2016 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus: A Macho Factor

By Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps
November 1, 2015 Updated: November 1, 2015

If you’ve avoided other 500 versions because you don’t think they are butched up enough, the new-for-2016 Fiat 500X may have just the macho factor for which you’ve been yearning.

With some of the same underpinnings and mechanicals, as well as sharing a platform with the Jeep Renegade, the 500X lords it over its cheerful 500 Hatchback pipsqueak sibling. Bigger inside and out than the Nissan Juke, the 500X is nearly two feet longer than the 500 Hatchback and stands about 3 inches taller. Although the 500L is similar in size, the only engine it offers is the 500X’s smaller 1.4 L base engine. Oh, and among current Fiat products, only the 500X offers AWD.

The downside in all of this is, even the front-wheel-drive 500X rides and handles a lot like its Jeep cousin. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; however, it feels more like a crossover than a car from behind the wheel. Arguably, a little unrefined. But, Fiat does market it as a crossover, and, hey, you wanted edgy anyway, right?

Nothing edgy about the model names, though. Fiat stuck with the 500’s cutesy grade identifiers. Climbing out of your 500X dressed in your hiking boots and camo cargo pants, you may turn a bit red in the face if forced to announce that you are piloting the 500X Pop, Easy or Lounge. Some Jeep Wrangler-driving bully in the crowd may still try to take your lunch money. If that’s an issue for you, stick with the Trekking or Trekking Plus grades. They slot into the model lineup on either side of the Lounge.

As FCA continues to design and build larger 500 versions in its efforts to expand Fiat’s appeal, it wanders farther and farther from the original. As the folks at Mini also discovered, when you start out with a peewee car, broadening the lineup requires growing the dimensions. With the 500L and 500X, however, Fiat may well have landed on just the ideal size for future models.

My test 500X was the $23,100 Trekking. Base prices run from the $20,000 Pop to the $27,100 Trekking Plus. As you can guess from its price, Pop is the bare-bones trim. It’s the only grade restricted to the 160 hp 1.4 L 4-cylinder turbocharged engine, 6-speed manual transmission, and front-wheel drive. All successive grades can be had with the more robust 180 hp 2.4 L four, 9-speed automatic tranny, and available AWD.

No question. The 2.4 L provides the more satisfying driving experience. Although stirring the gears yourself is a bit more fun, the smaller four-banger just doesn’t deliver much oomph. Even with the larger engine, the 500X doesn’t explode out of the starting gate. At 3,100 pounds, my test Fiat was FWD and its 2.4 L worked hard when I applied the whip. Opting for AWD adds another 200 pounds to the package and creates all the more work for the powertrain. Yet, I didn’t feel like surrounding traffic was leaving me behind. Acceleration was determined if not jackrabbit quick.

Acceleration was determined if not jackrabbit quick.

Drinking fuel like the crossover it is, the 500X spends a lot more time at the pump than the fuel-conservative 500 Hatchback. Even when equipped with the same 1.4 L engine, the smaller hatchback blows the 500X out of the water. While the hatchback wrings a government-estimated 31 mpg city/40 highway/34 combined out of a tank of gas, the similarly powered 500X delivers 25 city/34 highway/28 combined. With the 2.4 L, the numbers are 22 city/31 highway/25 combined. Opt for AWD and the mileage drops by 1 mpg across the board.

As mentioned earlier, this Fiat shares most of its underpinnings with Jeep Renegade. Fiat does re-tune the suspension for a more Lounge sporty feel and a somewhat more civilized ride. But, it’s still a crossover at heart. Generally I enjoyed my time with it. From behind the wheel it does feel substantial and well planted.

Even the entry-level Pop comes with features like full power accessories, heated outboard mirrors, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, trip computer, seven airbags, and a four-speaker audio system with iPod interface. By the time you move up two more grades to my Trekking test 500X, the goodies really pile up to include auto-on headlamps, 3.5-inch color gauge-cluster display, leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls, keyless go, and Uconnect six-speaker audio system with a 5-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite-radio capability, and iPod connectivity.

My test Fiat also had the $1,700 Collection 5 Package. Among its extras: 18-inch aluminum wheels, rearview camera, rear-park assist, Blind-spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Path detection, and an upgraded Uconnect audio system with 6.5-inch touchscreen, navigation system, voice recognition, and text-to-speech smartphone technology.

If you’ve been jonesing for a Fiat, but find the 500 Hatchback too small and the 500L a bit under powered, like Goldilocks, you might find the 500X just right.

Russ Heaps