Fiat 500X — Charming little crossover

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Fiat's newest entry in North America, the 500X — a sub-compact crossover — takes the best of the Fiat 500 design and molds it into a tiny people mover with a fun-to-drive personality offering a very comfortable and pleasing interior. It's practical and it gives the struggling brand a new lease on life in North America.

We found the original tiny 500 to be a cuddly little creature, a hoot to be seen in when it first came out, but impractical for a great majority of people. The hot-rod version of the 500, called the Abarth, brings giggles and grins as you toss it around corners and scoot ahead of the pack at the stoplight, but it serves best as a second or third car. The bigger 500 L that reached market a couple years ago is indeed family friendly, but a rather dowdy small wagon that we do not find appealing.

The charming 500X has functionality, performance and a pleasing personality; a small vehicle that you will look forward to jumping into at the start of a new day. And it's a true family car, a hauler for four adults or a respectable cargo carrier with 32 cubic feet of storage. Granted, its cargo-carrying ability doesn't match up to others in the segment, but the little car's pleasing traits more than make up for its lack of a few cubic feet behind the seats.

The 500X offers all-wheel drive and a serious sport driving mode, and perhaps ironically it is the first Fiat that carries a lot of Chrysler DNA, as a sister vehicle of the well-regarded and hot-selling go-anywhere Jeep Renegade. The chief difference is the 500X's unique suspension system for better on-road performance.

At the same time it has nearly eight inches of ground clearance, bolder wheel arches, and bigger wheels that give it a slightly more muscular appearance. Designers have left intact the character and iconic features of the Fiat 500, but in a larger and more mature package. On the exterior, design elements like double headlamps, a trapezoidal nose, the signature “whiskers and logo” face and the rounded clamshell hood pay homage to the original 500. The Italian design carries through to the interior with clever storage, body-colored instrument panel, a circular cluster display, an excellent up-high seating position, iconic door handles and controls that are generally intuitive.

The all-wheel drive version of the 500X comes with the Jeep brand's unique disconnecting rear axle allowing for reduced parasitic loss when all-wheel-drive capability is not needed, improving fuel efficiency. And the Dynamic Selector system allows the driver to choose from three modes — (Auto, Sport and Traction +) — to gain the most suitable vehicle configuration in different driving conditions.

And there-in is one of the big differences between the 500X and virtually any of the small crossover segment. Dial in the Sport setting, and you feel like you're behind the wheel of an entirely different car. It makes the handling noticeably crisper — and more rewarding — and it holds the gears longer giving the feeling of better performance especially at mid-range speeds. We found it very entertaining, but for normal driving chores and with any hope of attaining the advertised gas mileage numbers, it's best dialed back to the default Auto setting.

The 500X is available in five trim levels: Pop, Easy, Lounge, and for a more athletic look, Trekking and Trekking Plus. There are two engine options, but most Fiats will go out the door with the energetic 2.4-liter four-cylinder making 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. Only the base Pop trim beginning at $20,900 gets the smaller 1.4-liter four making 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The 2.4-liter has been measured from 0-to-60 in 8.7 seconds with a quarter-mile time of 16.8 seconds @ 82 mph. That sounds modest (although good for the segment), but we found the printed numbers don't convey the performance offered up by the 5
00X once behind the wheel.

The Easy trim starts at $23,200 and offers such standard features as 17-inch alloy wheels, the selectable drive modes, keyless ignition, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, height-adjustable cargo panel, rearview camera, the Uconnect interface with five-inch touch screen, satellite radio and Bluetooth phone.

Move to the top Trekking Plus with all-wheel drive, and 18-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, eight-way power driver's seat, dual-zone climate control, upgraded audio system and blind spot monitoring are among the standard features for $29,900. Our Trekking edition all-wheel drive test car carried a bottom line of $28,600.

Base price: $20,900; as driven, $28,600
Engine: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 180 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 175 foot-pounds @ 3,900 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
Length: 168.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,278 pounds
Turning circle: 35.3 feet
Luggage capacity: 12.1 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 32.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 12.7 (regular)
EPA rating: 30 highway, 21 city, 24 combined
0-60: 8.7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3

The Good
• Fun-to-drive nature
• Stylish, well-made cabin
• Generous standard equipment

The Bad
• Below average fuel economy

The Ugly
• Cargo space on the short side