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2016 Fiat 500X Trekking Review: The Best New Fiat with the Broadest Appeal

I recently had a chance to spend a week behind the wheel of the 2016 Fiat 500X in the premium Trekking trim and after putting the newest Italian import through the paces of my everyday life – I understand completely why this Fiat is quickly becoming the most popular of the modern lineup.

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I am a fan of the modern Fiat lineup. I think that the compact 2-door is one of enjoyable subcompacts sold in the US and the 500L is a solid people mover for someone who wants the space of a minivan without going the minivan route. The “problem” is that in the United States, subcompacts are among the least popular cars and while very functional for the price, the Fiat 500L appeals to a relatively small group of perspective buyers. These problems don’t just affect the 500 and the 500L, but all of the cars in their respective segments.

On the other hand, the new Fiat 500X is entering one of the most popular and one of the most steadily growing segments in the US. Slightly larger models like the Ford Escape, the Toyota RAV4, the Honda CRV and the Jeep Cherokee draw more attention than the smaller models, but when compared to the 500 and 500L – the new 500X has the broadest appeal and resides in the most popular segment among the current Fiat lineup.

Fortunately, the 500X is also the best vehicle for most American buyers among the Fiat lineup.

My 2016 Fiat 500X Trekking AWD test vehicle had a base price of $25,100 while the Giallo Tristato exterior paint ($1,000), the Trekking 5 Preferred Equipment Package ($1,700) and the destination charge ($995) bring the price as tested to $28,795.

The Exterior
On the outside, the 2016 Fiat 500X is, in my opinion, the vehicle which will have the broadest appeal in the US market. I don’t think that many people will argue that the 500L has an unusual design for the US market and the original 500 is just too small for most buyers. The 500X features the key styling cues of the Fiat brand, but it is the most attractive and the most muscular looking entry from the Italian brand, with the Trekking trimline making for an even tougher looking compact SUV.

16 fiat 500x side

The 500X still has the bubbly feel of the other Fiat models, but the wide design of this new model with the flat hood, the flared fenders and the sporty Trekking front fascia makes for one rugged looking compact SUV. The application of dark trim along the bottom of the car paired with the metallic yellow exterior paint accentuates the sporty nature of the 500X and while most buyers aren’t going to take this little Fiat offroading – this is a vehicle that is clearly an SUV rather than a small hatchback car. It is curvier than most compact SUVs, but the application of the smooth Italian styling to a vehicle of this size results in a great looking small sport utility vehicle.

Most importantly, while the Fiat 500X is based on the same underpinnings as the new Jeep Renegade, the Fiat looks absolutely nothing like the new small Jeep. This vehicle has a personality all its own, and best of all, that individuality doesn’t end with the exterior design.

The Interior
When you climb into the 2016 Fiat 500X Trekking, you are greeted by an interior that is well appointed and very different from the cabin of the closely related Jeep Renegade. Where the Renegade has a layout that is more like the other Jeep models, with a “grab handle” on the passenger’s side and an infotainment screen mounted in the molded dash board, the 500X has the a similar infotainment screen mounted high on the dash and a passenger’s side that is designed with modern style more in mind than the need to hold on tight.

16 500x dash

The 500X Trekking 5 package that I mentioned above adds a rear backup camera, rear park assist, blind spot monitoring and the 6.5” infotainment system with both HD radio and GPS navigation. You also get front and rear seats which are trimmed in leather, a leather wrapped steering wheel and a driver information center in the gauge cluster which displays a digital speedometer, fuel economy numbers, tire pressure numbers, navigation information, sound system information and the drive mode chosen. The only goodies that you don’t get with Trekking 5 are the Beats speaker system, the huge panoramic sunroof, a dual zone automatic climate control system, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel – all of which come with Trekking 6.

However, even without the glass roof, the fancy HVAC system or the heated seats, my 500X Trekking left me wanting for very little. The standard speaker system sounds great, the navigation system is user-friendly and for a vehicle with such a low price – the overall electronics package of this vehicle includes all of the features that you expect from a new SUV.

16 500x fr seats

More importantly, the 2016 Fiat 500X interior is both spacious and comfortable. The front seats offer a solid range of adjustment, so this compact SUV should comfortable accommodate both large and small drivers in terms of shoulder, leg, hip, head and elbow space. With the front seats adjusted to accommodate a pair of 6 foot tall adults, the back seats will comfortable seat three smaller kids, but the rear leg room is a little tight for taller adults when you have equally tall adults seated up front. Really, there is enough rear seating space for the 500X to serve as a solid ridesharing vehicle for four adults on a daily commute – but I wouldn’t suggest four tall guys making a drive from Detroit to Vegas in the newest Fiat. On the other hand, for my small family, the 500X offered ample seating space for two adults and a teenager.

Also, while the rear seats can be folded down, the standard rear cargo area offers an impressive amount of storage space. I was easily able to pile in 400 pounds of bagged horse grain or a month’s worth of groceries and thanks to the lift-up rear floor panel, you can make room for slightly taller objects. Finally, the in-floor organization tray, you can keep smaller items stored safely on the drive home from the store.

16 500x cargo

The Fiat 500X Trekking isn’t going to shock the world with interior amenities, but this little SUV offers a solid level of seating space, a ton of cargo space and an infotainment system that incorporates the sound system, the navigation system and the hands-free voice control system to give this cost-friendly compact a very well-appointed cabin. With a price under $30k for a roomy 4x4 compact SUV, the 500X Trekking includes all of the basic features that buyers want most frequently at a great bargain.

