2016 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

Fiat’s third family member from Italy, the 500X, is destined to become the brand’s most-popular model and biggest seller. It has the right size, the right looks and the right features with the right pricing.

The 500X shares the bones of the 500L wagon, but is a much different execution. The X concept was started from scratch (though it shares the underpinnings of the Jeep Renegade) to create the perfect vehicle for North America, said Fiat Product Chief Matt Davis at a recent press event.

For those looking to downsize but not downgrade, the X is sold in Street or Trekking trims, to craft your on-road or off-road image. The Trekking model is just a little more buff looking.

The five-seat X is sold in five trim levels — Pop, Easy, Trekking, Lounge and Trekking Plus — with two engine choices with six-speed manual or nine-speed automatic transmissions in front- and optional all-wheel drive, $1,900.

Pricing ranges from $20,900 to $28,000, including the $900 freight charge from Melfi, Italy. The Trekking Plus tester was $31,125 with some Mopar accessories (such as a heavy-duty rubber cargo floor mat) and the Trekking Plus package, $2,600, which adds high-beam headlight control, Collision Warning Plus, lane-departure warning, dual-pane sunroof and rain-sensing wipers.

The 500X makes a good first impression with its handsome tobacco brown leather, the variety of soft-touch surfaces and wealth of features and considerate conveniences. The seats are full-bodied and comfortable. Sliding visors have extenders and covered and lighted mirrors. There are dual glove boxes (the larger one is cooled), large door pockets with bottle holders, seat heaters, a heated steering wheel and a center console area with USB and 12-volt charging ports and a place to lay a phone. The controls for audio, heat-AC and fan are all large knobs and easy to figure out and keep eyes on the road.

The interior design works well without design compromises. Front headroom is generous at 39.1 inches and shoulder room is American-class broad. Sightlines are good over the front fenders and over the shoulder, and made even better with the large rearview camera display with guidance lines.

The back seat is also accommodating with doors that open wide and headroom of almost 38 inches and legroom of almost 35 inches, which is fine unless there’s a long-legged adult in front. There is good footroom under the front seats, a low center tunnel (for center-seat footroom), a raised seat height and relaxed seatback angle. And the back seat folds easily to expand cargo space for hauling bikes, boards or other gear.

The 500X is solid and the structure feels rigid, which helps the suspension do a better job of control. This setup feels more like a sports car than a crossover, but it’s busy in how it gives constant feedback over each seam in the highway.

Base models of 500X use a 160-horsepower, 1.4-liter four-cylinder, with 184 foot-pounds torque from 2,500 to 4,000 rpm. Fuel economy with manual transmission is 25 mpg city, 34 highway and 28 mpg combined. Premium fuel is recommended but 87 octane is acceptable.

The upper models get the 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder, which gives lively acceleration with acceptable fuel economy of 22/31/25 mpg on regular unleaded. AWD ratings were not available at press time, but expect them to be about 1 mpg less per category. Good news for RVers, the 500X manual can be flat towed.

The nine-speed automatic gives smooth and rapid upshifts, but downshifts for passing power take a breath or two as the transmission considers a change from seventh or eighth gear to fourth. It seems slow to respond when you’re trying to get out of the way of that big potato chip van.

The only other issues I noted were a warning for the tire air pressure system not functioning, but the tires were not low on air. (I’ve experienced faulty tire-pressure warnings on other Fiat-Chrysler test vehicles.) And the retainer clip to secure the sun visor snapped off when I was just pushing the visor back into position.

The 500X gives the overall impression of a sophisticated crossover, but there is little to remind of its Italian heritage. It’s like driving a familiar Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep product. It is well Americanized, but maybe too sanitized.

Mark Maynard is online at mark.maynard@utsandiego.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage

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