- Audi-like exterior
- Tidy urban size
- Strong 4-cylinder power with 2.4-liter
- Tetchy automatic shifting
- Sunroof steals head room, especially in back
- Rear seats don't fold completely flat
The smartly styled 2016 Fiat 500X is no off-roader, but it might be the most useful vehicle from the brand yet.
The Fiat 500X is brand-new this year, and Fiat says it brings good road manners, perfect urban size, excellent fuel economy, and cut-above safety technology to the growing class of small SUVs, which includes the Chevy Trax and Buick Encore, the Jeep Renegade (a platform-mate of the 500X) and soon will include the likes of the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3.
After struggling in the U.S. with the its tiny 500 hatchback and the bigger—but awkward—500L hatch, Fiat has a real chance to win over American car buyers with its first small crossover SUV, the 500X.
The 500X makes its strongest pitch right off the bat, with smart styling, inside and out. Drawn in Italy, the 500X has an aero-smooth, Audi-like outline drawn in Italy, and from all outward appearances, a neat fit with that country's long history of cut-above tailoring. The 500X incorporates enough of the cute cues from the 500 hatchback, without the weird transitions and tack-ons of the bigger 500L. It's a more mature-looking vehicle than either of its cousins, but it touches its brand home base with the mustache-and-badge face, a clamshell hood, and these twin headlamps.
Trekking and Trekking Plus versions have their own front and rear end designs, for a slightly more rugged look.
Inside, Fiat has left things neat and clean, with big, round gauges matching up with big, round climate controls, and available body-color trim, all topped by a moderately sized LCD screen factored into the dash for infotainment and camera displays.
In the U.S, drivers get a choice between two powertrains, but in practice, there's just one combination most will experience. The base engine is a turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-4 that makes 160 horsepower; we've driven this combination in the Dodge Dart, where it proved underwhelming. The limiting factor here will be its transmission: it's coupled only to a 6-speed manual transmission, and available only on the base Pop trim level.
With its bigger 2.4-liter inline-4, the 500X makes 180 hp. Again, the transmission is a hurdle: the 9-speed automatic is Chrysler's best effort yet at tuning this gearbox's shift patterns, but it's still occasionally abrupt in its gear changes, and takes far too long to downshift in anything but its most aggressive programmable driving modes (Auto, Sport, and Traction+—a choice given to drivers on most 500X models).
The 500X's road manners are good for the class. Electric power steering doesn't have much feedback, but it's not a negative in terms of responsiveness. The 500X rides firmly on its strut suspension, but even with optional 18-inch wheels, it's not a punishing vehicle. In all, it's one of the more entertaining small SUVs this side of the Mini Countryman.
All-wheel drive (AWD) is an option, but the 500X is no off-roader like its Renegade kin. Stripped of the Jeep's skid plates and extra ground clearance, the 500X does just fine for traction as a front-driver; the optional $1,900 AWD system contributes more traction while disconnecting itself when not needed to help reduce fuel consumption.
In terms of interior space, the 500X measures up against most rivals. Front-seat space and comfort are generally good, though the available leather seats could use more definition at the bottom and less at the headrest. In back, knee and head room can feel scant behind a tall driver and underneath the optional sunroof. Cargo space is competitive, and though the 500X's rear seat doesn't fold quite flat, the resulting space has a nice, low load floor and a regular shape.
As for safety, the 500X hasn't yet been crash-tested by the feds, but comes with seven airbags, stability control and hill-start assist. Options include forward-collision-warning and lane-departure-warning systems; blind-spot monitors with rear cross-path detection (it scans side angles to warn of vehicles approaching from the rear); and a rearview camera optional or standard on most trim levels. The IIHS gave the 500X its Top Safety Pick+ designation.
Other features include an audio system with a touchscreen interface; Bluetooth with audio streaming; a digital display in the gauge cluster for ancillary vehicle functions; keyless ignition; navigation; and heated front seats and a heated steering wheel.
Prices for the 500X start at just above $20,000, and can reach as high as $30,000 or more on a well-equipped 500X Trekking Plus.
The EPA rates the all-wheel-drive version at 21 mpg city, 30 highway, 24 combined. Those figures are slightly better for front-wheel-drive: the 2.4-liter four ekes out 22/31/27 mpg. The most frugal of the Fiat trio is the turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-4 that makes 25/34/28 mpg.