The Drive
The 2016 Fiat 500X Trekking comes with a standard 2.4L 4-cylinder engine mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. This drivetrain offers 180 horsepower and 175lb-ft of torque with expected EPA fuel economy figures of 21mpg around town, 30mpg on the highway and 24mpg combined. In my week with the 500X, I averaged 24.8mpg with a very steady mix of city and highway driving. When cruising on the highway, I was able to hit the expect 30mpg range without any special efforts, so I expect that a driver with a lighter foot could exceed those EPA numbers.

16 500x high

In addition to getting quality fuel economy numbers, the combination of the 2.4L engine and the 9-speed automatic gearbox leads to a surprisingly quick little SUV. The aggressive gearing through the numerically lower gears offer strong low end acceleration and while the engine runs at a very low RPM on the highway with the 8th and 9th gears, stepping down into a “passing gear” when cruising at highway speeds will allow you to quickly increase speed to move around slower vehicles. This isn’t a vehicle that youre going to take racing, but the 2.4L engine and 9-speed automatic work together to make the Fiat 500X more fun to drive than most people would expect. This is especially true when you opt for “Sport mode”, which sharpens throttle response and stretches out the gears a little more for improved performance and improved driving dynamics.

Speaking of driving dynamics, that is another area where the Fiat 500X Trekking differs a great deal from the Jeep Renegade. Where the Renegade is marketed to be a little offroader, the 500X is an on-road SUV, so while it has the higher ride that you would expect from a compact SUV, the suspension is a little softer and a little less capable. With this decrease in suspension stiffness comes a smoother ride under normal driving circumstances and compared to the Renegade, the 500X is the smoother and quieter of the two. The Fiat still gives you the higher seating position and the taller stance that you expect from an SUV (unlike the 500L), but overall, the Fiat is better for those drivers who spend all of their time on paved roads.

16 500x low rear

What about the Fiat 500X buyer who doesn’t go offroading, but who does have to deal with rough roads? Fortunately, living where I do, I have an ample collection of unpaved roads – some of which require cars and smaller SUVs to drive very slowly due to the deep potholes and grooves in the dirt roads. The Renegade handled these roads just how I expected, allowing me to confidently cruise down these rough roads whether they were hard and dry or muddy and wet. The 500X handles these roads better than any car Ive tested and better than some other small SUVs – but not as well as the Renegade. When driving at lower speeds on these muddy roads, the 500X had no issues dealing with the ruts and grooves in the road, but when I got to moving a little faster, the Fiat suspension revealed its shortcomings when compared to the Jeep. The 500X didn’t rebound as well as the Jeep, so on the roughest roads, the Fiat bounced around more than the Renegade. That being said, I imagine that very few Fiat 500X owners will deal with roads like mine and even fewer will want to do so at higher speeds…so in short, the 500X suspension is not as capable as the Trail Rated Jeep, but it still handles rough public roads better than your average car or small SUV.

One other interesting test that I conducted was driving to a local camping area where all of the roads are rough dirt roads. These are manicured roads, but since they are all dirt and many of them are in densely wooded areas, some of the roads are very rough. The speed limit is 15mph so speed is never an issue on these roads, but there are lots of points where the washed away road has led to large drop-offs and deep ditches. Cars simply cannot traverse many of these roads and even some of the other small SUVs are too low to the ground to clear the high points on these roads. On the other hand, the Fiat 500X had no issue conquering these trails – even when there was mud several inches deep.

16 500x rear

If you want a vehicle that can deal with rough roads and which has the stance and feel of a compact SUV, but you want a smoother ride than you get with the likes of the Jeep Renegade, the Fiat 500X is ideal for you. This roomy little SUV is fun to drive around town and on the highway, with plenty of power to keep up with traffic and solid fuel economy numbers. Most importantly, the suspension and chassis tuning of the 500X makes for a smoother, quieter and more comfortable ride on paved roads, so if you found the Renegade to be a bit too rugged for your tastes – the Fiat 500X is the perfect compromise.

The Final Word
The 2016 Fiat 500X enters a packed, popular and growing compact SUV segment, but thanks to the combination of its Jeep and Italian roots, the 500X offers a great balance of capabilities and ride quality. The 2.4L engine paired with the 9-speed automatic transmission affords this small SUV great acceleration, solid fuel economy and a high level of “fun to drive factor” – whether you are driving on paved or unpaved roads. When you add in the roomy interior, the large cargo area and the long list of standard features, there is no question that the 500X is the Fiat with the greatest appeal of the modern lineup. With a price under $30,000 with all of the features mentioned here, the 500X is a great compact SUV for a young family or a single adult who wants a vehicle that isn’t going to be doing any offroading – but which will not leave them stranded on rough roads or in very poor weather.

16 fiat 500x rfr

Unlike many compact SUVs that are really just cars shaped like small sport utility vehicles, the new Fiat 500X looks like a SUV and can handle various road surfaces like an SUV, but it does so with a ride quality that is hard to match in the segment. While the Fiat 500X might not look anything like the Jeep Renegade inside and out, being based on the underpinnings of the most awarded SUV marker in the world has led to a great little SUV for the budding Italian brand.

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