A Fiat 500 with Xtra ROOM

The Hamilton Spectator - - WHEELS - METROLAND ME­DIA

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.

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