As spring finally begins to settle into place, the subcompact SUV market begins to blossom, and in the process some colorful new options emerge onto the scene. The 2016 Fiat 500X is a prime example of one of these newcomers as it is entirely fresh from the ground up, and a substantial deviation from what the Italian motor company is known for in the automotive community. As the American market continues its love-affair with the smaller SUV, automakers are scrambling to make an army of affordable compact crossovers that will appeal to the masses. Fiat is no different, as it has opted to follow in Mini’s footsteps by ditching all things small, and going with a bit more of a brazen “big-boy” approach.
According to a report by Forbes, the subcompact SUV category “is the hottest segment in the industry right now because it features vehicles with arguably the perfect combination of price, size, style, functionality and fuel efficiency.” This means many consumers are considering cars in this category because they appeal to buyers at every stage in life and they offer all-wheel-drive, are easy to parallel park, are safer than a compact car, cost very little to buy, own, and insure, and are as practical as can be. But will the latest brainchild from the Italian automaker be everything we want in a car, or is it just going to be another bust, much like the company’s previously launched lacklusters? It’s possible, but we think there is more to this little guy than meets the eye.
Fiat starts off on an odd note though, as they have opted to outfit the most basic model (entitled the “500X Pop”) with a tiny turbo-powered 1.4-liter engine that puts down a respectable 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque via a six-speed manual. The $20,900 crossover is only available with front-wheel-drive in this trim and comes standard with hill start assist to help with this issue as well as USB audio input, steering wheel with audio controls, heated side mirrors, and seven airbags that are included at this price point. The only issue we see here is that this base model may not sell well since it is only available with a manual gearbox and most grandmas, teens, and parents we know don’t want to have to worry about stalling out at a red light.
The next rung on the 500X ladder features a four-cylinder that churns out 180 horses along with 175 pound-feet of torque, and is not mated to a stick-shift, perhaps thankfully. Instead receives a nine-speed automatic transmission. To gain access to this “500X Easy Edition” one must cough up $23,200, and in return they are set to receive keyless start and entry, a leather-bound steering wheel, remote start, 17-inch wheels, and a beefier sound system that sports the Uconnect 5.0 infotainment system. This 5-inch touchscreen comes with Bluetooth and voice command, along with SiriusXM satellite radio and a one-year subscription free of charge for all the tech nerds out there. This version looks far more promising than the “Pop,” and our only gripe here is that Fiat’s “Voice Text Reply System” is not compatible with the iPhone.
For an extra $800, the “Easy Edition” morphs into another animal, and becomes the “500X Trekking” which features satin door handles with graphite front and rear ends, a colorful gauge cluster, a subdued “primer gray” dash panel, and sportier wheels. Styling upgrades aside, we really like the fact that this “Trekking Edition” has a traction control system in place that allows adjustability on the fly. Sadly this was the only major upgrade we deemed desirable over the “Easy Edition,” and at $800 we wonder if this option is even worth it, especially since the car does not come standard with all-wheel-drive.
Fiat clearly understands that not everyone wants something rugged, so for $25,750 buyers can get a “500X Lounge Edition” fully-loaded with automatic climate control, chrome accents, ambient interior lighting, a power driver’s seat, heated seats, a heated steering wheel that comes equipped with audio controls and integrated voice command, a color back-up camera, and the larger Uconnect 6.5-inch touchscreen which plays host to navigation, a five-year SiriusXM subscription, HD radio, traffic updates, and hands-free calling. This package sounds like a real winner to us, especially once equipped with Fiat’s signature split sunroofs.
At the very top of the pile sits the “Trekking Plus Edition,” which starts at $27,100 and comes with its own line of signature leather seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, a parking assist program, and a blind spot monitoring system. But surprisingly that’s all of it because this “top of the line model” does not come standard with title befitting features like all-wheel-drive, off-road trim packages, a brushguard, or a roof rack on top. So we were obviously disappointed by the fact that in order to get what we wanted in this model we would need to jump into the $30,000 price tier range, leading us out of the “affordable” price bracket.
Every 500X outside of the most base offering can be equipped with all-wheel-drive for a couple grand, and is a clever system that automatically distributes power between the front, rear, and sides depending on which wheels are slipping the most. This kind of all-wheel drive system is pretty commonplace by today’s standards, but since this is Fiat’s first attempt at utilizing one in a car we are curious to see how the 500X stands up against other crossovers in the snow, rain, and mud. A Beats-supplied eight-speaker audio system is another upgrade, and a dual sunroof can be installed. Lane assist on Trekking models is also available along with a forward collision warning system that utilizes automatic braking. The all-wheel drive system also has the ability to automatically disconnect itself from the rear axle when it is unneeded, thus boosting fuel efficiency on optimum terrain.
We like that the Fiat 500X has all of the appropriate styling cues in place for brand recognition, and that it is not trying to appear to be something else entirely. The oval headlights, clamshell-style hood, rounded profile lines, and grille all scream “Fiat,” while the cabin looks surprisingly roomy. The 18.5 cubic feet of cargo space in the rear is acceptable, and the dual glove boxes and large storage bin beneath the center stack are appreciated design insights. But we cannot shake the feeling that this car is still lacking in a variety of different ways.
First of all, there is no “Sport Model” which should be the rightful recipient of Fiat’s sporty six-speed manual gearbox, along with the 500X’s clever all-wheel-drive system. But instead Fiat has opted to chain the base model to this transmission, much like what would be seen on a base model decades ago, and this unfortunate oversight will be impossible to ignore if sales of the base “500x Pop” drag in today’s automatic-inclined market.
Then there is the issue with the “Trekking Editions” which utilize styling cues that scream “We trek where we like!” all the way up until the buyer realizes this car does not come equipped with standard all-wheel drive, a roof rack, or sturdier shocks. Customers will have to pay almost $33,000 to get just a handful of what they want on this version of the car, and even then the 500X still lacks a lot of the basics. With a name like “Trekking Plus” one would think that they would be getting a model that comes standard with these things, instead of it being just a better proportioned 500L.
Outside of these very specific gripes, we feel that this little crossover has quite a bit of potential, and we look forward to getting our hands on a 500X so that we may give it a thorough once-over one afternoon like we recently did with Lexus’s NX 200t F Sport. Fiat also feels confident that this larger automobile will appeal to Americans more than their previous offerings as the head of Fiat North America, Jason Stoicevich, says, “we don’t want to be a commodity in the marketplace. We don’t want to be viewed as an appliance.” Which leaves us wondering, will America embrace this latest Italian offering with open arms? Or will we just write it off as just another gimmicky Italian designer product?
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