2016 Fiat 500X Review

2016 Fiat 500X - The cute compact crossover.

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If you are looking for a vehicle with personality, you can never go wrong with anything from Fiat. They do tend toward the "cute" side of the spectrum with their bug-eyed headlights and happy little grille. But I will contend that they are fun to drive, and thus appeal to both men and women.

The 500 is small and urban worthy, the 500L adds family functionality, and the all-new 500X combines the best of all worlds. It's small and peppy with easy park-ability like the 500, but it adds a little more space and function like the 500L.

I really enjoyed driving the 500X during the test week, and with stellar crash-test ratings and an affordable price tag, this new petite crossover is an interesting option for someone who wants both style and utility.

Design

The new 500X is kind of like the little 500 pumped up on steroids. Or, as Fiat humorously depicted during last year's Super Bowl, it's what happens when the compact car accidentally ingests a "blue pill."

It's bulkier and broader than its micro companion, and it gets a few more curves with bumped out wheel wells and defined hood lines. But the family resemblance is very clear with the flat-nosed grille and rounded rectangular taillights. Even the side profile is remarkably similar - just bigger.

The interior is clean and simple with comfortable seats and easy-to-read gauges. While some of the interior finishes felt a bit plasticky, I thought the fit and finish overall was done well and attractive. I particularly appreciated the knobs and dials on the center stack for volume and HVAC control. Too many automakers are starting to place these features within the infotainment screen, and it can be difficult to navigate with gloved or cold fingers.

Ride & Handling
The 500X has two powertrain options: one for the base Pop model and then another for everything else. While I appreciate the choice, I would like to see a little more mix and match.

The base 1.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine is only mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, and it's only available on the POP trim. Whereas the 2.4-liter, inline-4 engine is only mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission, and it's on every other trim. You can't get an automatic transmission on the base model, and you can't get a manual transmission with any of the models that might also give you a heated seat and steering wheel.

Luckily, even with an automatic transmission the 500X is fun to drive. The 2.4-liter TigerShark engine delivers 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque, which is plenty of power for highway merges as well as quick passing maneuvers. I've given the TigerShark a hard time in other vehicles, but with the compact size of the 500X, it works.

You do get a little bit of road feedback, but since the 500X isn't a luxury vehicle, it's not unreasonable.

The test vehicle was a Trekking model, and at the time of publishing this review, I haven't had the chance to test the base Pop model with the 1.4-liter engine and manual transmission.

Fuel economy
Depending on engine choice and drivetrain, fuel economy varies across the lineup, but not as much as you might think. Here's the breakdown of city/highway/combined mileage for each variation:
  • 1.4-liter engine, 6-speed manual transmission, FWD: 25/34/28 mpg
  • 2.4-liter engine, 9-speed automatic transmission, FWD: 22/31/25 mpg
  • 2.4-liter engine, 9-speed automatic transmission, AWD: 21/30/24 mpg
The test vehicle was a front-wheel-drive model with the 2.4-liter engine, and my week-end fuel economy numbers were downright abysmal. In combined driving, I averaged 16.5 mpg.

Tech & gadgets
At a base level, there are no options or gadgets available on the 500X. But as you start to level up, gadgets are more readily available as options. The 500X offers features such as lane departure warning, full-speed forward collision warning with active breaking, a premium BeatsAudio sound system, navigation and a full color touchscreen display.

Trims

The 500X has a clear model breakdown, and as each trim adds more standard features, they also add more package options. So, you have to spend more to get the option of having even more.

Pop: This bare bones model has minimal color choices, and it is the only trim level that comes equipped with the 1.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed manual transmission. Standard features include steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, 16-inch steel wheels, manual seat adjustments, cloth seating surfaces and a front passenger fold-flat seat. It is only available as a FWD model, and there are no packages and minimal accessory options. Your only paint color options: Orange, white, gray, black and red - all with a gray-and-black interior scheme. Base price is $20,995.

Easy: This trim upgrades to the 2.4-liter engine and the 9-speed automatic transmission, plus it also adds the option of AWD (+$1,900). Standard features include 17-inch aluminum wheels, Uconnect with a 5-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth phone pairing, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, passive entry, push button start and remote start. Package options also kick in at this trim, including things such as dual climate controls, heated front seats, backup camera, park assist, blind spot monitoring, navigation and dual-pane sunroof. Color options also double adding blue, bronze and green, as well as an additional red/black interior color scheme. Base price is $23,605.

