2016 Fiat 500X First Drive [w/videos]
Same Style, More Substance
Power180 HP / 175 LB-FT
Curb Weight2,967 LBS
Cargo50.8 CU-FT (max)
As Tested Price$25,500
Best Deal Price$17,425
Fiat knows this, and its answer is the 2016 500X. It lays the brand's curvy design over a crossover-style package with available all-wheel-drive. There's more room for cargo to suit our national preference for extra space. The 500X still has Italian charm, but it feels more at home on US roads than other Fiats. Put simply, the 500X isn't a transplant, it's made for American buyers (even if it's assembled in Italy, alongside the Jeep Renegade).
We were skeptical that the 500X could turn around Fiat's fortunes, but this cute crossover had a way of winning us over. Maybe it was the bright arancio paint (Italian for "orange") of our test car, the most expressive of the 12 exterior hues. Even in the shadowy indoor setting where our test drive begins, in Culver City, CA, this car stands out. In stark contrast, the black and grey interior is subdued and tasteful.
Out test car is a Trekking model, the middle of five trim levels, fitted with the optional 2.4-liter engine. This naturally aspirated four-cylinder is a 'free' upgrade from the standard 1.4-liter turbo, but mandates the addition of a nine-speed automatic transmission for $1,500. Taking off through morning traffic, we head for the Santa Monica Freeway. At the entrance we're pitted against an older Toyota Camry in an on-ramp drag race. We lay on the throttle to put the Tigershark engine's 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque into full use, and leave the Camry in the dust. As we head north toward Malibu, we can already tell that the 500X feels like a different kind of Fiat, more substantial. It fills the lane. There's an upright driving position, and we feel confident cruising along at 70 miles per hour.
Okay, so the 500X can handle an interstate, but what about an open road? We make our way to the Pacific Coast Highway, California's State Route 1, a logical place to test Fiat's claim of being more in step with American buyers. There are stoplights. People wander across the street towards the beach. Cars pass us and we pass them. Subtract the ocean air and surfers, and this road is what a lot of US motorists deal with every day.
The 500X is all up for it. The electric power rack-and-pinion steering setup is light on center but returns feedback during lane changes and turns. The suspension handles road imperfections appropriately as we over manhole covers and other small obstacles unflustered. The 500X feels taut, even tossable at times, but isn't overtly sporty. When called upon, the 500X stops fine. There's little dive when we hit the brakes hard. Our only quibble is with the nine-speed automatic transmission: the gearbox is fine for launches or at steady speeds, but sometimes it just clunks into gear. We've had similar issues with this transmission in the Jeep Cherokee and Chrysler 200.
Lungs full of salty air, we veer onto the Mulholland Highway, a winding road that ascends into the hills around Malibu. We dial up Sport mode with a twist of the console-mounted drive mode selector. Here, the engine, steering and electronic stability control are recalibrated for more dynamic driving. We coax the Fiat through corners, alternating jabs between the throttle and brake pedals. The body, which is made up of more than 70-percent high strength steel, stays buttoned up. With a curb weight starting at 2,967 pounds, the 500X show off its agility as we whip past rock formations and turns flanked by steep drop-offs.
Back on the PCH, we take a closer look at interior. Our Trekking model includes the optional Comfort and Convenience groups, and costs $25,500 as tested. The black cabin, or Nero as Fiat calls it, has synthetic leather on the wrapped-and-stitched steering wheel, center storage area, and shift knob. The steering wheel is big in a throwback way, although it incorporates buttons for audio and cruise control. This particular 500X also has FCA's five-inch Uconnect infotainment touchscreen with Sirius XM Satellite Radio and Bluetooth. Three knobs that control the heating and cooling are below the Uconnect screen, and they sit in front of the shifter. The plastic dashboard feels in line with the price point. There's plenty of usable storage up front with cupholders in the center console and embedded in the sides of the doors. The glovebox is a two-compartment deal, and there's a container in front of the shifter for mobile devices, candy bars, coins, and other road-going necessities. The big cloth and leather seats are comfortable, and better than what's found in the other 500s. This a pleasant place to spend time, even after several hours behind the wheel.
The exterior design is similarly easy on the mind. Fiat wants the styling to set it apart from vehicles like the Kia Soul, Nissan Juke and Mini Countryman. Designer Danilo Tosetti pointed to cues that echo the original Cinquecento, including the protruding nose, bold Fiat badge flanked by whiskers, chrome door handles (our Trekking model substitutes satin silver accents) and trapezoidal greenhouse. There's also plastic cladding running around the lower body and more ground clearance than other 500s. Our tester rolled on 17-inch machined aluminum wheels with trendy spokes and pockets; 16- and 18-inch wheels are also available.
Pricing for the 500X begins at the $20,900 Pop model, and it comes with the 1.4-liter turbo engine producing 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, mated to a six-speed manual transmission. The range extends up to the Trekking Plus, which starts at $28,000. All-wheel drive adds $1,900 to the price to all models except the entry-level Pop (which is front-drive only), and the 500X is the first Fiat to offer this option. It's the same setup from the Jeep Renegade, and it automatically disconnects the rear axle to improve efficiency when AWD capability isn't needed.
In short, the 500X offers features that Fiat believes Americans want, such as larger cars, all-wheel-drive, and versatile storage. It's more than just colors and options, the rugged Italian is better-suited to US tastes than any Fiat that's come before. It drives and looks more like the cars Americans buy in droves. Finally, Fiat appears to have made a car that can make the brand more than a niche player here in the States.
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