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2016 Fiat 500X with 2017 Updates Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
Fiat 500X

Style and fun in a small crossover with a very Italian personality.

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

            • SEE ALSO: Fiat Research and Buyers Guide


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
Fiat 500X

Fiat’s American lineup keeps expanding. The 500, “Cinquecento” in Italian, was a good beginning, but small three-door hatchbacks are a tough sell here, even with cheeky Italian style and available convertible tops and snarly Abarth performance variations. Plus an electric version. The first addition to the lineup was the 500L, more a European multipurpose vehicle (MPV) than an American-style crossover SUV. It was joined by the 500X crossover for 2016, and 2017 sees the debut of the new 124 Spider.

While the 500L’s roots are in Europe, the 500X fits the American “crossover SUV” model much better, with looks that are far more mainstream. In general dimensions the two are nearly identical; in shape very different. Because of that, the 500L does have more interior capacity. The 500L is front-wheel drive only, with Fiat’s 160-horsepower 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder “MultiAir” engine. That’s also the standard engine in the 500X, matched to a six-speed manual gearbox — but most sold are likely to have the 2.4-liter, 180-hp “Tigershark” four, with a nine-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is also available.

2016 Fiat 500X trim levels are Pop, Easy, Trekking, Lounge, and Trekking Plus. The Pop is the only one with the MultiAir/stick combination, so if an Italian turbo with six-speed stick crossover matches your desires, the choice is simple. Otherwise, standard equipment levels increase as you go up the line, with the Trekking Plus being more than comprehensively outfitted.

A 2016 500X Trekking Plus in front-wheel drive form is this week’s test car. It’s charmingly quirky, as expected from anything Italian. Full disclosure: I have a soft spot for Italian vehicles. There are currently three older Moto Guzzi motorcycles in my garage, with a Ducati Darmah in the past. They are/were mostly reliable, generally easily fixable, but not without “character”. The Fiat is more modern and mainstream than any of those (newest being vintage 1985), but it’s still Italian in character, assembled in Melfi, Italy — although the engine is from Dundee MI. It is an international world. (and that 1977 Ducati had Bosch and Nippon Denso electrics, so nothing too new there). It’s distinctive in style, and has a fun-to-drive character usually overlooked in a small crossover appliance. Build quality is very good. At premium level, it has all of the conveniences expected in a premium small car today, and there are plenty of standalone and packaged options to please every need or desire, even in the lower trim levels. The relatively large engine gives it good performance, but careful attention to driving mode and style helps, as the transmission was designed with fuel economy in mind. (details below) EPA fuel economy is 22 mpg city, 31 highway. I got 23, but that was with maybe one-third of miles on the highway, and most driving in Sport mode. YMMV, as the saying goes. In a class where most vehicles are interchangeable commodities, the Fiat 500X is different.

2017 update: or why I just love this time of year… “Simplification” is the word, with Pop, Trekking, and Lounge being the choices. Making my Trekking Plus a lame duck. Since it’s basically a Trekking with Lounge features, and there are plenty of option possibilities, I suspect that anyone who wanted to could come up with something close enough. Or that the premium version wasn’t as popular as expected, so sell what sells. No major difference, even the Pop is well-equipped. And since press fleet vehicles have a way of being outfitted in ways not available in stores, nothing new. Fiat’s 500X is a refreshingly entertaining small crossover in any form.

APPEARANCE: A quick look at the 500X and the irresistible wise-guy line is “Look! A Cinquecento that’s been eating too much pasta!” Yes, it’s larger and brawnier than the 500 hatchback, but the 500X is still in the compact crossover/large five-door hatch ranks in size. The face is familiar, although with SUV-ish styling cues like a prominent lower front bumper fascia with integrated “skid plate” and full-surround lower perimeter cladding. The rear is also familiar. The 500X is more athletic in proportion than its small hatch sibling. And, despite the “SUV-look” trim, it’s still European in manner and won’t be mistaken for anything but a Fiat.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
Fiat 500X

