendly and respond quickly and accurately to voice commands. The ride is comfortable, especially for a vehicle this size.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Fiat 500X Lounge: Gas mileage is disappointing. Storage behind the second row is a meager 12.2 cubic feet.

Would I buy the 2017 Fiat 500X Lounge? Don’t think so. Though the 500X (and other Fiat 500 models, for that matter)) are at the top of their class when it comes to out-of-the-box styling, it gets a bit too expensive when the extra safety features are added on.