By Derek Price
Fiat is best known in America for the tiny 500 that mixes fun handling with a heaping dose of cute Italian style.
Now its lineup keeps getting bigger. Literally.
After adding the 500L in 2013, a car that looked and felt a bit like a miniature delivery van when I drove it, they’re now adding the much better executed 500X as a 2016 model.
Based loosely on the same design as the new Jeep Renegade — although with much more adorable, less boxy body styling — the 500X is the car that Fiat needs to become a mainstream player in the U.S. market.
While it’s been a moderate success, cuteness could only take the little 500 so far. The 500X keeps the classic Italian looks but adds a lot more practicality to the mix, including having four doors and a bigger cargo area to make it a better fit for families.
While the front seats feel roomy and spacious, the back seats are a bit more cramped. You can fit two adults back there, but they may not be comfortable for super-long drives. For kids, though, it’s outstanding.
Driving it is plenty of fun, especially if you opt for the 1.4-liter engine and six-speed manual transmission. That’s my favorite pick in this car because a manual transmission would bring out its playful, fun side the most.
Most buyers will opt for the nine-speed automatic transmission and 2.4-liter engine, though. It makes 180 horsepower and, while I still think nine speeds is overkill and feels odd, this transmission does seem to get better with each car the Fiat Chrysler folks decide to put it in.
Another plus is that the 500X is available with all-wheel drive. It doesn’t have the same serious off-road chops that its Jeep Renegade Trailhawk cousin can brag about, but at least it can look the part with the adventurous Trekking style package. It adds unique design touches that make it look more Americanized, like an SUV.
I like what Fiat calls the Pop, Easy and Lounge styling better. Those trim levels make the 500X look clean and urban, which seems more honest to me. This is great, fun, easy-to-maneuver car for driving around the city, not a trail-ready Jeep.
The 500X offers a long list of available safety technologies for a value-priced crossover. Forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind-spot sensors and rear cross path detection are all available.
Pricing starts at $20,000 for the base Pop trim and rises to $28,100 for the Trekking Plus. For people who like the styling of the original 500 but need a bit more functionality, this new 500X should be a perfect fit.
At a Glance
What was tested?
2016 FIAT 500X Lounge ($24,850). Options: Lounge Collection 6 with leather bucket seats ($5,350). Price as tested (including $900 destination charge): $31,100
Wheelbase: 101.2 in.
Length: 168.2 in.
Width: 79.7 in.
Height: 63.7 in.
Engine: 2.4-liter Tigershark (180 hp, 175 lbs.-ft. torque)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 22 city, 31 highway
2016 FIAT 500X
Why buy it?
It looks as lovable as the Fiat 500 but has a more functional cabin design. It’s fun to drive and is available with a long list of modern safety features.