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Review: 2016 FIAT 500x

by Jimmy Dinsmore
Review: 2016 FIAT 500xzoom in

    2016 FIAT 500x Trekking

  • Engine: 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower: 180
  • Torque (lb-ft.): 175
  • Transmission: 9-speed automatic
  • Top Speed (mph): 112
  • City/Hwy/Combined MPG: 21/30
  • Curb Weight (lb): 2,967
  • Wheelbase (in): 101.2
  • Total Length (in): 168.2
  • Width (in): 70.7
  • Base Price (USD): $25,100
  • Price as Tested (USD): $28,795

Italian things with an American influence are very popular in the U.S… Olive Garden. Robert De Niro. FIAT? I put the question mark there because the jury is still out on the popularity of FIAT (under the mothership of FIAT Chrysler America). Is it too Italian? When will we see a more Americanized version of the Italian vehicle that is less quirky?

My tester this week is the new 2016 FIAT 500x, which hopes to address these questions. The FIAT 500x is a crossover by definition but is certainly not rugged like FCA’s other brand Jeep. Still it’s definitely an improvement over the bubbly little, FIAT 500. Adding that X at the end of the name makes a huge difference. I am not a fan of the FIAT 500. It lacks power in all but the Abarth edition, and is all around just too cutesy. However, I think the 500x has some merit and is worthy of consideration. So can the Fiat 500x become the Olive Garden of small crossovers?

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On appearance alone, the 500x certainly stands out. It still (unfortunately) closely resembles the perkiness of the FIAT 500, but it also has enough distinction to where the 500x is its own vehicle. It’s like Robert De Niro had a brother, or perhaps a better Italian actor analogy is if the FIAT 500 was Frank Stallone, then the FIAT 500x would be Sylvester Stallone.

For consumers who like a vehicle with personality, the 500x is ideal. The bulbous appearance follows the trend within the compact crossover segment. The front end of the 500x is cartoonish and I think it could use a more rugged feel. Since it’s being marketed as a more adventurous version of the 500, the 500x needs to look more conformed, and less like a toy. The FIAT 500x comes in a variety of bold colors (to match the bold styling). My tester was bright yellow, which only contributed to its cartoonish appearance. The round highlights remind me of the 1990’s revamped VW Beetle. All they need is those aftermarket eyelashes to be added to them to make them ever so annoying.

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As it stands now, both available engines are uninspiring. My tester was the 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder option which makes a a rather lackluster 180 horsepower. There’s a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine that sounds exciting, but only ups the horsepower by four.  There’s a nine-speed automatic transmission that’s new for the FIAT brand. It works really well with the Chrysler Multiair engine. There’s very little lag in the gearing. A six-speed manual transmission is also available and front-wheel drive is standard. The powertrain for the FIAT 500x needs more Dodge and less FIAT. Dodge knows so much about properly powering up a vehicle and making it fun to drive, that FIAT needs to follow suit. They’ve done so with the Abarth badging on the 500, and perhaps they have plans to tweak up the the 500x with an Abarth version. If so, count me in, because that’s what the 500x needs.

The FIAT 500x is ideal for city drivers or even as a commuter vehicle for those who are challenged to find good parking spaces and have to turn to parking garages or tight street parking. The 500x has more interior room than a car, and therefore is appealing, but it’s still small enough to be maneuverable in an urban environment.

Midwesterners will want the 500x in all-wheel drive, as it’s so much more maneuverable in that capacity and is more at home on bad roads with AWD. During my week with the FIAT 500x, I encountered some snowy roads and found the 500x to handle itself confidently.

Inside, the 500x is significantly better than any other FIAT on the roads today. It’s much improved over the regular 500. Perhaps the right-sized cabin is more conducive for the proper styling and the improved materials used as the touch points are quite good. The center stack still holds a slight quirky design style, but it works well with the rest of the vehicle, and I appreciate its clean, organized look.

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The 6.5-inch touchscreen is angled just right for the driver to operate safely. It uses Chrysler’s UConnect system, which is one of the best in the business. The entire infotainment system is intuitive. On the other hand, the sound system is a little lacking, as it has a lot of engine and road noise to battle.

The back seat is actually comfortable, as opposed to the regular FIAT 500. Legroom will be a little snug for taller passengers, but average-sized adults and children will be very comfortable back there. While rated as a five-passenger vehicle, four passengers would be ideal.

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Behind the second row there is a lot of cargo space. The FIAT 500x has 32.1 cubic feet of space, which is another appeal of this vehicle.

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I was hoping that the FIAT 500x would be more rugged all around (it’s not). Imagine my disappointment when I saw that the 500x carries over the cutesy trim names of the regular 500. There are five total trims, including the (annoyingly-named) Pop, Easy and Lounge. Thankfully there is some redemption as the 500x does also have a Trekking and Trekking Plus trim. Thank goodness for my tester, which came in the Trekking trim with 18-inch alloy wheels, a slightly more rugged looking front fascia and fog lights, which still look too circular for my taste. There’s a nice 500x logo inside the lights for a nice bit of pizzazz.

One of the biggest appeals of the 500x is its price point. Starting price for the base trims with FWD is $20,995. My tester had a starting price of $25,100. Options like the Trekking collection (with safety and parking sensors and an advanced navigation system) and the extra $1000 for the bold yellow exterior color took my tester to the final MSRP of $28,795. Normally the options are worth it, but in this case, get a normal paint color, skip the Trekking collection and save yourself a couple grand.

Fuel economy is another reason the compact crossovers are gaining in popularity. EPA estimates for the Fiat 500x are 21 mpg/city and 30 mpg/highway. In a week’s worth of driving I averaged nearly 26 mpg. That’s not bad for a crossover (although it’s barely a crossover).

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On the shores of America, FIAT proved that the 500 had a place. Now they’ve expanded their lineup with a proper small crossover. It’s an improvement over the regular 500 and for that, we’ll give them an Italian shoutout of ben fatto! (well done!). For its first outing, the FIAT 500x isn’t bad. Still, there’s room for improvement, and as this vehicle gets more Americanized, it’s likely to get better (let’s hope).

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