Advertisements for small crossovers soon will be flooding the airwaves, trying to get shoppers' attention. The subcompact crossover trend started with the Nissan Juke, but it's catching on with Buick's Encore, Chevrolet's Trax and Jeep's Renegade. The upcoming Honda HR-V will be leading the next wave, but Fiat hopes its stylish 500X will steal some of the spotlight.
I drove one of the new Italian imports (yes,
it's made in Melfi, Italy) earlier this week through Southern California
on city streets, highways and for most of the time on extremely twisty
mountain roads. It's an all-around stunner that will surprise shoppers
who are likely unaware of this still-new brand in the U.S.
buzz may be around how small these new utes are, but on the road the
500X feels like an exceptionally substantial car. Its wide track and low
center of gravity help give drivers confidence navigating tight turns
like the canyon roads that California offered. In fact, those turns were
likely more severe than what most locals probably deal with daily, and
the 500X carved them better than expected.
The handling stands
out and steering is responsive, although when going from one tight turn
right into another I wished the steering wheel were a little smaller. My
drive through the mountains was in a front-wheel-drive 500X, which made
the crisp handling even more impressive.
Overall, the ride was
comfortable and the suspension handled road imperfections well. The
cabin is quiet on various surfaces. The suspension doesn't have much
travel, though, so passengers will feel jolts from bumps and dips in the
road. It's cushioned well through comfortable seats, but in a car like
this, Fiat could have dialed it back for those who carve a few less
canyons and want to be comfortable in their daily driving.
most of the 500X lineup is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine teamed to a
nine-speed automatic transmission. The entry-level Pop trim comes with a
six-speed manual and less powerful 160-hp, turbocharged 1.4-liter
four-cylinder, but the company expects only 5 percent of shoppers to opt
for that model.
The 2.4-liter puts out 180 horsepower and 175
pounds-feet of torque, which is plenty of power for a vehicle this size.
The power is ample in both the front-wheel-drive model and the
all-wheel-drive version, which I tested in Los Angeles, but the only
issue is getting it at the right time through the finicky nine-speed
transmission. We noted the same nine-speed transmission issues in our
long-term Jeep Cherokee, but in the 500X, they were much less severe.
low-speed stop-and-go traffic, my co-driver and I both noted the
transmission hunting for the right gear too often, and when trying to
get up to speed to pass, the transmission takes a bit too long to
downshift for my liking.
However, neither the somewhat stiff ride
nor the transmission's temperament will likely be noticed by a majority
of shoppers in this class, and they'll wind up with a daily driver they