Automakers are forever looking for a formula among that will win over the affections of increasingly fussy consumers.
For Fiat, which hasn’t exactly set the world on fire since it came returned to the U.S. four years ago, the challenge is perhaps more daunting if it doesn’t want to remain stuck among the also-rans in the contest for customers.
But the Italian-brand is making progress and with the new Fiat 500X, the small crossover made in Italy, it is making a serious effort to win over the urban consumers, who are increasingly influential part of the car buying public.
For starters, the Fiat 500X has some definite curb appeal unlike say the Fiat 500L, which appeared a bit jaded when it landed in the U.S. a couple of years ago and it is significantly larger than the 500c and its multiple variations, which appears to exhaust the rather short list of potential customers willing to buy a sub- subcompact car.
Not only does the exterior look smart and well-proportioned with and handsome grille and a clean silhouette, but also the 500X is surprisingly roomy on the inside for a vehicle that sits on such a small footprint. The wheelbase is only 101.2-inches and the track or width of the car is only 60.9 inches in the front and 60.7-inches in the rear.
But the car easily accommodates two in the front comfortably and rear seats are surprising roomy for a car in the category. Out on the road, the 500X seems roomier than competitors such as the Nissan Juke and the Chevrolet Trax, which are both well-design vehicles in their own right, or even the Mini.
The driver and passenger seats are comfortable even after a couple of hours of driving, which helps reduce fatigue and the cabin is surprising quiet for a small vehicle. In one informal check, you could even hear the radio when it was turned low.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is offering a 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine paired with a six-speed manual transmission, with an output of 160 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. But the basic engine in the 500X and the one that FCA US is pushing is the 2.4-liter Tigershark MultiAir2 engine that produces 180 hp and 175 lb.-ft. of torque, and is matched to a nine-speed automatic transmission.
A disconnecting rear axle allows for reduced parasitic loss when available all-wheel-drive capability is not needed, improving fuel efficiency. The Dynamic Selector system allows the driver to choose from three modes – Auto, Sport and Traction plus – for the most suitable vehicle configuration for different driving conditions including snow in the northeast and upper Midwest where Fiat hasn’t done all that well up until now.
(Fiat rolls out new version of 500c. For more, Click Here.)
The selector changes the throttle response and shift pattern. Overall, the power train performance was very good. The 500X weighs slightly less than 3,000 pounds so the power and torque ample both in situations where you might need to pass or pull away and the shifts were very smooth.
The drive train also completed the ride and handling, which was very good. The suspension and steering are specially tuned to deliver the kind of smooth even ride urban and suburban drivers expected as the go through their daily lives. While the 500X is a close cousin of the Jeep Renegade that FCA US. Is just beginning to roll out – the two vehicles are built in the same plant – the suspension was deliberately tuned different to give the 500X a different and character.
But overall the vehicle had no problem climbing hills are maneuvering on tight roads. The turning radius, which is important in crowded areas, is also very tight.
(Click Here for details about FCA looking for a merger partner.)
Nevertheless, it handles quite well and the brake set up offer ample stopping power.
FCA US also has loaded the 2016 Fiat 500X with a lengthy list standard and available safety and security features. The optional features include a comprehensive driver assistance package with forward collision warning-plus with full stop, lane departure warning-plus, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross path detection. Adaptive cruise control is not available in the U.S., however.
Electronic stability control with Hill-start Assist and electronic roll mitigation is standard on all models, as are seven air bags as is the rear-facing back-up camera.
Also available Fiat 500X are FCA US well-regarded Uconnect 6.5 radio with a 6.5-inch high-resolution touch screen and navigation, Bluetooth streaming audio, Uconnect Access Via Mobile, a 3.5-inch color thin-film transistor cluster display, keyless entry with remote start, and heated front seats and steering wheel.
(To see more about FCA’s expectations for the new 500X, Click Here.)
The high-value content on the 500X also means a step up in pricing as features are added in the five different trim levels. The Street series models such as the Pop, Easy and Lounge. Starting at $20,000, which includes the $900 destination charge The Trekking and Trekking Plus models feature a more aggressive and athletic look with unique front and rear fascia designs start $23,100 and all-wheel-drive adds another $1,900 and the Trekking Plus with the dual-pane sunroof and the driver assistance and forward collision was priced at $31,125.
I’m pretty sure some buyers will have a hard time with the steep price ladder but the vehicle handsome, well-equipped, performed well on the test drive and should give Fiat the opportunity to broaden and widen its customer base in the U.S.