2017 Fiat 500X Sport Road Test

I met someone refreshingly unusual the other day, an automotive industry professional now on his fifth Fiat model. Considering
2017 Fiat 500X Sport
The Fiat 500X’ sportiness is more than just skin deep. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
the Italian brand has only been back in Canada for six years, that’s a lot of buying and selling.

I can understand, as the wonderful little 500 hatchback and cabriolet are plenty tempting, especially the sporty Abarth which was previously in his garage. I even enjoyed the 500L during my weeklong test for its impressive interior and overall practicality, while it’s difficult for someone my age not to fall in love the classic lines of the new 124 Spider, his wife’s car. Yes, they’re a dual-Fiat family, and if you hadn’t already guessed his familial heritage is Italian.

With sales totaling just 2,206 units at the end of Q3 2017, Fiat Canada could certainly use more Italian Canadians. Of course, Fiats are popular throughout the world,
2017 Fiat 500X Sport
It’s two parts cute, one part rugged, and very retro, but not everyone likes yesteryear’s styling cues. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
especially so in Central and South America. Having traveled extensively I find those from Latin backgrounds most passionately expressive, which makes Fiat’s fun-loving attitude fitting.

Full disclosure: Despite my two parts Austrian, one part Swedish and another part Scottish heritage, or in other words my average Canadian mix, I’ve traveled to Italy and Spain multiple times, lived in Brazil, and currently have homes in Asia’s most Latin-influenced country, the Philippines. Maybe this, and growing up in the ’60s and ’70s when Fiat enjoyed some popularity here in Canada, has made me quite the fan of Fiat in general, and this new 500X in particular.

The 500X is my new friend’s latest Fiat, by the way, and my most recent Fiat test vehicle.
2017 Fiat 500X Sport
Sport trim adds these nice 17-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
This 2017 model arrived in mid-range Sport trim, which while not as fully featured as the Trekking Plus AWD version I tested last time around, was nevertheless amply appealing. Truly, I expected the 500X to be the breakout vehicle for Fiat when it arrived in 2016, and while it currently makes up about a third of the brand’s Canadian sales with 846 down the road so far this year, that still represents a very distant last place in the subcompact SUV sales race.

As with any new model, the collective buying public has to like its familial design language for it to see success, and to that end the Fiat brand suffers a similar fate to Mini. I’m not saying the 500X or its siblings are unattractive in any way (ok, the 500L is a bit odd-it gets better for 2018), but like the iconic British carmaker, the equally storied Italian brand has chosen to cling to its past for all North American offerings
2017 Fiat 500X Sport
Classy taillights could be from a ’60s era sports car. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
instead of offering the many more modern designs available globally, and retrospective styling isn’t for everyone.

I can’t say for sure that styling is central to Canadians’ lack of interest in the 500X or Fiat in general, nor the U.S. market that mostly shuns the Italian carmaker, but the impressive little SUV remains almost as exclusive as a near-exotic Maserati.

Could it be pricing? The base front-wheel drive 2017 500X Pop starts at $23,245 before freight and fees, although Fiat has been offering a $3,000 no-haggle discount for months, getting the base price down to $20,245. This makes it one of the most affordable in its class, and therefore an even more viable alternative than usual.

2017 Fiat 500X Sport
The 500X carries body-colour paintwork inside. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
the Trekking Plus now gone, Fiat provides four 500X trim levels for 2017, plus a new Urbana Edition based on the Trekking. Already noted base Pop trim is immediately followed by the $27,745 Sport (now available for $24,745), plus the non-Plus $28,745 Trekking (now $25,745), and lastly the top-line $31,740 Lounge (now $28,740). I won’t detail out all the features of the two upper trims or that special edition in this overview, but in short the Trekking gets a sporty off-road theme, the late arrival Urbana Edition adds a classy gloss black and copper colour treatment for $795, and the Lounge is downright luxurious, while these models are positioned above a subcompact SUV that starts out fairly well equipped in base trim.

Standard Pop goodies include bifunctional halogen projector headlamps, body-colour powered heatable side mirrors with integrated turn signals, chrome door handles, a body-colour rear rooftop spoiler, a chromed exhaust tip, a capless fuel filler, an engine block heater, remote keyless
2017 Fiat 500X Sport
This partially digital gauge cluster is even better looking in person. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
entry, an electromechanical parking brake, a body-colour instrument panel, a tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel, a 3.5-inch multi-information display, micron-filtered air conditioning, a Uconnect 5.0 multimedia centre with 5.0-inch colour touchscreen, four-speaker AM/FM audio with a USB port and aux input, premium soft-touch interior surfacing, cloth upholstery, powered windows, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks and a fold-forward front-passenger seat, tire pressure monitoring with a display, hill start assist, seven airbags, an antitheft engine immobilizer, a security alarm, and more.

Safety in mind, top-tier trims earn IIHS Top Safety Pick status when optional front crash protection is added, but this level of active safety isn’t available with our Sport trimmed tester. Instead, Sport trim moves its
2017 Fiat 500X Sport
Retrospective design cues for sure, but its technology is very advanced. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
standard feature set up a significant notch from the base 500X thanks to 17-inch alloys on 215/55 all-seasons in place of 16-inch steel rims on 215/60s, a sportier 3.73 final drive ratio instead of 4.43, Fiat’s Dynamic Selector with three driving modes, auto on/off headlamps, fog lamps with cornering capability, deep tint privacy glass, remote start (with the automatic), proximity-sensing keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, a “Premium wrapped” leatherette steering wheel rim, a leather-wrapped shift knob, six-speaker audio, satellite radio with a one-year subscription, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, a front centre sliding armrest, another USB port, illuminated vanity mirrors, a reversible height-adjustable cargo floor, etcetera.

