Demand for cute cars rises and falls with the price of gasoline. Fiat saw a niche that needed help in the US when a culture based on driving was hit with $110 barrels of oil. Known for building small cars with unmistakable Italian styling, Fiat-Chrysler dusted off a chassis developed with GM for small AWD crossovers and used it as the basis for the Jeep Renegade and 500x. Just as big crossovers have nearly killed the minivan, small ones are dooming the compact sedan to a life of airport rentals.
So what does one do with a bright orange Fiat? Our test model was the mid-level “Lounge” package which includes leather-trimmed seats, 17×7″ wheels, and a powered seat for the driver only. We decided to make for the beach to see how the snowbirds reacted to our “foreign car”. State Road 686 has been under construction since the Reagan administration, with pavement made to resemble downtown Aleppo. Shifting lanes and tall manholes revealed the first quirk. The 500x does not have much suspension travel. Small cars don’t have much room for tall wheel wells, and this evident also in the classic Fiat Jolly in our showroom. But this is a common issue in smaller crossovers and buyers seem to have accepted it.
Power is from the Chrysler 2.4 liter MultiAirII inline four cylinder. At wide open it makes 180 hp and 175 lb ft of torque, which is acceptable in this class. If you are accustomed to four-cylinder engines, it should be considered. But at low speeds the drivetrain develops a few harmonics that resonate through the interior. The transmission shifts in a predictable manner, and it requires significant pedal movement to provoke a downshift. Steering is light and quick, and the 215/55/17 tires are just the right size for this power level. Understeer is built in to keep you well below your limits, so we wish it had an e-brake handle for parking lot antics.
Visibility good up front, but the rising beltline and small rear glass take some getting used to. Gauges and entertainment are laid out in an elegant design, but the low-mounted climate controls will take your eyes off the road. Inside and out, styling and safety were given top priority. Your eyes will rarely fall upon an unpleasing contour. Blind spot, cross traffic and stability control are standard, along with seat-mounted and side curtain airbags. Crash ratings are among the best in this class, which is why it would make for a great first car. Beats audio and a 50,000 mile warranty round out the package, which comes in just under $30,000. Fiat builds a safe & fun car that makes sense as Japanese and Korean imports have moved up market. See you next year, Ciao!