The stylish, if not downright cute, Fiat 500X is roomy and has ample storage in a smallish package.
Fiat made a splash with the super-cute 500 “Cinquecento” in 2012. But that opening act was followed by the intro of the lackluster 500L four-door. Next month, Fiat dealers begin selling an all-new, four-door 500X that shares its hardware with the all-new Jeep Renegade, and represents the Italian brand’s best hope to sway women with a kid or two away from the mass-branded Mom-mobiles.
The two principal appeals of the 500X are the availability of all-wheel drive and the extremely livable, lovable interior. The car we drove for a day in the canyons outside Los Angeles was red (Rosso Amore). So, the design calls for the Rosso Amore color dashboard as well. It is a carry-over design feature from the 500, and one that gives the already pretty, well-tailored interior a coordinated feel, like having your shoes match your purse, or in a man’s case, a tie coordinating nicely with the pocket-square.
The 500x has a myriad of competitors. Let’s start with the Chevy Trax, Nissan Juke and Subaru CrossTrek. But there are more on the way: the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V. After that, you have to ask yourself, in terms of price and storage if you’re going to also consider the Ford C-Max, Hyundai Tucson, Scion xB, MINI Countryman, Kia Soul and even the 500X’s American cousin, the Jeep Renegade, on the same shopping list. It is a burgeoning category that got crowded in a hurry.
AWD Comes to Fiat
There’s a few things to consider with this vehicle- and this brand. Fiat has been lagging down at the wrong end of the quality surveys and studies from Consumer Reports and J.D. Power. Big points for styling and charm, but the 500 and 500L have been dinged for reliability and quality issues. And especially relevant to this vehicle are the complaints about the new 9-speed automatic transmission that has already rolled out on the Jeep Cherokee and Chrysler 200.
The nine-speed has been said to be nervous and asthmatic on the both those vehicles, with complaints spreading on the Net. We drove pre-production models, and I was expecting a lot of searching for the right gears as we journeyed over mountains, and climbed twisty inclines. Interestingly, the only hesitation I experienced was on a straightaway. On the hills, the nine-speed engine did just fine.
If you like a manual, then 500X has it for you. And that would be one way to dodge any problems or shortcomings you might feel with the automatic.
Why nine speeds? It offers for better fuel economy, allowing the engine to work at peak efficiency in a greater number of speeds and driving conditions. Chrysler officials acknowledge that the Cherokee and 200 transmissions needed software tweaks following launch, and that they applied that learning to the 500x.
The Fiat/Chrysler 9-Speed transmission or a manual?
The 500X lets you adjust the driving character of the car via a Dynamic Selector knob on the console. There is auto (everyday driving), sport (faster driving with greater lateral control and stability) and traction. (useful for snow or gravel).
There are five trim levels of the 500X: Pop, Easy, Lounge, Trekking, and Trekking Plus, with different wheel sizes and touchscreens, audio and seat material. While the Pop starts at a little more than $20,000, we configured a Trekking version on Edmunds.com that checked all the boxes and came in just under $30,000.
Overall, our test of pre-production models makes us enthusiastic about the prospects of owning the 500X, which Fiat executives describe as the brand’s new “halo” car. Every inch of the car, from how it rolls over potholes to how the doors close, feels solid and substantial. And the European interior is a fine place to spend time.
But Fiat is walking a fine line with the 500X. It is not really as cute as the 500 Cinquecento, though in orange (Arancio) and Rosso Amore and brown (Rosso Passione), it comes close. Some design elements on the front end connect to the iconic 500. But the 500X has to do battle, more or less even up without a significant design advantage, with a whole lot of new models coming from brands with higher ratings and rankings for quality and dependability.
If you have driven the 500L know that the personality of the 500X is nothing like the 500L. Where the 500L has a vague, splashy driving character and gave me the feeling of driving around a fish-tank on wheels, the 500x is precise, crisp and solid. Its halo is glowing and if its design details and drive confidence extend to more cars in the Fiat family, its halo should, too.
WHAT WE LOVED
- Seats four comfortably
- European styling inside. Clean, stylish layout of the dashboard and navigation/radio controls
- Spacious front seat feeling
- Ample room behind the rear-seats for groceries, a stroller, kids’ stuff
- All-wheel-drive offers sure-footed handling
- Wheels and tires that stand up to potholes and cracked pavement.
- The class leading Uconnect system for connecting your smartphone and digital life that Chrysler developed and shares with Fiat vehicles.
- Two compartment glove-box. Neither large enough to hold a real purse, but ample for storing a bill-fold size wallet, plus items such as handy wipes, extra cords, first-aid, etc.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- Fuel economy not released yet
- 50,000/four-year warranty
- Pricing begins at $20,900 for the Pop model, with six-speed manual transmission. The Trekking Plus package starts at $28,000. All-wheel drive adds $1,900 to the price with all models except the entry-level Pop (in front-drive only). And the 500X is the first Fiat to offer power to all four wheels.