Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but if you want to know what I really think about the Fiat 500X’s looks, I’d tell you it looks like a Pokémon standing on stilts.
I’m sorry, but I don’t find this thing attractive.
Ask most women the same question though, and chances are they’ll tell you they enjoy the 500X’s classy Italian styling and cute rounded-off shape. My girlfriend loves the way the 500X looks.
So, since looks are definitely a subjective thing and don’t really lead to anything tangible when reviewing a car, I’ll focus on a more technical and elaborately objective subject: platform sharing, something FCA seems to master flawlessly with this vehicle.
A More “Refined” Jeep
It’s no secret that the Fiat 500X rides on the same shared platform as the Jeep Renegade. This means that, like its cousin, the Fiat is powered by the same potent and properly torquey 180-hp Tigershark 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine (a 1.4-liter turbo comes standard), uses the same front-wheel-drive-biased all-wheel drive system, and inherits the same nimble and playful chassis.
It’s also fitted with the lethargic and frustratingly incompetent 9-speed automatic transmission that always seems to fear its own top gear.
However, unlike the Renegade, which comes equipped with a variety of drive modes for serious off-road fun, the 500X has been tuned to more sporty and urban driving characteristics. Three drive modes are available: Sport, Auto, and Traction Plus, the latter improving this lifted Fiat’s skills on slippery surfaces, notably in deep snow.
And it actually works.
Like the Renegade, the 500X’s all-wheel drive prowess is indeed rather impressive. It’ll also gladly partake in enjoyable tail-happy power-slides upon throttle applications without annoying electronic nannies ruining the party. In Traction Plus, the 500X’s drivetrain configuration is pretty much a carbon copy of the Renegade’s Snow setting, allowing it to crawl its way out of the most demanding situations.
A Loud Sport Mode
Sport mode is where the 500X separates itself from the Renegade. Fiat engineers went through great lengths to give their little crossover its own unique Italian personality and it shows. When set into Sport, the 500X’s 9-speed transmission suddenly becomes a bit less frustrating by keeping the revs hanging for throttle inputs, shifting faster, and taking less time to find the right gear on takeoffs.
Sport mode also firms up the electric power steering and, according to the gauge cluster, puts the engine in a “performance” setting.
I’m not sure about that one.
The only element of performance I noticed from the engine, was a louder drone coming from somewhere underneath the cabin.
There is, however, an overall feeling of lightness and playfulness with the way the 500X drives, where you rapidly discover a playful chassis, sharp turn-in, and minimal body roll. It’s not as fun to drive as Mazda’s CX-3, but the 500X’s quirks all add up to an entertaining driving experience similar to what you find in the 500 Abarth; a car which made me LOL each time I sat behind the wheel.
The people at Fiat call the 500X a “lifestyle vehicle” (whatever that means), a theme which is carried over in its interior. Again, like the exterior, the 500X’s cabin is a case of love it or hate it where everything feels more like a lounge than the cabin of a sub-compact crossover.
It’s very eccentric in there, nice and colourful, something I particularly enjoyed. A large slab of plastic that mimics steel spans the dashboard, painted the same colour as the car. Everything looks cool and fresh with big and easy to operate buttons, oversized door handles, a meaty flat-bottom steering wheel and somewhat funky, but easy-to-read gauges. Most importantly, the 500X feels like a completely different vehicle than the Jeep with which it shares its mechanical components.
Popping out in the middle of the dashboard is a tiny LCD screen where the driver can fiddle with FCA’s Uconnect infotainment system, which remains, in my book, one of the most intuitive and straight forward systems offered today.
In the Fiat though, the system becomes a little bit less intuitive in the name of style. The smaller than average screen and the desire to cram too much stuff at once feels overwhelming at first, but you quickly get used to it.
Seats are also attractive and comfortable. My tester was the Lounge model equipped with beautiful brown leather seats and door inserts that not only add to the 500X’s Italian flair, but translate into making the Fiat’s interior a more refined cabin than its Jeep cousin.
Overall, the Fiat 500X’s interior is roomy, comfortable and well put together. Build quality is ok, but still not on par with its Japanese competition, and materials are of decent quality, as is traditional in the entire FCA lineup.
Visibility is also excellent, but like the Renegade, the 500X is plagued with massive A pillars that obstruct forward visibility. Also, because of the way the roof is shaped, rear head room is minimal. Where the Renegade is a box that can engulf pretty much any vertically challenged human, in the 500X, those same passengers will find their head rubbing against the ceiling.
Another Weapon in FCA’s Arsenal
There’s no denying the fact that FCA is on a roll these days with the release of compelling and competitive products like the Fiat 500X and the Jeep Renegade; two vehicles that perfectly meet the growing demand for sub-compact crossovers.
Is the 500X a better vehicle than the Jeep Renegade?
I’d say these two vehicles are on equal terms. What will make the buyer choose one or the other merely depends on aesthetic preferences and desired function; one is more about style and fashion, while the other is more about outdoor adventure and ruggedness.
That being said, prices and trim levels for the 2016 Fiat 500X are very similar to those of its cousin, but with a bit more variety in trim packages and a higher base price of $22 995 for a better equipped entry-level model. My tester, the Lounge trim, sells for $31 490, while the Trekking Plus trim, a version tuned mostly for off-road use, tops the range at $31 990.
However, unlike in the Renegade, all-wheel drive is not available with the 6-speed manual transmission or the 1.4-liter turbo engine. Bummer.
All in all, the Fiat 500X is an honest-to-goodness fun-to-drive urban crossover that has just enough character and soul to make it feel like its own bespoken model instead of a simple corporate platform swap. Fiat’s subcompact crossover is indeed a competent little trucklet and should certainly sell well. However, in my opinion, the lack of a manual transmission option on all-wheel drive trims is a sacrilege, especially for an Italian vehicle.
Clavey’s Corner is located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Prices and trim levels discussed in this article reflect the Canadian car market.
Special thanks: Lasalle Fiat
Photo credit: Myle Appearance
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