Fiat made its return to the United States in 2012 with the 500, a auto that was high on character but low on utility. Then the company introduced its 500L, which has plenty of room for a small auto but falls short in just about every other quantifiable area. With the release of the 2016 500X, though, Fiat has come up with a car that we think is its most balanced yet. The 500X is a subcompact crossover SUV that delivers the personality of the 500 hatchback, more total interior room than the 500L and then a crossover’s elevated driving position and traction-enhancing security of available all-wheel drive. For the most part, it’s a successful formula.
The 2016 Fiat 500X brings Italian flair to the subcompact crossover SUV segment.
On the outside, the 500X looks like a larger, raised version of the 500 that also got a dose of machismo. Dimensions are still relatively small — its length and width are about the same as a Volkswagen Golf, for example — but you do get five-passenger capacity as well as some useful cargo space. The interior is not only the best yet from this Italian brand, but also compelling for this price point in general. Besides quality interior materials, Fiat offers a version of Chrysler’s excellent Uconnect touchscreen interface. There are also options that come as a surprise for a low-priced vehicle, including a heated steering wheel and such safety features as a blind spot monitoring system, a lane departure intervention system and a forward collision warning system.
Built on a rigid structure, the 500X is sporty and carlike on the road, with a solid feeling to it. We’re less impressed with what’s under the hood, though. Fiat offers one of two engines, but neither one is all that great. The turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder can only had on the base model with front-drive and a manual transmission, so even if it were the world’s best engine, it would largely be a moot point for most shoppers. With its higher power output, the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder would seem to be a fine alternative, but it delivers underwhelming acceleration considering its power rating and is paired to a sometimes confused and clunky-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission.
The 500X isn’t the only subcompact SUV to consider, as several others are also hitting the market this year. The 2016 Mazda CX-3 offers even less in the way of utility, but counters with more driver engagement. The 2016 Honda HR-V is the segment cargo- and people-hauling champ, getting the most out of its tiny exterior dimensions courtesy of Honda’s interior packaging wizardry. Then there’s the 500X’s mechanically related corporate sibling, the Jeep Renegade, which is similar in many ways apart from styling and its ability to venture off-road. Finally, there is a pair of funkier offerings already on sale: the sporty Nissan Juke and popular (but front-drive only) Kia Soul. Overall, though, we think the SUVS "B"-rated 2016 Fiat 500X is a pretty appealing and characterful entry in the growing subcompact crossover SUV segment.
Fiat offers two engine and transmission setups for the 2016 500X, but neither one of them is ideal. The 1.4-liter 4-cylinder in the Pop model is smoother than the 2.4 standard in all other models, and its easy-shifting manual transmission lets drivers readily tap into its usable power. Its limited availability largely makes it a moot point, however. The 2.4 has more low-rpm torque and it comes with an automatic transmission. Unfortunately, it can sound rough at high rpm, and its acceleration is disappointing given its ample power figures. The automatic can also produce clunky gearchanges at low speeds (as in when stuck in traffic), along with slow downshifts for highway passing.
Putting aside its underwhelming powertrains, the 2016 500X is an engaging drive, with athletic handling balanced by an adequately cozy ride.
In most other respects, though, we like how the 2016 Fiat 500X drives. Its body structure feels substantial and the suspension does a good job of absorbing bumps and ruts even if it’s certainly on the firm side. Around turns, the 500X remains fairly flat and nimble (especially the front-drive model that sits about an inch lower), and it’s small enough to dart in an out of traffic and park with ease.
A subcompact five-passenger crossover SUV, the 2016 Fiat 500X is offered in Pop, Easy, Trekking, Lounge and Trekking Plus models. The Pop comes only with front-wheel drive, while the other models are offered with front- or all-wheel drive.
Standard equipment on the Pop model includes 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers, full power accessories, heated mirrors, cruise control, air-conditioning, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, a fold-flat front passenger seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a four-speaker sound system with an auxiliary sound jack and a USB/iPod interface.
The Easy adds 17-inch alloy wheels, three selectable drive modes (Auto, Sport, Traction +), keyless ignition and entry, ambient LED lighting, a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, and a removable height-adjustable cargo floor panel. Electronic additions consist of a rearview camera, the Uconnect control interface with a 5-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, Bluetooth phone and sound connectivity, an additional USB port (charging only) and six speakers.
The Trekking gets 18-inch alloy wheels, a more rugged front fascia, foglights, automatic headlights, an upgraded trip computer and upgraded cloth upholstery.
