Many car brands try to create unique non-mainstream sub-brands to appeal to more buyers who are looking for something out of the ordinary. While brands like Scion have failed to maintain traction, others like MINI have done fairly well. Following in the footsteps of the latter, Italy’s Fiat has proven its rich brand history – resulting in noticeable sales for its iconic 500 model here in North America.
But the 500 isn’t for everyone. Its tiny size is impractical for most people while its cute appearance attracts more female buyers than male.
This week, I had the opportunity to test out the Fiat 500X. Alongside the 500L, the 500X plays a very important role in broadening Fiat’s appeal in the North American market.
The 500X fits in perfectly between the petite 500 and the bulky 500L. More importantly, its chunky appearance will appeal more to male buyers. From the front, its headlights are less rounded, wider, and more angled to give it a mean appearance; while the hood of the car is relatively longer compared to the rest of it. In addition, the big wheels and chunky tires add height to the vehicle, while the fender extensions make it appear ready to be taken off the beaten path.
Our tester came equipped with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine coupled to a nine-speed automatic. The base engine is a 1.4-litre turbo coupled to a six-speed, similar to the engine found in the 500 Turbo. The ZF-derived nine-speed transmission, according to ZF, offers 16 per cent better fuel economy when travelling at a constant speed of 120 km/h.
Our 2.4-litre offered adequate performance to deliver some decent city driving thrills. Upon acceleration, the car leaps forward delivering instant pick up. However, the rate of acceleration decreases considerably as your speed rises. And while there seems to be a noticeable amount of engine noise reflected in the cabin, the sound was more performance-oriented rather than that of a struggling engine.
An interesting feature in the 500X is its drive mode selection. Toggling through the Normal, Sport, and Weather modes adjusts the car’s RPM limits and steering feel. In Sport mode, the rev notes were quite pleasing to listen to, but I found the RPMs to be unnecessarily hovering at 3,000rpm when driving through a parking lot at 30 km/h – even upon disengaging the accelerator.
Although the 500X is quite unique, it has a growing list of competitors. The Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Chevrolet Trax and Jeep Renegade, just to name a few, all offer similar performance and slightly more space for less money. Compared to the Fiat's sub $23,000 base price, the Trax prices out as the lowest at $19,795, while the Renegade comes in second at $21,495. Being the most expensive, buyers will have to decide whether the brand's unique Italian heritage and eye-catching styling will be worth those extra Euros.