Buying a Fiat means that you didn’t buy something beige and boring.
It is actually amazing that cars are still following the classic stereotypes of the country they are associated with. German cars are well built, sensible, often over-complicated, yet refined. American cars can be loud, brash, and angry; Swedish cars put safety first. Italian cars are known for being beautiful, stylish and often exciting to drive, occasionally at the expense of functionality and build quality. The Fiat brand is now associated closely with Chrysler but it is still an Italian name at heart. Does it join in with cliché Italian character? Over a week with the 2017 Fiat 500X Lounge, I tried to find out.
Right away, I pondered the true “Italian” nature of the 500X because it sits on the Jeep Renegade (reviewed here) platform, however after a quick drive there are several characteristics of the car that certainly stand out. The styling, as far as I’m concerned anyway, is fun, quirky and cute. The big headlights, stubby Fiat nose and small proportions give it a European compact car look even though it’s an AWD crossover. The interior, with lots of colours and bubbly accents, gives the impression that Fiat genuinely wants you to have fun. I give them style points here, because the car is distinctly different from others in the segment.
The materials in the cabin feel good, and the chubby steering wheel gives a premium feel. When it comes to the colour of the leather seats however, you’ll have to formulate your own opinion. At the very least, I found them quite comfortable for long journeys. The interior isn’t without its quirks though: the turn signal stalk is too far away from the wheel. While the seats do look pretty cool and upscale, the material isn’t breathable; on one of our hotter spring days, my back got so hot that I was sure the heated seats were stuck on.
Now, this tester, in “Lounge” trim, comes in at just under $39,000. This is the top of the range 500X, above the “Pop”, “Sport”, and “Trekking.” It includes all-wheel-drive and a naturally aspirated four cylinder instead of the 1.4L turbo motor standard in the lower trim levels. However, even though this car comes with quite a lot of goodies, allow me to explain why that might be too much money.
While the styling and attitude of the 500X are indeed very Italian, the performance is, well, not. The 2.4L four cylinder from the Chrysler group puts out 180 horsepower, but due to the weight of the vehicle, and the nine-speed transmission, it feels like less. In-gear acceleration isn’t all that great, and the 500x generally just feels sluggish – however this is due mostly to the transmission.
On this ZF-sourced nine-speed, you can select “Sport” mode on the driving mode dial, which hangs on to lower gears a bit longer, though this does cause a bit of drone at highway speeds. You can also shift manually, which helps a bit, but still doesn’t do much for the speed of the shifts. All in all, the powertrain in the 500x is rather irritating, and the car would have been much better off with a regular five or six-speed automatic transmission, or better yet – a manual. A manual gearbox is available on lower trim models.
The rest of the driving experience is adequate, but nothing that stands out like the styling of the 500X. The steering is light and effortless, but doesn’t have much feel, even in Sport mode (which just adds weight), and the ride is firm for the ‘softer’ model. In faster sweeping corners, small bumps will upset the car making it feel unstable. But as long as you are not expecting a Lotus, (which I suspect the typical buyer will not be) then you likely won’t take much issue with these quirks.
We didn’t have a chance to test the AWD system which is front biased, but I’m sure that putting some power to the rear wheels would be welcome in the snowy season, and perhaps would make up for some of the other nuisances in the driving experience. The issue is, it likely won’t make up for the price tag, which puts this car in competition with some pretty competent CUVs (reviewed here).
All in all, the interior of the 500X is what kept me interested. The Uconnect with the large touchscreen was fine to use, and the car had a whole host of safety features, including blind spot detection, front collision warning, lane departure warning and the usual others. The central screen in the instrument cluster was easy to read and sported a large clear speedometer and the sound system was by BeatsAudio, which produced pretty good bass and clear sound.
Aall things considered, the 2017 Fiat 500X Lounge fits the bill for an Italian car. It’s fun to look at, with a quirky interior, but has some issues that keep it from being the sensible choice in this segment. That being said, if you are willing to sacrifice a few things for the more “fun” looking car with a thoroughly Italian personality, then this might be the choice for you. And that’s a respectable choice, because buying a Fiat means that you didn’t buy something beige and boring; you bought something with an Italian badge, which is something we don’t see too much of in Canada.