COMFORT: It’s as distinctive inside as outside. Don’t expect the retro look of the 500 hatchback’s interior styling here. The X is contemporary, and upscale Euro contemporary at that. It’s cozy inside, but no more so than any other compact crossover, with very good head and leg room in front, even with the panoramic moonroof, and good space for two adults or three smaller kids in the back. Seating is upright and comfort levels are noticeably better than the class norm. It’s stylish but not at the expense of comfort or function — designers of pointy-toed shoes were not consulted. A two-piece panoramic moonroof is available. The front portion opens, slide or tilt, while the rear is fixed. The view is best from the rear seat. All current audio and connectivity formats are supported by the Uconnect telematics and navigation packages. There is plenty of useful interior storage, with an extra “glovebox” above the real one a pleasant surprise.

SAFETY: The 500X has received a “Top Safety Pick+” rating from the IIHS. Its unibody structure is designed to protect passengers with controlled deformation in the event of an accident. A full complement of airbags add further protection, while good handling characteristics, antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, electronic stability control, and electronic roll mitigation systems add active safety. Lane-departure warning, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, ultrasonic rear obstacle detection, and rear-vision camera systems are standard or available depending on model.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Good chassis rigidity, relatively light weight, and a well-designed fully-independent MacPherson strut front, Chapman strut rear suspension featuring quality Koni dampers ensure that the 500X can be driven con brio and safely. The electrically-assisted steering is light when parking, but firms up at speed for control. The 500X is relatively tall, and the suspension spring and damper settings are Euro-moderate for comfortable compliance and better than the average crossover cornering ability. No, it’s not an Abarth, nor should it be. The rear-seat passengers will appreciate that.

PERFORMANCE: The 500X is unusual in that it’s a compact crossover with an available manual transmission (in the base Pop), but most will be sold with the Tigershark/9-speed combination. Which works well enough for typical crossover duty, and can provide excellent highway mileage under the right conditions. The Tigershark is a Chrysler-developed twincam 16-valve aluminum alloy inline four that uses Fiat’s MultiAir valve control technology. Maximum horsepower is 180, at the 6400 rpm redline. Maximum torque is 175 lb-ft, at 3900 rpm. The nine-speed ZF transmission was developed to optimize fuel economy — fifth is direct drive, with sixth through ninth overdrive. Ninth is a tall 0.48:1 — good for steady-speed cruising on a level road. Add hills, need for acceleration, or a headwind, and the transmission will need to downshift. Sometimes up to three or even four gears worth of downshift, so plan ahead as shifts are not too fast. Changing the Dynamic Selector knob on the console to Sport mode helps, with quicker shifts and, usually, no gear higher than 6th, a reasonable 0.81:1 overdrive. Manual shifting in Sport mode brings out the best, especially on an interesting road. Interestingly, fuel economy didn’t change much between Auto and Sport modes, at 23 mpg with two-thirds of my driving being city and backroad and the other third highway that was most definitely not flat, moving at 50 mph, or windless.

CONCLUSIONS: The Fiat 500X combines style and fun in a small crossover with a very Italian personality.




SPECIFICATIONS

2016 Fiat 500X

Base Price $ 27,210

Price As Tested $ 31,805

Engine Type SOHC 16-valve aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder

Engine Size 2.4 liters / 144 cu. in.

Horsepower 180 @ 6400 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 175 @ 3900 rpm

Transmission 9-speed automatic

Wheelbase / Length 101.2 in. / 168.2 in.

Curb Weight 3124 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 17.4

Fuel Capacity 12.7 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires 225/45 R18 91V m+s Continental ProContact

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, ESC standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent Chapman strut

Ground Clearance 7.0 inches FWD, 7.9 AWD

Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 22 / 31 / 23

0 to 60 mph est 7.8 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Giallo Tristrato (tri-coat yellow) exterior paint $ 1,000

Customer Preferred Package 27M — includes: (Trekking Plus Collection 2): LaneSpeed® lane-departure warning, full-speed forward collision warning, dual-pane power sunroof, automatic high-beam control, rain-sensitive windshield wipers $ 2,600

Destination Charge $ 995