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The Fiat 500X is the third type of vehicle offered in the United States from Fiat. Fiat’s return to the United States was heralded in by the introduction of the Fiat 500. Then, a larger, more family-friendly 500L came along. Now, we have the 500X. We just had an opportunity to drive it recently and we’re here to share our initial impressions.

(Full Disclosure: Fiat wanted me to experience new 500X on the canyon roads around Los Angeles. They covered my hotel, food, and airfare for the trip.)

Now here’s the thing, I wasn’t fan of the 500L. While the looks are perfectly fine to me (it looks like a bigger 500), I wasn’t blown away by the way it drove. In fact, my biggest issue came with the dual-clutch automatic transmission. It was terrible. Luckily, for 2015, they offered a regular automatic transmission as an option, and that should be a significant improvement.

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The 500X is a bit like the 500L in that it’s larger than the base 500. This vehicle falls into the fiery-hot crossover category and comes in a variety of trim and engine choices. The 500X is the first vehicle that was designed by people from both the United States and Italy as part of the new FCA family.

That means the 500X is the first car from Fiat actually designed to appeal to a US buyer. All of the changes made are for the better in the X.

According to Fiat, the 500X and 500L buyers aren’t the same. The 500L buyer looks for practicality first and foremost, whereas the 500X would appeal to a more driver-centric buyer. Some practicality is lost due to the bubble-shaped greenhouse.

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Fiat has a large parts bin to go rummaging around for parts, and the 500X features FCA’s 9-speed automatic, or a row-your-own manual transmission (that we didn’t get a chance to sample). The 500X can also be had in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Like other FCA products of late, including the Jeep Cherokee and Chrysler 200, the 500X’s all-wheel drive features a disconnect setup.

When the vehicle accelerates from a stop, it employs all-wheel drive. But shortly after the vehicle starts moving, having not sensed any reason for all-wheel drive to be enabled, it disconnects from the rear to help with overall fuel economy.

Powering most 500X models is the 2.4L Tigershark engine that can be found in a great number of FCA products. It makes 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque. The base engine is the 1.4L MultiAir turbo from the 500 Abarth, making 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque.

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But what happens when you get behind the wheel and take it on some of the beautiful canyon roads outside of Los Angeles?

In normal stop-and-go or city traffic, the 500X behaves like any other small crossover. It’s easy to see out of, and technologies like blind-spot monitoring and a rear-view camera help enhance it even further. Lane keeping technology is also available.

The Tigershark engine scoots the 500X along fine in traffic. At California highway speeds, the engine is only turning around 2,000 RPM with the 9-speed transmission. It would be an easy car to put a lot of miles on at one time.

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When you want to get sporty, there’s a Sport Mode available that makes the car more sporty. Mainly, it adjusts the throttle response and stiffens up the steering. It also will hold gears longer, and downshift earlier to help stay on the power.

The engine note at full-throttle isn’t the sportiest engine I’ve ever heard, but it doesn’t sound jarring. I wish they’d take a page from the 500 Abarth’s book and give it a bit more character. Maybe they’ll just do an Abarth version eventually?

Handling is pretty good for this raised-up crossover. On the tight, twisty bits the tires would give up long before the chassis would. Again, I think this would be a good platform for an Abarth treatment. It drives really well.

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I almost wish they’d make the Pentastar V6 available on the higher trim models. There’s nothing wrong with 180 horsepower, and is enough grunt for most people, but I wouldn’t mind just a tad bit more out of that power plant. Somewhere in the 200-220 horsepower range I think would be the sweet spot.

Obviously an hour or so behind the wheel isn’t enough to render a final verdict on the car, but it was long enough to see how much thought went into the 500X. Build quality is excellent, and the interior is on par with modern FCA products, which is to say it’s a really nice place to be.

Also, at least visually, the Fiat 500X upsizes much better than what BMW does with the Mini products. The added benefit of the Fiat is that it’s also cheaper than the Mini.

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Pricing starts at $20,900 for a base model, and goes up to $28,000 for a Trekking Plus version. For the available features and standard content, this is a very competitive price.

The question I have now, and that I can’t answer yet, is if I were looking to buy a crossover, would I go for the 500X? Our all-wheel drive version rang up at about $31,000. For the price, you do get a lot of features, but there’s a lot of good competition at the $30k price point. What I can say is that I would definitely give it a look.

Stay tuned for more information and a full-review of the Fiat 500X later this spring.

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