Fiat 500X first drive review: good things come in big packages, too

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There’s a phenomenon that occurs when you test drive different cars on a regular basis. I don’t think there’s a formal name for it, but it happens all the time. No matter what vehicle you’re driving, you tend to notice (or notice a lack of) the same exact vehicle on the road; a type of myopic vision that has you focusing on that specific make and model. It’s the oddest thing, but ask any auto journalist and you’ll hear the same story. We only mention this because, on our recent first drive of the Fiat 500X on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, California, there were so many 500s passing by, we started to get suspicious. Did Fiat hire a bunch of drivers to tool around in all the various iterations? Or is it just that the little Fiat is so popular because of its low price and spirited personality?

IMG_6213While we are not above conspiracy theories for the most part, we tended to believe the latter. The little Italian import has done an admirable job of winning the hearts of young and old alike. Special editions like the 1957, Gucci, or Abarth provide a fair amount of diversity on basically the same package, plus Fiat’s core values claims of design, thoughtful innovation, individuality, responsible engineering and accessibility, go a long way toward the marque’s overall success.

Fiat also claims  that 87 percent of its customers come from outside Chrysler, and the 500 has a 90 percent conquest rate. No wonder Fiat is on a quest to expand the brand into other segments. The first offspring was the Fiat 500L, to take care of the needs of the growing family; now the Fiat 500X is going after those who are looking for more capability.

IMG_6224The 500X is jumping head first into what is considered one of the fastest growing segments: B-size crossovers/small CUVs. Growth rate is predicted at 200 percent by 2020, and every manufacturer either has an entry now, or will have one before then. Chevrolet just introduced the Trax, BMW has an X1, and the new Jeep Renegade fits here also (note: the 500X and Renegade share FCA’s small-wide architecture, but the 500X has been retuned and reformulated for a completely different audience).

This is the first Fiat designed for the global market, not one that was born in Europe and adapted for the States, and will be tailored for North American driving preferences. It will be sold in 100 countries, and will represent Fiat as its halo vehicle, which means there’s a lot riding on its success. Fiat says the 500X is an extension of the family bloodline, and is a rational and functional purchase over the more emotional 500.

IMG_6228For 2016, there are five trims available: Pop, the entry model, starts at $20,900. The Easy model lands at $23,100, then the Trekking for $24,000, followed by the Lounge at $25,750, and finally the Trekking Plus at $28,000. All prices include a $900 delivery charge. The Easy designation is for those looking for a more urban, refined vibe, while the Trekking series has a more athletic aesthetic. While X can stand for crossover, it also can represent all-wheel drive, which can be added to any trim, excluding Pop, for an additional $1,900. (Side note: the X also stands for extra, which is what the 500X is providing customers. Who knew it was such a deep letter with so many meanings!) This is the first Fiat with AWD; the system features a disconnecting rear axle to reduce parasitic loss. It’s automatic: no pushing buttons or messing with extra shift levers, which means it runs in FWD mode until it senses slippage, and then will transfer up to 50 percent torque to the rear wheels if needed. The system is efficient, and should be able to handle all but the most difficult weather conditions.

2016 Fiat 500X Lounge Dynamic Selector systemThe Pop is the only trim level that comes with a standard 6-speed manual transmission, but there’s an option for the 9-speed automatic, which comes standard on every other trim level. Pop also will get the 1.4-liter MultiAir turbo four-cylinder, good for 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. The rest of the lineup comes standard with Fiat’s popular 2.4-liter four-cylinder Tigershark MultiAir2, making 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque (also available on the Pop trim). To enhance both the fun and capability, the 500X offers a Dynamic Selector system (rotary knob on the center console) on all but the Pop, which allows the driver to choose between Auto, Sport, and Traction Plus, depending on their desires, as well as road conditions.