BEVERLY HILLS, CA – Fiat has high hopes for the new ’16 500X CUV, a vehicle it believes will resonate with buyers looking to downsize but still seeking utility.
Taking styling cues from the original 500 minicar and applying them to a CUV is tricky business, but Fiat designers pulled it off. The 500X is attractive and stylish, although some of the European flair of its stablemates is lost in translation.
Its stance is wide and a little higher than the 500 and 500L to provide extra ground clearance. The signature “whiskers” grille remains, but the wide-eyed headlamps are gone, replaced by rakish lights that stretch along the sides of the vehicle.
Other Fiat design elements retained include the trapezoidal nose, rounded clamshell hood and 360-degree character line.
For a B-segment CUV, the 500X is surprisingly roomy inside, which should help it appeal to U.S. consumers, who tend to be larger than their European counterparts.
The seats are well bolstered and prove comfortable and supportive over a nearly 3-hour test drive here. There also is quite a bit more leg and headroom in the 500X than the base 500.
The 500X has a surprisingly large rear cargo area with a height-adjustable floor, second-row 60/40 split seats and a fold-forward passenger seat for carrying long loads. The cabin boasts plenty of storage space, including a generously sized dual glove box, a center console storage area and a bin at the base of the center stack that is a good spot to stash smartphones.
Instrumentation is well laid out and easy to access, and critical information is in clear sight on a standard monochrome display. A 3.5-in. (8.8-cm) color thin-film transistor display also is available.
The 500X offers FCA’s excellent Uconnect infotainment system, which is one of the best in the industry. Icons on the 5-in. (12.7-cm) touchscreen are easily identifiable and programs engage quickly when the tabs are pushed. The system allows for Bluetooth hands-free calling and voice-command control of audio functions. Uconnect also is available with a 6.5-in. touchscreen with additional functions, including GPS navigation and Sirius XM Travel Link.
While Uconnect is a breeze to operate, it doesn’t offer any more features than myriad other infotainment systems do.
Cargo Capacity, Not Handling 500X Focal Point
Although handling is decent, it’s not the 500X’s strong point. Rather, the focus here seems to be on appealing to the U.S. consumer who prefers a cushier ride, which the car delivers with its Koni frequency selective damping front strut and rear shock absorbers.
The Koni system actively filters out high-frequency suspension inputs from uneven road surfaces and adjusts for comfort and smoothness.
The 500X come with either a 1.4L MultiAir turbocharged inline 4-cyl. making 160 hp and 184 lb.-ft. (249 Nm) of torque or a 2.4L Tigershark I-4 producing 180 hp and 175 lb.-ft. (237 Nm) of twist.
Of the two, the 2.4L, paired with a 9-speed automatic transmission, is much more enjoyable, allowing the 500X to pull strongly off the line and pass highway traffic with ease.
The 1.4L is capable, and comes mated to a 6-speed manual transmission that allows you to squeeze out extra power by winding out the gears, but it doesn’t enhance the overall driving experience like the 2.4L does.
The 500X features the Fiat Dynamic Selector system, which offers three customized driving modes, including Auto, Sport and Traction+.
There are a lot of drive-select systems on the market, but most don’t provide a noticeable difference when switching between modes. That is not the case with the Fiat system. There is a marked difference between all three modes, particularly Sport, which modifies the engine calibration for a sportier feel and faster steering response. In all-wheel-drive models, Sport mode also optimizes the transmission for improved lateral driving dynamics.
The 500X is a solid step in the right direction for Fiat in the U.S. market. While the initial 500 and 500L are good cars, they have limited appeal to American buyers. With the small CUV segment expected to explode in the coming years, Fiat may well have a hit on its hands with its latest model.
'16 Fiat 500X Specifications
|Vehicle type||5-seat, 4-door Small CUV|
|Power (SAE net)||180 hp @ 6,400 rpm|
|Torque||175 lb.-ft. (237 Nm) @ 3,900 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||88 x 97|
|Wheelbase||101.2 ins. (2,570 mm)|
|Overall length||167.2 ins. (4,248 mm)|
|Overall width||75.5 ins. (1,796 mm)|
|Overall height||63.1 ins. (1,602 mm)|
|Curb weight||2,967 lbs. (1,346 kg)|
|Fuel economy||22.0-31.0 mpg city/highway (10.6-7.5 L/100 km)|
|Competition||Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Nissan Juke, Mini Countryman|
|Fiat 500 styling cues||European flair lost|
|Available 1.4L turbocharged I-4||A bit underpowered|
|Terrific infotainment system||Does not offer differentiating features|