Fiat’s 500X features classic, upscale styling

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Small crossover utility vehicles like the stylish Fiat 500X offer a nice alternative for folks on a tighter budget, or for those who do not require a larger SUV.

Designed and built in Italy, the Fiat 500X debuted last year. It features expressive Italian exterior and interior styling that provide it with a distinctive and attractive personality. In my opinion, the 500X looks much more appealing than its smaller 500 and funky 500L stablemates.

For 2017, the 500X benefits from a simplified lineup, with only three trim levels offered: Pop, Trekking and Lounge. Each trim level sports slightly different exterior and interior styling. Plus, Fiat has revised 500X’s option packages so customers can more easily get the features they need.

Pricing for the entry-level Pop trim begins at $19,995. The Pop comes standard with a 1.4-liter turbocharged 160-horsepower four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission, with power going to the front wheels only.

A stronger 2.4-liter, naturally aspirated 180-horsepower four-cylinder engine mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission is optional in Pop, and comes standard in the more rugged Trekking ($23,350) and top-of-the-line Lounge ($25,150) trims.

Additionally, with the larger four-banger, buyers can choose to equip the 500X with either front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD).

Since the 500X’s AWD system utilizes a disconnecting rear axle (when extra traction is not needed), fuel economy ratings for AWD models (21/29 mpg city/highway) are only 1 mpg lower than FWD models (22/30 mpg) also equipped with the 2.4-liter engine.

Fuel economy for Pop models with the 1.4-liter engine and six-speed manual transmission is 25/33 mpg, but Fiat plans to offer only a small percentage of Pop models with this powertrain combination.

When compared with many of its competitors, fuel economy is not one of 500X’s strengths. Styling and classic Italian design are the 500X’s strengths.

Its cabin is quite attractive and features materials that appear more upscale than competitive models’, even more so in higher trim levels.

Pop models come nicely equipped with a long list of standard amenities, including full power accessories. There are plenty of available upgrades, including a Beats premium audio system or a 6.5-inch touchscreen display with navigation (Trekking and Lounge only).

Inside, there is plenty of head room and leg room up front for six-footers, but there is not much rear-seat leg room when the front seats are in their rearmost position.

All trim levels include 60/40 split-folding rear seats and a fold-flat front passenger seat that helps accommodate long items. Cargo volume behind the rear seat is 12.2 cubic feet and expands to 19.9 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.

500X includes many standard and available safety features, as well as available leather upholstery and additional luxuries in the upper trim levels.

When driving, the 500X feels stable, even though its suspension is tuned slightly more towards comfort.

Its cabin remains relatively quiet at highway speeds, and the 2.4-liter engine provides adequate power for accelerating from a stop and for merging onto highways. The nine-speed automatic transmission feels like its performance has improved significantly since it first debuted.