The Fiat 500X compact crossover is the antithesis of the original Fiat 500, a tiny city car whose 479cc, two-cylinder, air-cooled engine delivered 13 horsepower. The first 500, called Cinquecento in Italian, was built from 1957 to 1975, and it was Italy’s equivalent of the Volkswagen Beetle.
The 500X, designed with the American market in mind, borrows design cues from the current 500 hatchback, but to me it looks even better. It is large enough to carry four people comfortably, has a versatile cargo space and handles easily. The 2.4-liter engine keeps up with traffic effortlessly.
The 500X shares its chassis and running gear with the Jeep Renegade, and both are built in Melfi, Italy. It comes with a 160-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder with a six-speed manual or a 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder with a nine-speed automatic. Fuel economy is rated at 25 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on the highway for the smaller engine and 22 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway for the 2.4-liter.
There are five trim levels. The Pop starts at $20,000, the Easy at $22,300, the Trekking at $23,100, the Lounge at $24,850 and the Trekking Plus at $27,100. Trekking and Trekking Plus have off-road styling cues.
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Front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is optional with the larger engine and automatic transmission. The all-wheel-drive system has a rear axle that disconnects to save fuel when all-wheel drive is not needed.
I drove a front-wheel-drive Trekking Plus with the 2.4-liter engine from Fiat’s press fleet. It also had 18-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors. Its sticker price was $29,900, quite a jump from the basic Pop.
A too-firm ride was the one major detraction of the Trekking Plus. I don’t know if the other models have a softer ride, but in this one I could feel the slightest pavement imperfections.
A small dial on the console lets the driver select Auto, Sport, and Traction+ modes. It alters the transmission shift points, steering effort and throttle response.
The test car’s two-tone leather interior was handsome and youthful without being gaudy. The 6.5-inch central LCD screen is used for audio, navigation and the rearview camera. Knobs are used for climate control.
The heated front seats have good lateral support, and the driver’s seat had a well-placed armrest.
The split-folding rear seat can be tumbled forward to expand the cargo space, and the rear tailgate is large.
Standard equipment on the Trekking Plus included a heated steering wheel, heated seats, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio and 18-inch wheels. Lane Sense and Forward Collision Warning-Plus help keep the car within the lines and will apply the brakes to help avoid a collision.
Compact crossovers seem to be the next big thing. Most manufacturers either have one or will soon. They are appealing because they are relatively fuel efficient, easy to maneuver and have friendly price tags. Think tall hatchback with more cargo space and you get the idea.
Four years or 50,000 miles.
The base price of the test car was $27,100. Options included a dual-pane sunroof and Beats premium audio. The sticker price was $29,900.
Tom Strongman’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
2016 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus
Engine: 2.4-liter, 180-horsepower four-cylinder
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,187 pounds
Base price: $27,100
As driven: $29,900
MPG rating: 22 in the city, 31 on the highway