2016 Fiat 500X First DrivePosted on April 17th, 2015
All-wheel drive makes the 500 outwardly mobile
By Nina Russin
If the 1957 Fiat Cinquecento was the mouse that roared, the 500X is the mouse that scales mountains. For 2016, Fiat enters the compact crossover segment with a new model that shares chassis components with the Jeep Renegade, but has a personality all its own.
Since bringing an all-new 500 stateside for the 2012 model year, Fiat diversified its offerings with a family of cars that share the first model’s iconic styling but appeal to drivers wanting more room, more power, or a greener footprint.
The 500L, introduced shortly after the 500, offered more interior space, but maintained a similar urban orientation to its smaller sibling. The 500X that debuts for 2016 is the first Fiat with available all-wheel drive for better four-season performance.
The newest Fiat comes in five trim models, including Trekking and Trekking Plus versions that appeal to buyers with active lifestyles. Pricing for the base Pop front-wheel drive car is $20,000 excluding destination. The Pop is the only model to come with a 1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir engine and six-speed manual transmission.
All other grades- the Lounge, Easy, Trekking and Trekking Plus come with a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter Tigershark engine and nine-speed automatic transmission. The Trekking model starts at $23,100, while the upscale Trekking Plus is priced from $27,100.
All-wheel drive adds an additional $1,900. A disconnecting rear axle makes the all-wheel drive car perform as a front-wheel drive when traction demands are low for better gas mileage.
All versions come with the Uconnect infotainment system: a three-inch screen in the base model, five-inch screen in midgrades and 6.5-inch screen with navigation and Sirius traffic updates on upscale grades. Top-of-the-line models also get keyless entry and start, heated steering wheel and seats, Beats audio systems and Bluetooth streaming audio.
Available active safety features include blind spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, forward collision mitigation and cross path detection.
Test drive in Southern California
At a recent media event, I had the opportunity to drive the mid-grade front-wheel drive and base Pop models on surface streets and highways in west LA, canyon roads through Malibu and Topanga. Having recently driven the Jeep Renegade, I was curious to see how well Fiat’s compact crossover will meet the needs of buyers with active lifestyles.
From a design stance, the 500X strikes this writer as a much more refined and cohesive package than the 500L. The crossover’s proportions make more sense and seem better aligned with the car’s mission.
At the same time, the 500X maintains design elements that give 500 family vehicles their charm: the rounded headlamps, smiling grille and whiskers. Larger wheels and wheel arches make sense in the active lifestyle context, and available 18-inch wheels give all-wheel drive versions a more robust footprint.
Classic Italian styling is evident throughout the interior as well, from body color instrument panel to the use of strong geometric shapes in the seat design. In a sea full of crossovers that look very much alike, the Fiat 500X is a face that stands out.
Although product planners anticipate a very small take rate on the base car with the 1.4-liter engine with the six-speed manual transmission, it’s a great package and an even greater value. The MultiAir engine’s 185 foot-pounds of peak torque is available as low as 2500 rpm, giving the car excellent power off the line and merging into high-speed traffic. The six-speed manual transmission makes it easy for the driver to keep the engine in its sweet spot.
The 2.4-liter Tigershark engine is rated at 180-horsepower with 175 foot-pounds of torque. The nine-speed automatic transmission works quite well under normal driving conditions. A dynamic selector system enables the driver to select three modes- automatic, sport and traction plus- to modify shift points and throttle response to his specific needs.
The sport mode makes a significant difference in powertrain performance in challenging situations such as the canyon roads along our drive route. In automatic mode, the transmission tends to hunt a lot and throttle response lags. In sport mode, the engine and transmission work together in a much more fluid manner to give the driver the power he needs ascending steep grades.
The electric power steering system has plenty of assist on the low end for maneuvering through crowded urban thoroughfares. Although on-center response is a bit soft, the car’s rigid chassis gives the 500X a good feel when the driver snakes through hairpin turns on a winding rural road.
The four-wheel independent suspension does a good job of smoothing out the bumps on uneven road surfaces. Stabilizer bars on both axles keep the chassis flat in the corners.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the Fiat in firm, linear fashion. An electric parking brake has the advantage of space savings inside the car, but doesn’t work as well for brake starts on manual transmission models as a traditional lever.
Visibility around the perimeter is good thanks to the car’s generous greenhouse. I had no problems monitoring vehicles in adjacent lanes on the freeway and was able to adjust the driver’s seat for a clear forward view.
Engineers did a good job of minimizing engine, road and wind noise intrusion to the interior so occupants can converse or enjoy the audio system.
The well-packaged interior can accommodate up to five passengers, although four will probably be more comfortable on longer trips. Rear seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor so the 500X meets our bicycle-friendly standards.
The Uconnect screen for the base model is on the small side but functional. Midgrade and upscale models get larger screens that are easier to read. Designers did a good job of surrounding the passenger compartment with storage areas including the center console and glovebox. Bottle holders in the doors come in handy on hot summer days.
All models come with seven airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, tire pressure monitoring, a capless fuel filler door, daytime running lamps and hill start assist.
The all-new 500X starts arriving in Fiat dealerships in May.
Like: A stylish, versatile compact crossover. The base Pop model, priced from $20,000 is an exceptional value.
Dislike: Lack of torque on the 2.4-liter engine.
Base price: $20,000
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 160 Hp @ 5500 rpm (1.4L), 180 Hp @ 6400 rpm (2.4L)
Torque: 184 lbs.-ft. @ 2500 rpm (1.4L), 175 lbs.-ft. @ 3900 rpm (2.4L)
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: TBD2016, Best Value 2016, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Fiat, performance, pricing, standard safety
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