2016 FIAT 500X Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
June 20, 2016

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.

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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.

8

2016 FIAT 500X

Styling

The 500X could do worse than its Audi-like exterior styling; the cabin's a good-looking winner.

Small SUVs tend to vector into two groups: the ones that employ all the usual visual cues to connote off-road talent, and the ones that pitch smoothly sculpted bods as they pitch themselves as urbane sedan and hatchback alternatives.

The Fiat 500X clearly fits in the latter group. Even though it shares an architecture with the bulldog-cute Jeep Renegade, the 500X dons a different roofline and some throwback Fiat heritage cues into its petite package. The front end wears the classic Fiat mustache-and-badge face, stacked pairs of lamps on each side of the grille, and a clamshell hood.

Down the side, though, the 500X is drawn along the exact lines of Audi's smaller SUVs—no bad example to borrow. Its roof pulls up over passengers' heads in a gentle arc, and the sides are pared of any non-essential details. All the weird transitions and disruptions of the somewhat related 500L hatchback are dissolved into a neat, tidy, organically drawn shape that's more mature than either of the other Fiats—and the Jeep.

There's a bit of visual distinction in the lineup, too. The basic 500X models—Pop, Easy, and Lounge—get tweaked into Trekking form for a light application of SUV cues. It's nothing like an Outback, but the 500X Trekking gets a slightly more pronounced front-end treatment and its own wheel styles.

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.

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7

2016 FIAT 500X

Performance

Chrysler's 9-speed automatic is still a sticking point; acceleration is fine with the bigger 4-cylinder, and handling is average.

The Fiat 500X is a pleasant performer with its upmarket engine, but that powerplant is teamed with a transmission that still has occasional shift-quality issues, two model years after Chrysler's first use of it. Handling is above average for the class, even with the largest wheel and tire combinations.

American versions of the 500X will come with a choice between two engines. The lower-power version is offered only on the base 500X Pop, and comes only with a 6-speed manual transmission. It's a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder familiar from the Dodge Dart compact, where we've found it lacks enough power to motivate a 3,000-pound vehicle with any authority. We were unable to drive the base 500X with this drivetrain, but Fiat suggests only about five percent of buyers will opt for it anyway.

We spent our driving day behind the wheel of a 500X Trekking Plus outfitted with the bigger 2.4-liter inline-4, which develops 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. It's teamed with a 9-speed automatic, which is a combination we've driven in the Jeep Cherokee and Chrysler 200, and come away with similar impressions. The engine is a much-improved version of the 4-cylinder that dates back to the Dodge Caliber.

Here, it's mostly smooth if not too free-revving, and has enough power to move the 500X's 3,000-3,150 pounds (not including passengers) with ease. The automatic transmission is the letdown. While it shifts better than in some other vehicles with the same combination (Chrysler 200, Jeep Cherokee), it still can hang in its two lowest gears on acceleration—and conversely, is very, very slow to downshift when left in normal mode.

There's a workaround, one sure to affect fuel economy. Most 500Xs will come with adaptive controls for quicker shifts, heftier steering feel, and better throttle response. To get the 500X to respond at all to a firm foot on the gas you need to be in sport mode. We considered leaving it in that mode all day long after a few highway merges, but doubt most owners will commit to doing the same, which requires selecting Sport on every startup. The 500X might shift better in Auto mode with a set of shift paddles for manual gear choices, but they're not on the menu.

The 500X lacks its comrade Renegade's extra 0.8 inches of ground clearance, skid plates, and better approach and departure angles—but an all-wheel drive system common to both is an option on the 500X. It's an axle-disconnect system that completely detaches the driveshaft and differential at the rear from the front wheels, until wheelslip triggers the system back into use. The system has operated almost imperceptibly in other vehicles we've driven, but in this case, we had only very limited exposure to it.

Our very light driving on dirt paths didn't come close to pushing the system its limits—but truth be told, most drivers don't really need the extra traction in a vehicle of this kind, anyway. It's pitched much more as a tall-riding, high-styling hatchback versus as a mini-Wrangler. That explains its almost perky driving feel: it has a firm ride and quick steering, even in Auto mode. The electric power steering isn't ripe with feedback, but it's sorted out well enough as to be unnoticeable. Its strut-type suspension is pretty well-composed during cornering despite its taller body; brake feel is probably the best of all the driving inputs. Short of the Mini Countryman, it's probably the most entertaining SUV in this size class, though well shy of the bigger benchmarks, the Mazda CX-5 and Ford Escape.

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2016 FIAT 500X

Comfort & Quality

The 500X has ample cargo room and front passenger space, though back-seat passengers could use more head and knee room.

The Fiat 500X is one of a new class of small crossover SUVs. It's perhaps the first Fiat that won't be hampered by its size in the U.S. market, even though its dimensions are truly petite when you consider the vehicles that dominate the SUV class—everything from Jeep Grand Cherokees to Cadillac Escalades.

The 500X rests on a wheelbase 101.2 inches long, with an overall length of about 168 inches depending on the model. That makes it some five inches shorter than the Fiat 500L hatchback, but it's not at a huge loss for interior space. The 500X is also about an inch wider than the 500L, and it's wider than other vehicles in its class, like the Chevy Trax.

In front, the 500X suits even bigger passengers pretty well. The seats are firm enough and have lots of lumbar support, if a little flat and lean on side bolstering. Knee and shoulder room are fine, but head room is skimpy when the optional panoramic sunroof is fitted. The headrests on leather-equipped vehicles have a pronounced edge that's not comfortable for its intended purposes, though there's a thoughtful knee pad on the side of the center console.

