Fiat’s gas-sipping crossover proves unexpectedly exhilarating
CASEY WILLIAMS | Auto Reviewer
One of my favorite car commercials is the recent one where a Viagra pill drops in the gas tank of a little Fiat 500, and a few moments later, it’s extended its length and girth to become the 500X four-door crossover. You can almost sense the testosterone pulsing through its buff body, ready to take four and their gear to any climax — or through any climate.
Designers at Fiat’s Centro Stile in Turin, Italy, were left with the task to reshape the iconic micro 500 into a compact crossover fit for global markets — especially crossover-crazy America. They took the 500’s hallmark double headlamps, trapezoidal nose, rounded clamshell hood and “whiskers and logo” face in a more mature direction. It’s still end-to-end Italian. Yet to serve all purses and purposes, buyers can choose between five trim levels: Pop, Easy, Lounge, Trekking and Trekking Plus. The last two trade elegant monochrome for more of an off-road look with gray plastic ground affects and 18-in. alloys.
Interior styling is handsome, reaching far above the 500X’s price point. Striated aluminum look on the console and doorhandles, upper and lower gloveboxes, and painted dash panels are chic. Dashtops and doors are thoroughly padded. Some trim packages come with contrasting color leather, but Trekking editions sport black seats with canvas inserts.
Audio and navigation are managed through a simple touchscreen in the dash with proper tuning and volume knobs. Drivers enjoy straight-forward analog gauges and thick flat-bottom leather-wrapped steering wheel. Our car had a rearview camera, but went without the available active crash avoidance systems. Still, Bluetooth and USBs stood by to connect smartphones and audio players.
A little blue pill can definitely get your motor running. And, the 500X has two motors running. Base models come with a 160 horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine paired with a 6-speed manual transmission. Fine, but our Trekking edition came with the available 2.4-liter four-cylinder that delivers 180 horsepower and 175 lb.-ft. of torque – routed through a 9-speed automatic transmission. The three-mode all-wheel-drive system, adjustable for Auto, Sport, and Traction+, features a disconnecting rear axle to reduce parasitic loss when not needed. That enables fuel economy ratings of 21/30-MPG city/hwy.
Beyond the powertrain, Italian spirit comes through in the crossover’s driving character. Plant your foot and the engine scoots down the road. Steering is heavy, but expeditiously directs commands to the athletic chassis. To me, it feels almost German in its combination of playfulness and a feeling that a pizza truck wouldn’t move it off course. Even on rough pavement, the suspension soaked it up and I suspect it would make a reasonable impression of an SUV during light off-roading.
I’m not sure the 500X is quite as invigorating as what happens after one takes Viagra, but the little crossover is more exhilarating than I expected. The interior is beautifully appointed, elegantly styled, and easy to use. There’s plenty of power and the chassis behaves exactly as you’d expect from an Italian crossover. Unlike the hideous 500L, the 500X has game. Take a pill, rise up and hit the road. The rest will be a wild ride.
Unlike the tiny 500 that’s built in Mexico for the U.S. market, the 500X is assembled in Melfi, Italy alongside its brother, the Jeep Renegade. A base price of $20,000, and $25,405 as tested, puts the 500X against the Honda HR-V, Chevy Trax, Mini Countryman, Hyundai Tucson and Nissan Juke.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 13, 2016.