Fiat recently introduced a member of the family to American drivers. It’s the 2016 Fiat 500X and it comes with two engines, all-wheel drive and a nine-speed transmission.
It’s everything the Fiat 500L should have been at its 2013 launch — and more.
Let’s explore 5 reasons to drive the most butch and burly Fiat to date.
Reason #1: Distinctive Design
The 500X looks, well, it looks like an Italian crossover if you can conjure such an image in your mind. It’s based on the bones of the iconic Fiat Cinquecento, though I’m using “iconic” loosely since the chances of the average American driver having any recollection of a mid-1980s Cinquecento is slightly worse than remembering that Italian band Baltimora sang the 1980s one-hit wonder, “Tarzan Boy.”
Of course, I digress.
The 500X is rounded like an Audi or even a Porsche Macan, though it’s not nearly as nice as either of those vehicles. But it looks a whole lot better than the awkward and poor-selling Fiat 500L.
My test model featured Red Hypnotique paint with a black interior and black cloth seats. Leather wasn’t available in my Trekking model. Turns out you need to upgrade to the Trekking Plus model to secure the upgraded feel of rich Italian leather.
It looked good and even inspired a friend to email me and say, “I want a ride in that funky little Fiat.”
If you like the non-traditional look of the Nissan Juke or Mini Countryman, you’ll want to explore the 2016 Fiat 500X. If you’re a traditionalist at heart, look elsewhere for more conventionally styled crossovers like the Mazda CX-3 or Honda HR-V.
Reason #2: Two Engines and Two Transmissions
Choose the 2016 Fiat 500X and you also need to choose the engine and transmission that will motivate your crossover down the highway.
The base engine is a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine that makes 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a six-speed manual transmission. If you’re a fan of rowing your own gears, this is the 500X model for you, but know that acceleration will be slow.
If you seek more power, select the 2.4-liter Tigershark engine that makes 180 horses and 175 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired with a nine-speed transmission that shifts smoothly most of the time but sometimes feels a bit jerky and unsure of which gear it should target.
Reason #3: Fun to Drive
The extra power of the bigger Tigershark engine makes an equally big difference in performance. My test model was easy to move through traffic and on the highway, though it wheezed a bit when driving up and over a 7,000-foot mountain pass.
There are three available driving modes: Auto, Sport and Traction+. I spent most of the time in Auto mode and the 500X performed well. Toggle the switch to Sport and the jerky nature of the transmission becomes more obvious even as acceleration and driving character become more lively. It was a bit obnoxious around town but I liked it better on the highway. Traction+ mode will certainly help on wet roads, but I didn’t see anything like those during my August test drive and can’t provide an assessment.
Ultimately, the small size of the 500X makes the car fun to drive, especially on a twisty two-lane mountain road where I tested the vehicle. More power would improve the driving experience, but for now, I’m satisfied with the way the 500X handles and drives knowing that it will continue to improve. It’s not as engaging as the 2015 VW Golf, but it holds its own with the latest Nissan Juke.
Reason #4: Up to 34 MPG on the Highway
The Fiat 500X looks sporty with a touch of quirkiness. Those two facts should pull adventurous buyers into Fiat dealerships. But the practical side of their brains will like the 34 mpg highway rating that is excellent for the subcompact SUV class.
Base 500X models with the 6-speed manual transmission should return 25 mpg in city driving and 34 mpg on the highway for a combined 28 mpg average. That’s impressive and you should be able to cover 356 miles on a tank of gas.
The more powerful model I tested that featured the larger 2.4-liter engine and 9-speed transmission isn’t quite as impressive. The EPA expects it to average 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway for a combined 24 mpg average. I averaged 23 mpg, which is close to the expected average, which should enable you to travel just over 300 miles on a tank of gas.
Reason #5: 2016 Fiat 500x Starts at $20,000
The 2016 Fiat 500X fits into a price range that should match many buyer’s budgets. The base 500X Pop starts at $20,000 and offers a basic but still attractive set of features including the 1.4-liter engine, five paint color choices, matching body color instrument panel, and a USB port. That’s $4,000 more than you’ll spend for the smaller but still stylish Fiat 500 hatchback.
Step up to the Fiat 500X Easy and you add seven new paint colors, the larger 2.4-liter engine, the Uconnect infotainment system and 17-inch wheels, all for a starting price of $22,300.
The Fiat 500X Trekking model I tested started at $23,100 and included satin chrome accents, cornering fog lamps and headlamps, as well as the $1,300 Customer Preferred package that added 18-inch wheels, heated front seats and steering wheel, power front seats and ambient lighting. Final price, with the addition of the $900 destination fee, topped $23,500.
The Fiat 500X Lounge is where this car starts to feel luxurious with a larger infotainment screen, navigation system, ambient lighting, heated front seats and steering wheel, and a backup camera. This one starts at $24,850.
The top of the line 500X Trekking Plus includes everything listed above, plus a leather interior and standard 18-inch wheels and valuable safety upgrades. But this well-appointment model doesn’t come cheap at $27,100. Add the Trekking Plus Collection package and you’ll easily top $30,000.
What the 500L Should Have Been
I like the small Fiat 500. It’s affordable, it comes in a wide range of paint colors and trims, and it’s an enjoyable little car to toss around. What I don’t like is the larger Fiat 500L, which looks and drives equally odd.
The Fiat 500X is the sweet spot between the small Fiat 500 and the goofy 500L. The design is spot on for a sporty Italian compact crossover. The dimensions, styling and driving experience work in ways the 500L simply falls short.
In short, it’s the right compact crossover for Fiat and many American drivers. Sales of the 500X are growing but the car is still a rarity on American roads. If you’ve been attracted to Fiat’s styling but repelled by the 500L’s design, give the 500X a try. Safety and reliability scores are still unknown, but this compact crossover may offer all the Italian charm you seek.
2016 Fiat 500X photo copyright Waterdog Media, Inc.