The 2017 Fiat 500X is a front-wheel-drive compact crossover with smart Italian styling inside and out. A new model for 2016, there are no significant changes for 2017.
Built on the platform of the Jeep Renegade, competitors for the Fiat 500X include the Honda HR-V, Buick Encore, Chevy Trax and Mazda CX-3. It fits neatly between the dainty Fiat 500 and dorky 500L, more in the mainstream as a tall hatchback, and less quirky than those two.
It’s one of the more entertaining small crossovers this side of the costlier Mini Countryman. The ride is firm but not punishing, and the handling is responsive but not as quick as the Fiat 500. There’s available all-wheel drive, but it doesn’t give the 500X the offroad capability of the Renegade Trailhawk. To save fuel, the all-wheel drive actually detaches the driveshaft and rear differential from the front wheels, until wheelspin at the rear calls it back.
Base engine is a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder making 160 horsepower that’s fun but unrefined, mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox that’s a hoot. Only the Pop model gets this powertrain, which can also be found in the Dodge Dart. Fiat says only one in 20 500Xs will have this powertrain.
The powertrain that 95 percent of 500Xs will have is a 2.4-liter four cylinder making 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque, mated to a rough 9-speed automatic that Fiat is trying to improve. The engine dates back to the Dodge Caliber, and it’s been much improved since then.
The EPA rates the turbocharged 1.4-liter 500X at 25 miles per gallon City, 34 Highway and 28 Combined; and the front-wheel-drive 2.4-liter at 23/31/27 mpg. The all-wheel drive gets 21/30/24 mpg.
It crash-tests well, at least from the IIHS, who give it the Top Safety Pick+ rating, including the top Good score for the notoriously difficult small overlap front test, as well as an Advanced rating for front crash prevention when it’s equipped with optional automatic emergency braking. The NHTSA hasn’t tested the 500X yet.
The 2017 Fiat 500 X comes in three models: Pop ($19,995), Trekking ($23,335), and Lounge ($25,135). The Pop comes with the 1.4-liter turbo and 6-speed manual, while the 2.4-liter is optional; the others come standard with the 2.4-liter and 9-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is available with the 2.4-liter engine, for $1900.
Although it was designed in Italy, the profile of the 500X looks a bit Audi-like, which is to say mature, with clean sides and a gentle arc to the roofline. It keeps Fiat familiarity its chrome mustache, clamshell hood, and stacked twin headlamps.
The Trekking has more rugged front fascia and its own wheels, but the same driving personality.
The cabin is neat and clean, with big round gauges and climate controls, and a medium-sized LCD screen in the dash for infotainment and camera displays. The materials are nice. Despite a shiny swath of black plastic on the dash, we think the colorful trim makes the 500X cooler than almost all of its rivals. It makes the Honda HR-V look like the interior was styled by accident.
Comfort in front is generally good. The seats are firm, with good lumbar support and limited bolstering, but fit larger passengers. The optional leather seats could use more definition at the bottom and less at the headrests, which have an uncomfortable edge. But there’s a nice knee pad on the side of the center console.
Two adults can fit comfortably in the rear, although kneeroom is scant with the front seats pushed back; same with headroom if the optional panoramic moonroof is fitted. The Honda HR-V has more room in rear.
The cargo space is reasonable, with 18.5 cubic the second row and 50.8 cubic feet with the rear seat folded almost flat. But again, the HR-V beats it, with Honda’s fold-away Magic Seat. The 500X is about five inches shorter than the 500L, but it’s a bit wider and better packaged, so it has almost as much interior room, as much as most of its rivals.
The Trekking and Lounge models have an innovative height-adjustable cargo floor that works with a flat-folding passenger seat to enable carrying big and long things like outdoor toys.
Noise in the cabin is fairly low except at full throttle or the revs that 80 mph require.
The ingredients for fun might be there, but with only one year of development since the debut, more time is needed. We like the ride and handling, as well as the 6-speed manual gearbox, but it only comes with the Pop, whose 1.4-liter turbo doesn’t have enough power for any kind of authority.
The 2.4-liter engine in the Trekking and Lounge delivers good performance and fuel mileage, but its 9-speed automatic needs more tweaking. We’ve tested this powertrain in the Jeep Cherokee and Chrysler 200, where it feels the same, maybe worse.
The engine is mostly smooth if not especially free-revving, and has enough power to easily propel the car’s 3100 or so pounds, but the transmission lets it down. It’s slow to upshift in the two lowest gears and slow to downshift unless it’s in Sport mode. Paddleshifters would help in these situations, but they’d be a waste the rest of the time.
Trekking and Lounge models have the Dynamic Drive system with Auto, Sport, and Traction+ modes, which change the throttle response, transmission response, and steering resistance.
The 500X feels perky, with quick but light steering (although lacking feedback) and commendable responsiveness, both around town and on the highway. The ride is firm on a strut-type suspension, with good road manners for the class, even with the optional 18-inch wheels. Its cornering is composed despite having a body that’s tall for the wheelbase. But of all the dynamics, the feel of the brakes might be best.
We can’t really recommend either powertrain. The problematic 9-speed automatic is a dealbreaker. That said, the Pop might be a charmer for some, who might love the little 1.4-liter turbo and 6-speed gearbox, for $20k. Everything else about the 500X works, including its crossover versatility, compared to the tiny 500.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.