A Fiat 500 with Xtra ROOM
Building on a trademark design by building bigger models with more room, more comforts and more utility is a tried and true way of expanding an iconic lineup.
It worked for BMW, Porsche, VW and MINI, to name just a few brands. It’s also working just fine for Fiat.
Despite grumbling from the faithful, no one really expected the Fiat 500 to be the only salvo in the battle to revive the Cinquecento legend and, although the 500L tall wagon MPV fizzled out in market response, the follow-up 500X crossover seems to have taken off with a resounding bang of consumer interest and critical accolades.
The 500X rolls off the same Italian assembly line as the Jeep Renegade so you know this fivedoor hatchback CUV shares more SUV-like potential than just a higher ground clearance.
This still relatively new vehicle carries over roughly unchanged for 2017, with a starting price up only $250 compared to last year, and with a streamlined four model trim selection - Pop ($23,245), Sport ($27,745), Trekking ($28,745) and Lounge ($31,740).
As usual, we have to put up with an American aversion to small diesels, so our North American market is limited to two gas engines - a 160 hp 1.4-litre turbocharged MultiAir four-cylinder mated to a six-speed manual and front-wheel drive or an optional 180 hp 2.4-litre normally-aspirated Multi-Air mill with MultiPort fuel injection mated to a nine-speed automatic and either front-wheel drive or all-wheel-drive.
The bigger 2.4-litre motor tends to bump the price up by $1,595 and the all-wheel drive adds about $1,600 - $2,200, depending on trim level.
Our tester, a fully loaded Lounge model, pulls out all the stops, including the more powerful motor and AWD system, and also comes with a long list of standard equipment and optional extras.
Let’s start with the 2.4-litre engine that pulls handily, through the nine-speed.
“Too many gears,” a colleague commented as we chatted while I was picking up the tester.
Well, it does seem like a bit of overkill - a nine-speed in a smallish hauler like this.
Even on the highway, the gear indicator often showed eighth gear at anything below 120 km/h. But I can appreciate the thinking behind it. The transmission shifts early and often, keeping the revs low, with the 500X loafing about town in fifth or sixth gear at around 1,500 rpm. And there have been some complaints about shifting with the nine-speed although I never experienced anything but relatively seamless performance.
A three-mode Dynamic Selector traction control system allows for driver preferences and varying road conditions, and the all-wheel drive system follows the FCA philosophy of an automatically disconnecting rear axle under low loads, reducing parasitic drag when all-wheel torque is not needed.
The 2.4-litre engine uses regular octane fuel, enables a bit of towing (454 kg or 1,000 lb) and carries a fuel economy rating of 11/8.0L/100km (city/ hwy). My real world averages worked out to 10.3L/100km (comb).
Inside, the benefits of the bigger dimensions, compared to the 500, are instantly obvious. There’s more practical passenger space in front and back and the rear cargo area offers 345 litres of luggage space expanding to 909 litres with the 60/40 second row folded forward.
This Lounge trim model is handsomely upholstered in a Nero/Cuoio Anticato (Black/Tobacco) combo treatment complementing body-coloured trim panels.
The colour and feel of the puffy and well-padded leather door trim pieces and seats, nicely piped and embroidered with “500” badging, adds a retro flavour to a cabin that is, nevertheless, very modernly loaded with standard Lounge equipment including dual-zone A/C, heated seats and heated steering wheel, Park-Sense rear park assist, ParkView reversing camera, remote start, ambient lighting, nine-speaker upgraded audio and more.
Our tester pimps that content out further with nearly $5K worth of options, with everything from FCA’s 6.5-inch Uconnect with navigation to a premium BeatsAudio sound system, cool 18-inch wheels, a power dual- pane sunroof and a tech group with rain-sensing wipers, lane-keep/lane departure warning, auto high-beam and forward collision warning with active braking.
And, in this case, the whole package was wrapped in a nice shade of Blu Venezia (blue metallic), one of a dozen funky colours that include four no/charge paints, six metallic versions ($195) and two special tricoat colours ($995). Two more offbeat colours will be added later in the model year and Fiat’s accent on personalization includes four interior colour choices and a long list of available accessories and cosmetics.
The Fiat 500X may be niche vehicle but it is earning respectable sales numbers in Canada, with packaging and dimensions designed to appeal to both aspiring small car customers moving up and to those larger SUV owners downsizing into more nimble, yet still stylish utility vehicles.
It’s worth checking out.
Retro styling and modern amenities blend in a tobacco/black, leather appointed interior, sportily enhanced with seat piping and ”500” embroidery.