The Lounge lacks the Trekking trim’s exterior body cladding, but adds a windshield wiper de-icer, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, ambient interior lighting, remote ignition, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat (with four-way power lumbar), heated front seats, a heated steering wheel and a rear cargo cover. It also gets an upgraded sound system, a rearview camera and the Uconnect 6.5 control interface, which comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, a navigation system, traffic reporting and HD radio.
The available 6.5-inch Uconnect touchscreen works well.
The top-of-the-line Trekking Plus adds 18-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alerts and rear parking sensors.
Many of the standard features of the higher line models are optional on lower-end models, but Fiat also offers packages to bolster the Lounge and Trekking Plus. Each numbered "Lounge Collection" builds on the content of the previous one. The Lounge Collection 1 package includes rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. The Lounge Collection 2 package adds leather upholstery to those features. The Lounge Collection 3 package adds 18-inch alloy wheels, while the Lounge Collection 4 package adds a dual-pane sunroof. The Lounge Collection 5 adds a nine-speaker Beats premium sound system and Lounge Collection 6 adds automatic high-beam headlights, automatic wipers, a lane departure intervention system and a forward collision warning system.
The Trekking Plus Collection 1 adds the dual-pane sunroof and Beats premium sound system, while the Trekking Plus Collection 2 package has the dual-pane sunroof, automatic high-beam headlights, lane departure intervention system, forward collision warning system and automatic wipers.
The 500X represents a new high watermark for Fiat interiors. The overall look is attractive and the materials are higher in quality than what’s in not only other Fiat cabins, but several larger, pricier SUVs as well. Soft-touch surfaces are found on the dash and armrests, and Fiat makes a center console standard in a class where they can be optional. There are still some hard plastics on the dash face and door tops, but that seems appropriate for the price point.
Available brown leather upholstery gives the 2016 500X’s interior a fashionable look.
Fiat also offers modern connectivity for buyers who choose the Uconnect 6.5 system. It’s run through a 6.5-inch touchscreen and offers such features as navigation, Yelp local search and Internet radio through owners’ smartphones, text-to-speech and speech-to-text capability, remote locking and starting, and, for an additional fee, WiFi hotspot capability. Uconnect is easy to understand and operate, and is among the best infotainment systems on the market.
The 500X is small, offering less rear seat and cargo room than compact hatchbacks like the VW Golf and Mazda 3. Compared to other subcompact SUVs, though, it’s average. Front seat occupants have more than enough head- and legroom, with the available eight-way power seats offering a truly extraordinary degree of adjustment even for tall occupants. Of course, you’ll want to avoid tall drivers if you’re stuck in the back. Rear seat space is otherwise sufficient, though the optional sunroof may chew into headroom. There is enough room for a week’s worth of groceries behind the rear seats, and the rear seat folds down (but not fully flat) to expand that to 32.1 cubic feet. The trunks of all but the base model can also expand by removing or lowering the floor partition.
Standard safety features of the 2016 Fiat 500X include antilock brakes, traction and stability control, a driver knee airbag, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. Available safety features include a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alerts, a lane departure intervention system and a forward collision warning system.
In SUVS testing, the 500X came to a stop from 60 miles per hour in 121 feet, which is average for a small SUV.
All 500X models except for the base Pop come with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that is good for 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard. The available all-wheel-drive system disconnects the rear wheels when they aren’t needed, such as when cruising on the highway, and can send up to half of the power to the rear when the front wheels lose grip.
In SUVS testing, a front-wheel-drive 500X went from zero to 60 miles per hour in 9.0 seconds, which is slow in general but close to average for the segment.
Selectable drive modes notwithstanding, the 2016 500X is a modest performer.
EPA-estimated fuel economy is 25 miles per gallon combined (22 city/31 highway) with front-wheel drive, which is considerably lower than the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3. Going with all-wheel drive drops these figures slightly to 24 miles per gallon combined (21/30). However, a front-wheel-drive 500X returned an extraordinary 32 miles per gallon on the SUVS evaluation route.
The 2016 Fiat 500X Pop model comes with a turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder that makes 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. It is offered only with a 6-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive. EPA-estimated fuel economy with front-wheel drive is 28 miles per gallon combined (25 city/34 highway).
Distinctive and well-made cabin with easy-to-use tech controls; reasonably priced; offers safety features not usually available in this class.
The 2016 Fiat 500X offers many of the strengths of the quickly expanding subcompact crossover segment, including nimble driving manners, decent interior space and thrifty fuel economy, and does it with some Italian flair. It’s worth checking out if you’re interested in a pint-sized SUV.