Subcompact crossovers are all the rage right now: for proof, look no further than any mainstream dealer’s showroom. Most of the big name players have put a rush order on their cute ute plans, save for a few hold outs, and those vehicles are now starting to hit dealer lots in earnest. FCA has taken a two-pronged approach to getting in on the action – Jeep’s Renegade covers the rugged end of the image spectrum, while the new 500X pictured here plays on Fiat’s already established, slightly cutesy Continental charm. The question is whether or not it’s able to capitalize on that charm while remaining a solid crossover entry.

Despite being an all-new model, the 500X is fairly familiar under the skin. The platform is based on the small-car underpinnings that form the 500L and Alfa Romeo MiTo, and is shared with the Renegade. New to Fiat’s model portfolio in the US is the 500X’s available all-wheel drive system, which can disconnect the rear axle when not needed for improved fuel economy. Power comes from one of two engines: a 1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir unit paired exclusively with a 6-speed manual, turning the front wheels on entry-level Pop trim levels to the tune of 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Easy, Trekking, Lounge and Trekking Plus models round out the 500X family, and they all come standard with the Tigershark 2.4-liter four making 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft, hooked solely to a 9-speed automatic. We’ve sampled this combo already in the Cherokee and Chrysler 200.

Our 500X was a front-wheel drive Lounge. And while the two Trekking models attempt to channel adventure by adding in some butch lower cladding, the Lounge appears so-named in order to call to mind the types of trendy establishments its target buyers frequent. That didn’t keep our particular tester’s color combo from dividing opinion – owing to its orange paint and tobacco brown leather insides, it was soon affectionately known as the Tootsie Roll Pop. Or more appropriately in this case, the Tootsie Roll Lounge. Still, the 500X manages to wear its “Cinquecento-plus” proportions far more gracefully than the school bus-shaped 500L.

Even more importantly, 500X’s feature content stands out from its peers – and that’s among a class that already bundles a ton of features into a subcompact footprint. You’d expect the equipment list to be lengthy when a Fiat rings in at over thirty grand, and indeed it is. Our Lounge’s “Collection 6” package featured nearly every item you can spec on a 500X, including but not limited to: lane departure and forward collision warning, a dual-pane power sunroof, leather seats, Beats premium audio, 18-inch alloys, rear park assist, and blind spot monitoring. This comprehensive list rings in at a not-unsubstantial $5,350, but it brings true big SUV content to a small crossover footprint, which will be extremely appealing to many of this segment’s shoppers.

The interior represents a departure from other Fiats that have landed on our soil thus far, in that it does a passable impression of upscale. The control layout is sensible, the materials used are more than class competitive, and the overall ambiance is one of ample light and space. The style-conscious will appreciate being able to opt for leathers and interior trim finishes that swap the class norm of grey, hard plastics for splashes of actual color.

While we’d (predictably) swap our tester’s 2.4-liter engine and automatic transmission for the Pop’s 1.4-liter turbocharged engine and 6-speed manual, it’s undeniable that the vast majority of 500Xs sold will be specced with the auto. Driving impressions largely mirror our findings when we tried this powertrain setup in the 200C, with decent low-end grunt and smooth shifts but a lot of hunting between those nine gears at highway speeds. Mild freeway rises would prompt one or sometimes two gear drops from the transmission to maintain a steady speed. Around town, the transmission is happier, and the 2.4-liter provides decent motivation for the roughly 3,000-pound cute ute. Fuel economy measured in at 25 miles per gallon, about on par for the 500X’s combined mileage rating, but considering most of our time was spent on the highway, we expected it to be a bit better.

The 500X carries on the theme of the other subcompact crossovers we’ve recently sampled – that of a stylish, content-laden puddle-jumper that’s far happier in town than on the highway or in the woods. It’s not likely to hold a car enthusiast’s attention for very long, but it is likely to hit its numbers (and then some) to the new car shoppers that matter.

2016 Fiat 500X Lounge

Base price: $25,750

Price as tested: $31,100

Options on test car: Lounge Collection 6 w/ leather-trimmed bucket seats ($5,350)

Powertrain: 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, 9 speed automatic transmission, front wheel drive – 180 horsepower, 175 lb-ft torque

S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 25.0 mpg

Fiat provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

                                       

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John Kucek

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