Fiat 500X tracks unveiling of Bentley SUV

Bentley’s first SUV, the luxurious Bentayga, is unveiled in Denver. (Jan Wells photos)

Bentley’s first SUV, the luxurious Bentayga, is unveiled in Denver. (Jan Wells photos)

The shapely 2016 Fiat 500X, finished in Italian rosso (red), carried us south toward the city one evening last week. From somewhat of a pug nose and two bulging eyes (headlights) in front, the little hatchback slopes out nicely at the rear with a spoiler and big rectangular taillights.

The 500X and its sister car Jeep Renegade, both built in Melfi, Italy, are entries in the emerging subcompact SUV crossover category.

The 2016 Fiat 500X joins subcompact crossover market.

The 2016 Fiat 500X joins subcompact crossover market.

The Fiat, with wheelbase of only 101 inches, picked its way through Denver rush-hour traffic to East County Line Road, up a short, steep hill where we were surrounded by four young men ready to valet park it. A special event was at hand and bright lights shined from Bentley of Denver, where soon to be unveiled was the world’s most luxurious SUV, the Bentley Bentayga.

“This is not a Bentley,” I told the valet crew of the 500X. They seemed amused; Jan seemed embarrassed.

The Fiat front-wheel-drive model proved a great handler in the 65-mile drive to Bentley and back home later that night, and a twist of a dial to sport mode improved performance from its 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine and 9-speed automatic transmission. While in normal mode it cruises 50 miles per hour in 7th gear, in sport mode at 50 it remains in 5th gear, with stiffer steering and more aggressive shifts.

Too bad, I thought, that Fiat execs would send a front-drive 500X here, rather than an all-wheel drive. This, of course, is AWD country and when you consider that last month the Jeep Renegade outsold the Fiat by a 7-to-1 margin (7,924 to 1,133), an AWD review it seems might help bring the 500X to a more competitive level.

Contrasting the reasonably priced Fiat 500X ($25,300) was the unveiled Bentley Bentayga, which will begin at $229,100 and go up from there. The Bentayga, expected to go on sale in January, boasts a 600-hp 12-cylinder engine, with permanent four-wheel drive.

Bentley’s introduction of the Bentayga will open the doors into the ultraluxury SUV market, to be followed by several other makers. Lamborghini has  pegged 2018 as its launch year for an impressive SUV, and Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Maserati and Jaguar all have plans to join the SUV market.

Aleks Vekselberg, left, owner of Bentley of Denver, in the showroom with Rod Buscher, longtime Colorado  auto dealer. Buscher and John Elway were partners in car dealerships in Denver 20 to 25 years ago.

Aleks Vekselberg, left, owner of Bentley of Denver, in the showroom with Rod Buscher, longtime Colorado auto dealer. Buscher and John Elway were partners in car dealerships in Denver 20 to 25 years ago.

Prior to the unveiling, I was introduced by Rod Buscher, longtime Colorado auto dealer, to 27-year-old Aleks Vekselberg, who last year bought the Denver Bentley, Ferrari and Lotus dealerships from Bill Stewart. Vekselberg, who three years ago was a student at Yale University, also  bought the Ferrari of Philadelphia store about the same time as the Denver purchases. He is based out of New York.

Vekselberg’s father, Viktor Vekselberg, has been called the richest man in Russia, with estimated  worth of $18 billion, much of it made in oil and gas investments.

The beautiful Bentley Bentayga, built in Crewe, England, featured magnificent leather and hand-crafted stitching. Its performance claims include 187 miles per hour and 4.1-second 0-to-60 time.

“The Bentayga is pushing the boundaries of what an SUV can represent,” said Aleks Vekselberg following its unveiling. “While nothing can take away from the Bentayga’s status as a pioneer in the ultraluxury SUV sector, I think the car also represents an important turning point that will usher Bentley into a new era.”

The 1931 W.O. Bentley 4.8-liter LeMans, owned by Kurt Furger of Conifer, was a side attraction to the Bentley Bentayga unveiling.

The 1931 W.O. Bentley 4.8-liter LeMans, owned by Kurt Furger of Conifer, was a side attraction to the Bentley Bentayga unveiling.

The Fiat 500X which carried Jan and me to the Bentley gathering was the Trekking model and included heated front seats and steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, 18-inch wheels, remote start, Sirius satellite radio with integrated voice command with Bluetooth, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and leather-wrapped shift knob. Its audio display screen is smalll, and it has no navigation or rearview camera; those are optional.

The seats are of very durable cloth material. With second-row seats in place, cargo space amounts to 18.5 cubic feet. There is no spare tire; an air inflation kit is provided.

The 500X averaged 26.9 miles per gallon of fuel.

Other versions of the 500X are the low-end Pop, Easy, Lounge and Trekking Plus.

The 500X and Jeep Renegade compete with the new Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Buick Encore and Chevrolet Trax.

Dozens of eventgoers climbed in and out and around the new Bentley Bentayga.

Dozens of eventgoers climbed in and out and around the new Bentley Bentayga.

You can contact Bud Wells at budwellscars@comcast.net.

Here are the specifications for the ’16 Fiat 500X FWD crossover:

  • Capacity 5-passenger
  • Wheelbase 101.2 inches
  • Length 168.3 inches
  • Width 70.7 inches
  • Height 64 inches
  • Curb Weight 3,095 pounds
  • Track 60.9 inches front, 61 rear
  • Ground Clearance 7.0 inches
  • Turn Circle 35.3 feet
  • Drivetrain Front-wheel-drive
  • Engine 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower/Torque 180/175
  • Transmission 9-speed automatic
  • Steering electric power
  • Suspension MacPherson strut front, multilink rear
  • Fuel mileage estimate 22/31
  • Fuel mileage average 26.9
  • Fuel Tank 12.7 gallons, unleaded regular
  • Wheels 18-inch
  • Tires Continental ProContact 225/45R18
  • Cargo Volume 18.5 cubic feet
  • Warranty 3years/36,000 miles basic, 5/100,000 powertrain

Competitors Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Jeep Renegade, Buick Encore, Nissan Juke

Assembly Plant Melfi, Italy

Parts Content U.S./Canadian 29%, Italy 52%

Base Price of Lowest Model $19,900; Base Price of Review Model $23,100; Destination Charge $900; Sticker Price $25,300.