BOULDER, Colo. — Whether it’s the Italian Alps or the foothills of the Rockies outside Denver, you could do far worse than to be behind the wheel of the Fiat 500X.

The 500X was a surprise, and now we can see why. Fiat made it in two styles for the U.S. One is the high-style urban Lounge, which felt like it was straight out of an Italian design boutique. The other was the Trekking, a more rugged — dare we say macho? — version.

We had driven the Lounge in California and were impressed by its sexy, swanky style, but it just seemed cheap overall — not a strong contender in a growing field of subcompact SUVs.

But six months later, about 1,000 miles apart, and in the Trekking edition, our experience was far better. The 500X did just about everything well. It’s an SUV with spunk.

In fact, it was hard to find sore spots. The car had plenty of pep and felt well-planted on the road, even in tight turns. Its 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder MultiAir engine was relatively quiet.

A feature that lets you set the car for driving modes, like snow or slick roads, was especially appealing, although our testing took place on stunning autumn days when weather wasn’t an issue.

The interior is nicely appointed with plenty of headroom, even for 6-foot 2-inch me. There are five seats. There is a big navigation screen with knobs, which make it far easier to control than by touch-screen controls alone.

So what happened? Why did this car feel so different than before?

The difference is in the versions. The Lounge came as too tutti-frutti — frilly fun but lacking in substance. The Trekking has more of a craggy backpacker feel, like an energy bar, a car that will take its hits and last. (Whether that’s the case is yet to be seen: Consumer Reports magazine rates the Fiat brand overall dead last in its predicted reliability ratings.)

For families looking for space but at a cost that’s thousands less than other SUVs, this might work. The base price of the 500X is $24,195, including destination charges, and was $25,895 in the version we tested to include the 6.5-inch screen and navigation.

This is a vehicle that had to be good, given how so many automakers are closing in around it. The 500X competes against the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, and even its own corporate stablemate, the Jeep Renegade. About the only automaker that hasn’t entered the fray is Ford, and it can’t be too far behind.

Overall, Fiat has had a tough time gaining a strong foothold in the U.S. market. The small 500 sedan caught on at first with younger buyers, but interest has flagged.

The bulbous 500L apparently was a hit with Pope Francis, who famously used one to haul himself around during his U.S. visit recently when he wasn’t in his formal Popemobile. But it’s the 500X that shows the greatest promise of being a mainstream hit for an auto brand that could badly use one.

What Stands Out

Engine: Peppy, even in highway passing.

Space: Lots of it.

Total package: Overall goodness.

2016 Fiat 500X Trekking

What? Five-seat subcompact SUV.

When? On sale now.

Where? Made in Melfi, Italy.

How much? $23,200 to start, plus $995 shipping; as tested: $25,895.

What makes it go? 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter MultiAir engine.

How big? 13.9 feet

How thirsty? 22 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg overall.

Overall: Does everything well, but will it hold together?