“X” marks the spot for Fiat as it debuts its new 500X crossover-utility vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
It’s set to become the third model in the maker’s U.S. line-up and, if it connects with American buyers, could become the brand’s best-seller. At least Fiat is hoping so, considering the lackluster performance of the 500L people-mover that the market has largely ignored.
“I think this car will do extremely well here,” Jason Storcevik, the CEO of the Fiat brand, said during a preview prior to the LA. Auto Show unveiling.
The Fiat 500X is certainly targeting one of the hot spots in the auto industry – and one of the first truly global mainstream segments. Buyers from Boston to Berlin to Beijing have been driving up demand for compact – and even smaller – crossovers. And that’s led to a flood of new offerings from entry-level to luxury.
Set to reach U.S. showrooms as a 2016 model, the 500X picks up on the distinctly Italian design cues first seen on the original 500 microcar – such as the big headlights and trapezoid grille. The package is significantly larger, but still falls into the “minicar” category, though the tall roof helps eliminate what might otherwise be a claustrophobic feel to the interior.
Size was the number one reason why many potential customers have been rejecting the Fiat brand, so the maker is hoping the larger 500X will let it draw from a significantly more extensive pool of customers. It helps, said Matt Davis, head of the brand’s product program, that the segment the crossover competes in is expected to grow 200% by just 2018, according to a forecast by IHS Automotive.
The new fiat 500X shares its underlying platform with the rather bulbous 500L, as well as the new Jeep Renegade. But, as with the Jeep, designers aimed to give it a bit more angular, rugged and macho an appearance. Unlike the Renegade, don’t expect to see a 500X off-road package, however.
The new Fiat will be more of a fashion statement – with added utility. It will be offered in five different versions and have an even dozen body colors to choose from.
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On the powertrain side, Fiat will offer U.S. buyers two engine choices, starting with a fuel-efficient 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine paired with a six-speed manual transmission. It will make 160-horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque.
The upgraded 2.4-liter Tigershark MultiAir2 engine bumps that to 180-hp and 175 lb.-ft., and is paired exclusively to a nine-speed automatic transmission on both all-wheel-drive and front-wheel-drive models.
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To further improve mileage, the all-wheel-drive version will feature a disconnecting rear axle that helps reduce frictional losses when power is directed to the front wheels. Meanwhile, a three-mode driving selector allows a motorist to optimize the vehicle for Auto, Sport or Traction+.
Well aware that Americans equate size with safety, Fiat is bragging that the new 500X is equipped with “70 standard and available safety and security features, including Forward Collision Warning-Plus, LaneSense Departure Warning-Plus, Blind-spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Path detection. Electronic stability control (ESC) with Hill-start Assist and electronic roll mitigation is standard on all models, as are seven air bags.”
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Considering the audience the 500X is targeting, it will also offer a number of high-tech features, including the Uconnect infotainment system and option 5-inch and 6.5-inch touchscreens, the larger available with in-car navigation.
“The 500X will be the halo of the showroom,” forecasts Davis. Fiat certainly has to hope so. It needs to tap into more mainstream segments to keep building the momentum of its U.S. return.