Trekking: The Trekking trim is dubbed the "rugged" model, and as such it includes a different front fascia, "rugged looking" cloth seats and a traction control system that lets the driver select from three modes: Auto, Sport and Traction. Color options are pared down a bit from the Easy trim, but they are still more plentiful than the Pop model. Package options are similar to the Easy trim. Base price is $24,305.

Lounge: This trim is more of the "luxury" side of the 500X with available leather seats (at least a $1,500 package option) and 18-inch wheels (part of a $2,050 package). At this trim, you can also add lane departure warning, lane keep assist and forward collision warning with active braking. Base price is $26,105, but if you add the biggest package option with all the whistles and bells, you'll top out at $31,455.

Trekking Plus: This trim goes back to the rugged side of things, but it adds in more standard features such as 18-inch aluminum wheels, leather-trimmed seats, a premium sound system, navigation, park assist, backup camera and heated front seats. Base price is $29,205.

Safety
The 500X comes equipped with all the standard safety features you've come to expect in modern vehicles, including advanced multi-stage front airbags, supplemental front seat-mounted side airbags, supplemental side-curtain front and rear airbags, driver's knee bolster airbag, antilock brakes and electronic stability control.

As noted above in the trim section, the available safety systems are numerous and include rear park assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and forward collision warning with active braking.

It's this last feature that makes the 500X eligible for the IIHS Top Safety Pick + Award - which it gets when appropriately equipped. IIHS also gives 500X "Good" ratings in all crash tests as well as an "Advanced" rating for its front crash protection system.

At the time of publishing this review, the NHTSA has not yet rated the 500X.

Not sure what the safety ratings mean? We break it down for you here.

New for 2016

The 500X is all new for the 2016 model year. This compact crossover is the first vehicle in the Fiat lineup that adds AWD availability, combining both efficiency and utility in a compact package.

A few of my favorite things

OK. I admit it. I like a cute vehicle. I especially like that the 500X doesn't quite look like any of the other compact SUVs currently hitting the market. It may bear a family resemblance to the 500 and 500L, but it's unique in its segment.

I'm a huge fan of Fiat, and I love the compact size and affordable price tag that its cars offer. I'm an even bigger fan that you can get that with all-wheel drive.

Another fave: Heat. Though the test vehicle didn't come with a heated driver's seat, I didn't really miss it. The 500X had a super heater that warmed the vehicle within a quarter mile of my house every time I drove it, and it was below freezing during the test week.

What I can leave
My biggest disappointment with the 500X was the fuel economy. With highway numbers that promise to top 30 mpg, I expected to achieve something in the 20s for combined driving, and I didn't. I didn't even come close. I would like to think this is because of the cold weather, so until I can test again in warmer temps, I'll withhold severe judgement.

The 500X is perfect for an urban couple that only infrequently transports passengers. But if you need to regularly have someone in the backseat, you might find quarters a bit cramped - especially for an average-sized passenger behind an average-sized driver.

The bottom line
The 500X has a lot going for it. It has unique looks for its segment, and it offers all-wheel-drive functionality in a compact package. It's fun to drive and fits in tight urban spaces, but it is also comfortable on longer highway drives.

While this might not be quite the right vehicle for maturing families, it works well for urban professionals and young families.

Other vehicles worth cross testing in this segment include the Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V.

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Jill Ciminillo

After more than a decade of writing car reviews, Jill is still considered relative newcomer to the auto review scene. But with her "fresh" perspective, she represents the female point of view amongst her predominantly male colleagues. And, since something like 80 percent of all car-buying decisions are either made by or influenced by women, that's nothing to sneeze at. Formerly the online automotive editor for the Chicago Sun- Times and the print auto editor for Pioneer Press Newspapers, this 5th percentile (aka petite) female tells it like it is from the fun to the functional. As a marathon runner, Jill also serves on the Active Lifestyle Vehicle jury, judging the cars she drives for how well they fit in to a weekend warrior athlete's lifestyle. Jill is currently the automotive editor for the Auto Matters section hosted by Sinclair Broadcast Group and the senior vice president for the Midwest Auto Motive Media Association.

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