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by Patrick Rall
While Fiat has enjoyed a fair amount of success with its first few models in the US, the new 2016 500X is the first vehicle from the Italian brand to have widespread appeal. The growing popularity among the compact crossover segment combined with the long list of impressive attributes will almost surely become the best-seller from Fiat—while also giving the brand its first competitor in a large American segment.
The Fiat-Chrysler team knows that the 2016 Fiat 500X is going to be a major player in an import segment, so to show off the excellence of this new compact crossover, they flew me out to Los Angeles to spend a day driving the newest Italian car to hit US shores. After enjoying my first drive of the Renegade, I went into my first seat time behind the wheel of the 500X, and it didn’t disappoint.
The subject for my first drive of the 2016 Fiat 500X was a Trekking model, which means that it was powered by a Chrysler 2.4L 4-cylinder engine, which sends 180 horsepower and 175lb-ft of torque to the front wheels via a 9-speed automatic transmission. The 1.4L turbo motor is available with a manual transmission, but only if you opt for the base model. Because of that, I expect that the vast majority of the 500X models sold in the US will have the same engine as my test vehicle.
While the new Fiat 500X is mechanically similar to the Jeep Renegade, the new Fiat crossover wasn’t intended to have the same off-road merit as the Jeep. Because of that, it doesn’t ride quite as high and it won’t handle the trails as well as its American cousin, but it does have just enough height to give it a proper compact crossover stance — even in the front-drive form of my test vehicle.
The 2016 Fiat 500X wasn’t designed to be a sport model, but the lightweight design, the 2.4L TigerShark engine, and the 9-speed automatic transmission work together to create a small crossover that is surprisingly fun to drive. One of the advantages of the new 9-speed transmission is that the numerically lower gears can be set up very aggressively, giving the 500X solid acceleration on the low end. It isn’t “Abarth fast,” but for a small crossover, it pulls hard from a stop and gets you quickly up to speed in traffic driving. It will even give the tires a quick spin if you launch hard on a smooth road surface. The strong acceleration effort continues through the midrange as well, so the 500X allows you to cruise along the highway at higher speeds with ease while engine RPMs are kept low by the 9-speed gearbox.
Best of all, this little Fiat crossover handles very well on the long sweeping highway turns and that is to be expected, but when we got into the tight, twisty roads around Southern California, the 500X really shined. For a vehicle that will very comfortably seat 4 adults while still having plenty of rear cargo space, the 500X feels light and nimble through even tight turns. I don’t imagine that many 500X owners are going to attack the Tail of the Dragon with their new Fiat crossover, but this new Fiat handles more like a small sedan than a sport utility vehicle. You still get a somewhat high riding feel and the suspension has a touch of SUV stiffness, but that stiffness is slight and it is just enough to give it a very natural, comfortable feel from behind the wheel.
Driving dynamics aside, the 2016 Fiat 500X moves well through very tight quarters, such as dense city traffic or canyon roads where the pavement is barely one car wide. Some crossovers can be cumbersome it tight city driving or very close quarters, but this little Fiat 500X is a great city car.
During my first drive session, I spent some time riding shotgun while another journalist took his turn behind the wheel of the new Fist 500X. During this time I got to check out and enjoy the beautifully appointed interior, which starts with the soft, padded (and heated) leather seats that have a high end look for a $25,000 crossover. My test car had an impressive list of features in addition to the heated leather seats, such as the dual zone climate control, a big, bright infotainment screen, and steering wheel controls for both the infotainment system and the driver information screen in the gauge cluster. There is a whole lot of technology, but it has been integrated in a way that maintains the simplicity of the design.
One of my favorite features of the new 500X is the dual plane sunroof design that gives the front seat open air and the rear seats the glass roof treatment. It isn’t as nice as the Renegade’s removable roof panels, but the rear glass roof really brightens up the cabin.
Last and certainly not least, the 2016 Fiat 500X has a look that I really like. The design team has made sure to integrate the key design features of the modern Fiat brand into this little crossover and the low, wide form makes this — in my opinion ñ— the best looking of the new-age Fiat vehicles sold in the USA. The Trekking package adds unique front and rear fascia designs that bolter the SUV styling and while it may not conquer the mountain trail, it is certainly one of the best driving small crossovers on the market. The plush interior is vastly ahead of the competition in terms of comforts and amenities and the drivetrain makes it fun to drive, all with pricing beginning under $25,000.
Fiat expects the 2016 Fiat 500X to be their best selling U.S. model to date, and after experiencing this new compact crossover, I am inclined to agree. No Fiat has had the broad appeal of the 500X, and when combined with the boom of the small crossover segment, this new Fiat is positioned to be a segment leader.
See Patrick Rall’s primary 2015 Chrysler 200 review
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