I thought I’d hate
the puffed-up Fiat 500X. I hated its little brother, the over-stylized 500C — it tries to put an Italian spin on the Mini success story, but instead creates a sub-compact car with few redeemable features.
And yet, the 500X I’ve just driven is a lovely vehicle. It’s loaded with redeemable features. How can two cars so closely related be so different?
Well, first, a proviso. The tester driven here is the top-of-the-line, fully-loaded, Trekking Plus AWD version. It starts at $32,690 and comes with more than $3,000 of options. The basic 500X Pop is almost $10,000 cheaper, with a smaller engine and front-wheel drive.
The Fiat 500 lineup can be confusing. There are basically three different 500 body shapes on sale in Canada: the 500C, of which the less said the better; the 500L, which is a four-door version of that-which-shall-not-be-named; and the 500X, which is the crossover version of the L. The X is built on a different platform, which it shares with the new Jeep Renegade.
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The 500X really makes no pretensions about being a rugged off-roader — it leaves that attempt to the Jeep. You sit taller in the seats, so access and visibility is improved, but that’s about it. There’s a drive mode dial on the centre console for choosing between Snow and Rain, Regular, and Sport, but it only adjusts the transmission shift points. Sport really isn’t very sporty at all.
Most 500Xs come with the same 1.4-litre inline-four turbo engine that’s in the 500L and some of the optioned up 500Cs, but the tester’s Trekking Plus comes with the Renegade’s 2.4-litre naturally-aspirated four cylinder motor. This means it’s also equipped with FCA’s new nine-speed transmission.
The extra gears help fuel economy, but the smaller engine’s turbocharger helps it more. The Trekking Plus sucks back an official 11.0 L/100 km in the city, and 7.9 on the highway, compared to the 9.5 and 6.9 of the other versions, though they’re only powering the front wheels.
I rarely saw the transmission go into ninth gear. Even at 120 km/h, the slightest headwind or uphill slope dropped the car down to eighth. I only know this because there’s an indicator among the gauges. It’s a bit clunky in the lower gears, but super-smooth on the highway.
You can get AWD in some cheaper versions of the 500X, tied to the smaller engine. When road conditions are fine, it decouples the rear axle and drives only the front wheels, but it engages automatically when the wheels start to slip, or when pulling away from a standstill, or even when the windshield wipers are turned on. That’s pretty clever.
And it’s those clever little touches on the car that I found so endearing. If you have the optional heated seats (and better fabric of the Trekking Plus) and optional heated steering wheel, it’ll turn them on automatically when the temperature drops to 5 C. You can set the electronic parking brake to activate automatically when you park. There’s an air-conditioning vent in one of the two gloveboxes for chilling food and drinks. That sort of thing.
There’s reasonable space in the back — the official cargo rating is 524 litres behind the rear seats, expanding to 1,430 when they’re folded down. They split 60/40 but don’t lie completely flat. Three trim-levels offer a large, dual-pane power sunroof, so it feels spacious back there.
I guess what I really liked the most about the 500X was that it didn’t try to be anything it’s not. It drove comfortably and relatively economically for a vehicle of its size and shape, but didn’t goad me into thinking I should be tackling mountain trails or heading off onto the Road of Bones. It’s designed for the mall and for better traction on icy roads.
It’s a compact crossover, competition for the comparably-priced Honda HR-V and less-expensive Mazda CX-3, both of which are more frugal with their fuel. They don’t have the style and panache of the Fiat, though, and in the mid-level trims, the three are a much closer comparison.
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There’s no doubt this top-of-the-line tester is a costly proposition, but it felt good driving it, thanks to those numerous thoughtful little touches. And isn’t that what it’s all about?
2016 FIAT 500X TREKKING PLUS
Base price/as tested:
$32,690 / $35,875
$1,745 Freight and PDI
Five-seater Crossover Utility Vehicle
524 litres / 1,430 litres
2.4-litre inline four
180 hp / 175 lb-ft.
(L/100 km claimed, Regular gas) 11.0 City, 7.9 Hwy., 9.6 Comb., 11.4 observed
Bifunctional halogen projector headlamps, windshield wiper de-icer, rear spoiler, remote start, power 12-way driver’s seat
Competition: Honda HR-V
, Mazda CX-3
Very nicely finished
What you’ll like about this car:
Italian style and tall seating
What you won’t like about this car:
Expensive at top trim level
Thoughtful features, comfortable drive
Price, clunky in lower gears
Website: Fiat Canada