2017 Fiat 500X Trekking first drive: an underrated, if overpriced, crossover

July 18, 2017

You can be forgiven for not remembering the Fiat 500X. Underneath its cheeky body, the 500X is basically the same thing as the Jeep Renegade. Both share the same engines and transmissions, and their structure is largely identical.

Through the first six months of this year, 53,000 Renegades have been sold, making it the most popular subcompact crossover SUV. The 500X? Not even 4,000.

DON'T MISS: Read our 2017 Fiat 500X full review

What’s the deal? To find out why, we recently put a reasonably well-optioned 2017 500X through its paces. Here’s what we found:

It’s authentically Italian

When it comes to the 500X, Italian heritage isn’t just about marketing. This pint-size crossover is built in Italy, alongside the all-American (viva l’Italia!) Jeep Renegade. What sets the two apart is mostly cosmetic. The 500X boasts grown-up 500 styling with smooth curves and just a few chunky details. By contrast, the upright Renegade looks like the box it was shipped in, par avion.  

The 500X’s interior is far less quirky than the 500’s, but the two share plenty of links like a wide expanse of plastic designed to echo painted steel dashboards of the 1950s. Our tester’s brown leather was also something of a throwback, albeit not in a desirable way. The mottled dye look recalled naugahyde furniture from the 1970s. Brown interiors are great, but this one left us wondering where Grandma’s plastic furniture covers went.

2017 Fiat 500X Trekking

2017 Fiat 500X Trekking

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Certainly the most polished Fiat hardtop

Admittedly, that’s not a high bar. The basic 500 range is a hoot to drive when properly equipped, but those little three-door hatches are dressed up city cars and the novelty eventually wears off. Then there’s the 500L. Hey, the Pope rides in one. But he’s used to making sacrifices. The 124 Spider is a delight. It’s also a Mazda MX-5 Miata that’s not as good as the original.

That leaves the 500X to carry the Fiat flag without many caveats.

Let’s not damn it with faint praise, though. The 2.4-liter inline-4 engine and 9-speed automatic transmission fitted to most 500Xs work well together (a 1.4-liter turbo-4 and 5-speed stick combo is standard, but rare). This isn’t a powertrain combination that has succeeded in the past, but our test 500X Trekking—the off-road-ish model—delivered smooth, quick shifts and rarely seemed to make a mistake. If this is the latest update to this beleaguered combination, it seems like someone finally gets it.

We also really liked the stiff structure and compliant ride afforded by the 500X’s relatively tall sidewalls. It eschews the 18-inch wheels increasingly en vogue, although they’re on the options list.

2017 Fiat 500X

2017 Fiat 500X

Enlarge Photo

Properly premium—or not?

Part of the reason for the 500X’s limited sales may be in its pricing structure. At $29,495, our all-wheel drive tester lacked little—but an equivalent Renegade Limited runs around $1,500 less. For that money, our ride was outfitted with heated leather seats, a 6.5-inch screen with navigation, and 17-inch alloy wheels. Nice, but not decadent.

Rivals tend to be even cheaper, which begs the question: is the 500X a premium compact crossover? It’s quiet and it rides well, but we've lavished the same praise on competitors. At 180 horsepower, the 2.4-liter inline-4 gives it a slightly peppier feel than most of its competitors and it does have an arguably more upscale look inside and out than, say, the Nissan Rogue Sport.

Given its slow-selling nature, it’s possible that Fiat dealers will offer larger discounts on the 500X than many rivals will. For a few grand off of list price, we’d be happy to park one in our driveway. It's not like there's going to be another one on the same block.

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