A Fiat SUV crafted with care

 03 Sep 2017 - 15:17

A Fiat SUV crafted with care
The 500x is a good compact sport-utility vehicle for people of modest income and demanding transportation needs, reviewer Warren Brown reports. (Photo courtesy of Fiat)

By Warren Brown / The Washington Post

The engine and transmission come from the United States. Much of the trim work - materials and other fit-finish pieces - are from Italy. Final assembly of the vehicle, the 2017 Fiat 500x, was in Melfi, a small southern Italian town.

Here is thanking the Fiat workers of Melfi. They did an excellent job.

Everything in the 500x driven for this column is perfectly assembled, put together as if the people who made the thing actually cared about what they were doing and the potential customers for whom they were working.

It is hard to believe that the luxury Alfa Romeo Stelvio sport-utility vehicle I drove several weeks earlier is a product of the same conglomerate, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. But, it is - made by Alfa Romeo in Milan.

A humble suggestion: The masters of FCA ought to take the Milan workers to Melfi and show them how to finish a vehicle - to produce it with no loose parts, sharp edges where none are supposed to be or plastic ceiling handles that feel like something in the cheapest of economy cars.

The Melfi people did it right. The 500x, a close mechanical cousin of the very popular Jeep Renegade, which is produced in the same plant, feels like a vehicle I'd want to keep.

Besides being well made, it is well equipped, replete with a full suite of advanced electronic safety equipment - lane departure warning, forward collision mitigation, rear backup camera.

Included were onboard navigation, blind-spot warning and automatic high-beam control. I care about those things. They are important. Although many of those items on the 500x front-wheel-drive Trekking trim version used for this column are sold as options, the overall final transaction price is reasonably agreeable - $28,410 (in US).

A humble message to automobile manufacturers, especially to those luxury manufacturers who market "prestige" as much as you do horsepower: Your world, our world, is changing. Technology is at the forefront. The company that can provide the most technology - and quality and reliability - at the lowest price wins. The Melfi workers apparently understand that.

There are three trim levels for the 2017 500x - base Pop, popularly equipped Trekking, and the fully loaded Lounge. The Trekking, with advanced safety options, has everything you want and need - except speed.

If you are looking for a racer, something with a loud and intimidating exhaust note, look elsewhere. The 500x/Trekking will get you where you want and need to go, but it will do it at a civilized pace.

It comes with a 2.4-liter, inline four-cylinder gasoline engine (180 horsepower, 175 pound-feet of torque). The engine strains a bit at 70 miles per hour on the highway. But that usually is as fast as most of us want to go on daily runs.

Handling is acceptable. Just think before you turn. This one rides high and isn't built for sharp turns on narrow curves.

Still, I like the 500x/Trekking. I appreciate being in a well-made automobile.

Nuts & Bolts

Bottom line: The 500x is a good compact sport-utility vehicle for people of modest income and demanding transportation needs. It is available with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. But the best bargain is the front-wheel-drive Trekking version. If you are planning sandy or muddy off-road-travel, consider an all-wheel-drive Jeep Renegade.

Ride, acceleration, handling: The 500x/Trekking gets acceptable marks in all categories.

Head-turning quotient: Not everyone will like it. But it does attract attention. It is cute.

Engine/transmission: The 500x/Trekking comes with a 2.4-liter, 16-valve, inline four-cylinder gasoline engine with variable-valve timing (180 horsepower, 175 pound-feet of torque). The engine is linked to a nine-speed automatic transmission that also can be shifted manually.

Capacities: Seating is for five people. Cargo capacity is 12.2 cubic feet with all seats in place. The fuel tank holds 12.7 gallons of petrol. Regular grade works fine.

Real-world mileage: I averaged 29 miles per gallon in highway driving with one passenger and light (below 300 pounds) cargo.

Pricing (in US): The 2017 500x/Trekking starts at $23,350. Price as tested is $28,410, including $4,065 in options (advanced electronic safety items, onboard navigation, satellite radio).

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