Storage for front-seat passengers is ample. There's a twin glove box with a locking lower box, and useful bins in the center console and at the bottom of the center stack of controls.

In the back seat, the 500X isn't as spacious as vehicles like the Honda HR-V, which we've experienced in an auto-show setting. Rear-seat head room is OK, but noticeably less than in the Honda. Front-seat passengers will have to compromise on their comfort, so that tall rear-seat passengers have enough leg room to clear the seat backs off their knees.

Fiat promises unmatched utility with the 500X, but again the HR-V looms large(r). In all, the 500X has 18.5 cubic feet of space behind the second row, and 50.8 cubic feet behind the front seats. But the Fiat's seats don't fold down quite flat, and there's nothing like the Honda's fold-away "Magic Seat," which frees up lots of vertical space behind the front seats. A height-adjustable rear cargo floor is offered on all 500X models except the Pop, and the front passenger seat back lays flat so very long objects will fit down the passenger side.

Where the 500X makes up ground versus almost all its competition is in interior trim. The 500X does have a big, shiny panel of black plastic on the dash, one that reflects on windshield, but buyers can choose beautiful color insets for the dash. We say yes to vivid orange trim, but we'd skip the brown leather seats, which end up looking more like artificial vinyl. Elsewhere in the Fiat there's a better sense of quality and design. Frankly, it makes the Honda look like it was styled by accident, and it's a fairly good-looking car.

Noise levels in the 500X are fairly low until you're at full throttle or an 80 mph cruise. Even then, they're better than acceptable for a car shaped almost perfectly to amplify noise.

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2016 FIAT 500X

Safety

The crash data is incomplete, but there are some advanced safety features are options.

The NHTSA hasn't yet performed any crash tests on the Fiat 500X, though it should receive scores in the coming months as the feds begin testing of brand-new models in earnest.

The IIHS has given the Fiat 500X top scores, however. The 2016 model earned the safety agency's Top Safety Pick+ designation with "Good" marks for every test, including the notoriously difficult small overlap front test. The 500X also managed an "Advanced" rating for front crash prevention, when optionally equipped.

As for safety equipment, the 500X has seven airbags, stability control and hill-start assist as standard equipment. A rearview camera is available as a part of reasonably priced option groups; it's standard on Lounge and Trekking Plus.

Other safety technology on the options list includes forward-collision warning and lane-departure warning systems, and blind-spot monitors with rear cross-path detection. The latter scans side angles of traffic to warn of vehicles approaching from the rear.

Visibility to the rear isn't great in the 500X due to its stubby dimensions and tall rear-seat headrests, but the relatively low shoulder lines and hood keep a mostly clear view to the sides and front of the car.

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2016 FIAT 500X

Features

The 500X has available Uconnect services for smartphones and some appealing options.

The 500X lineup is split into five separate models: the base $20,900 Pop; the mid-range $23,200 Easy and $24,000 Trekking models; and the top $25,750 Lounge and $28,000 Trekking Plus versions.

Standard features across the board include power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; tilt/telescope steering; steering-wheel audio controls; an AM/FM radio with a USB port and an auxiliary jack; and cloth seats.

Above the Pop, all models get a multi-position cargo shelf, cruise control, and a remote USB port for charging only. All-wheel drive is a $1,900 option on everything except the Pop.

Power front seats are an option on Easy and Trekking models; they're standard on Trekking Plus and Lounge editions. Both the Lounge and the Trekking Plus model can be fitted with with premium leather seats in either black or a tobacco brown that bears a striking resemblance to Naugahyde.

On the infotainment front, Easy and Trekking models get Uconnect 5.0, a smartphone-capable audio system with a 5.0-inch touchscreen, a year's worth of satellite radio, Bluetooth with streaming audio. Those models can be upgraded to Uconnect 6.5, which is standard on Trekking Plus and Lounge models: it includes a bigger 6.5-inch touchscreen, navigation, traffic and travel data, and HD Radio.

All but the Pop trim can be upgraded to Beats audio and its eight speakers and subwoofer.

Other available features include a color display in the gauge cluster for ancillary vehicle functions; a panoramic sunroof; keyless ignition; heated front seats; and a heated steering wheel.

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7

2016 FIAT 500X

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy in the 500X isn't as highly rated as some other similarly-sized crossover SUVs.

The 2016 Fiat 500X manages less-than-stellar fuel economy figures for its class, but at least there is a bright spot: all models manage more than 30 mpg on the highway cycle, according to the EPA.

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 4-cylinder 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.

That leaves the 500X at a disadvantage with other vehicles like the Chevy Trax, which is rated at 27 mpg combined when equipped with all-wheel drive, or the Subaru XV Crosstrek, which earns a 29-mpg combined EPA rating.

The Honda HR-V, meanwhile, is rated at up to 29 mpg combined with all-wheel drive, and up to 31 mpg combined when outfitted with a continuously variable transmission and front-wheel drive.

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April 9, 2016
2016 FIAT 500X FWD 4-Door Easy

Avoid rough roads, or get a mouth protector.

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The car rental company I use allows you to pick any car in the row. The 500x was interesting looking and I thought I would give it a try. This car was loaded with an almost incredible number of features... + More »
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December 16, 2015
2016 FIAT 500X FWD 4-Door Pop

2016 has good pick w turbo in a manual.

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Dealer stated blue tooth equiped bad without one also no cd player another poor feature to cut back.
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