The only trim standard with a backup camera is top-line Lounge, but don’t worry because
2017 Fiat 500X Sport
Navigation is optional, but highly accurate and therefore worth the extra coin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
Sport buyers can add Fiat’s ParkView monitor separately for $475 or upgrade to the $1,250 Driver Assist Group that includes the camera as well as Park-Sense rear sonar, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-path detection, and a colourized version of the base model’s 3.5-inch multi-information display.

Additional Sport options include a $695 Cold Weather Group with a windshield wiper de-icer, a heatable steering wheel, and heated front seats; a $1,295 Convenience Group with everything from the Cold Weather Group as well as dual-zone auto climate control, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with four-way powered lumbar support, ambient lighting, and a cargo cover; and a $1,100 Navigation Group that includes navigation with detailed mapping within a larger 6.5-inch touchscreen, plus a compass.

2017 Fiat 500X Sport
Automatic climate control adds convenience to the little 500X. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
Sport options include a fabulous $1,295 dual-pane panoramic moonroof, a $995 BeatsAudio sound system, a sportier set of $300 machine-finished 17-inch alloys with black painted pockets, and a $295 compact spare tire. My tester includes nearly everything on the options list, making it especially good for my hands-on review.

Something else I like, Fiat offers the same number of paint choices no matter the trim level, and it’s a massive 11-colour palette allowing buyers a lot more personalization than most competitors. Along with four base colours, which even include trendy Arancio orange and classic Italian Rosso Passione, a colour Fiat clarifies as “Hypnotique Red” as if that should help us picture it, are five $195 metallic hues including stunning new Rame Chiaro, a light copper, and two $995 tri-coat
2017 Fiat 500X Sport
This 6-speed manual helps the 500X earn best-in-class performance. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
colours, the latter including bright Giallo Tristrato yellow, and Rosso Amore red.

The base 500X Pop can only be had with front-wheel drive, but all models above can be outfitted with Fiat’s all-wheel drivetrain, which comes standard with the Lounge. This is nothing unusual, but offering two engines isn’t the class norm. Even base models have a choice of powertrains being that the puny but potent 1.4-litre MultiAir four-cylinder is the designated engine for the six-speed manual, front-wheel drive variant and the larger 2.4-litre Tigershark MultiAir four is dedicated to the ZF-designed nine-speed automatic that comes standard with all-wheel drive. The smaller turbocharged unit puts out a commendable 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, whereas the bigger naturally aspirated engine makes 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque.

2017 Fiat 500X Sport
Great seats despite the oddball headrests. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
was thrilled to find the six-speed manual inside my 500X Sport tester, which you’ll now know meant its front wheels did the pulling via the smaller 1.4-litre turbo-four powerplant. This actually would be my personal choice, as it’s easily the sportiest offering in the subcompact SUV segment. It’s even more fun to drive than most premium-branded subcompact SUVs, with quick response off the line, a nice notchy gearbox, easy clutch take-up, and an ideal balance of handling prowess and ride quality.

As noted earlier, Fiat’s Dynamic Selector configurable drive modes lets you choose pre-programmed settings to manage throttle response and engine revs before shifts, which is an unusually welcome feature for an SUV in this class, adding yet more to the 500X’ sporty character. What’s more, the little Fiat SUV’s available all-wheel
2017 Fiat 500X Sport
Rear spaciousness is fairly good, albeit not class leading. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
drive system boasts a disconnecting rear axle to minimize fuel consumption when extra traction isn’t required.

As tested the 500X is good for a claimed 9.5 L/100km in the city, 7.1 on the highway and 8.4 combined, which is impressive fuel economy for any SUV. Then again the optional engine’s nine-speed automatic keeps its efficiency in check with an estimated rating of 10.7 city, 7.7 highway and 9.3 combined, or 11.0, 8.0, and 9.7 respectively in heavier top-line trim.

As good as all this is, the 500X’ most endearing characteristic is its premium-like interior. All the aforementioned features may have already piqued your interest, but more important is how everything comes together inside, giving the little Fiat an
2017 Fiat 500X Sport
The nicely finished cargo compartment comes up short compared to rivals. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
advantage in wooing those of us impressed by soft-touch materials quality, high quality switchgear, and state-of-the-art digital interfaces. The latter are ultra-easy to use and filled with functionality, whereas even price-friendly Sport trim possesses a level of luxury many in the subcompact SUV class wouldn’t be able to compete against if the 500X were given the chance.

Of course, every vehicle has an Achilles heel, the 500X coming up short on cargo space with just 350 litres (12.2 cubic feet) behind its 60/40-split rear seatbacks and 560 litres (19.9 cubic feet) when they’re folded flat. If this wasn’t a vehicle class that people purchased for passenger/cargo functionality and flexibility first and foremost it wouldn’t be as much of a problem, but the numbers don’t lie. It’s up against class leaders with close to twice as much room in the very back and more
2017 Fiat 500X Sport
For those that travel light, the 500X should provide ample room. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
than three times as much with their rear seats folded, so it’s not ideal for families with big hockey bags, multiple sets of golf clubs, etcetera.

Consider the 500X the luxury sports coupe of subcompact SUVs, with good rear seat roominess and comfort plus room for most peoples’ daily gear. I certainly never found it lacking, but I wasn’t exactly moving furniture during my weeklong test either. In every other respect the 2017 Fiat 500X Sport is a winner that I’d love to see driving around my neighbourhood more often. We certainly need more Italians in my city, or at least those who place passion higher on their priority lists.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)