Los Angeles, CA. — I feel as though I’m at a fashion show watching all the wafer-thin models walk past me in various get-ups, but instead of being surprised by what I’m seeing, I’m simply nodding my head in approval.
The car business is all about trends, and like fashion, they come and go. In the time-lapse between what graces the catwalk and what shows up in stores, fashionistas usually know what will be a hit and what will turn out to be a flop. In the car game, I happen to be the fashion expert and can tell you that the crop of subcompact CUVs coming our way will all be winners, in their own way.
The 2016 Fiat 500X will try and be the posh-er of the lot. As the Euro Italian, they're typically known for their sense of fashion; and on that note, they will be. The exterior styling is a hit as is the interior. Depending on trim, the ambiance goes from cool to high-class with a dashing dashboard and lovely materials. The front seats are nice, and the driving position is fair, with one exception. Handling is surprisingly good, but there is a problem: the powertrain.
On content and styling, the 2016 Fiat 500X is a winner, and it will remain so until something happens…
Much like (exactly like, in fact) the Fiat’s twin-cousin the Jeep Renegade, the 500X is motivated by a turbocharged 1.4L MultiAir 4-pot that punches out 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. This base engine is solely mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox. There is an optional powertrain: a 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque 2.4L 4-cylinder TigerShark engine coupled with a 9-speed automatic transmission.
I am familiar with the 1.4L, however, I did not get a chance to try it out in the 500X. Regardless, I suspect that there will be far fewer of them on the road versus the 2.4L. And that’s something of a shame. In Canada, the principal reason for this will originate from the fact that the AWD is only available with the 2.4L. In and of itself, the TigerShark is not the problem, the issue is with the 9-speed autobox.
I’ve taken issue with this transmission from the onset when it arrived with the Chrysler 200 and Jeep Cherokee. As though to prove me right, one of the pre-production testers’ ZF-sourced transmission apparently failed on the drive. This did not occur at the 200 or Renegade launches nor did transpire when I test-drove the Cherokee. Bad luck perhaps…
If the transmission is a seriously sore point, the 500X’s chassis is not. Made with an important degree of high-strength steel, the Fiat’s platform is rigid and firm enough to eliminate all forms of rattles and shakes. The MacPherson front and Chapman rear suspension setup keep the 500X flat and planted even through some challenging roads, such as the famed Mulholland Drive and Topanga Canyon Boulevard.
While body-roll and contact patches were kept in check, I managed the steering wheel as best as I could. Feedback from the electronic power steering is nearly nil, but the front wheels respond briskly to driver inputs. The brakes were fade-free and in the end, the 2.4L’s gusto was sufficient for fun times.
Dynamic Control and technology
The Dynamic Control selector is standard from the expected-to-be very popular Sport trim on. It can be set to Auto, Sport or Traction+, but I found that Auto was the better function even on the twisty roads.
Another remarkable aspect of the new 2016 Fiat 500X is the large level of gadgets that FCA managed to cram into the small utility vehicle. The best news is that Uconnect is standard; it is one of the easiest and quickest-reacting HMI systems currently on the market.
Among the features that can be tacked on, we have navigation, keyless entry and go, heated seats and steering wheel, and a whole slew of active and passive safety features. One such element is LaneSense Departure Warning that I find terribly invasive and nearly disturbing. In many cars, this function can quickly be disabled, however, I was unable to do so in the 500.
As I’ve stated, the 500X’s interior quarters are just as pleasing as the outer shell. The vehicle’s instrumentation is straightforward but I did find a few menu items and their functionality to be sometimes annoying; I would have to scroll through various displays in order find my trip computer every time the ute was turned off or the Dynamic Control was used.
Front space is good, while the backbench is fairly snug. Two average-size adults and nothing more can squeeze onto the otherwise comfy seat. The trunk is capacious with a 2-level floor. The driving position is fair, but a nod of disapproval goes to the steering wheel’s overly large spokes that prevent good hand positioning.
Tough days ahead
Not only will there be an all-out war in the subcompact utility vehicle segment shortly, but a small battle will take place in Fiat showrooms. Actually, the less-than-liked 500L doesn’t stand a chance against the 500X…
Out there is where the casualties will mount up. The likes of the Honda HR-V (review to come soon, I promise), the Jeep Renegade and soon-to-be evaluated Mazda CX-3 all challenge the 500X directly. The Nissan JUKE, Chevrolet Trax and, to a lesser extent, the MINI Countryman, also dabble in the category. So far, I really, really like the Jeep for its well-rounded personality and the ability to get the 1.4L turbo with AWD (not so with the 500X).
The numerous trims, 12 available colours, large selection of wheels and fab design will help the 500X grab a sizeable chunk of the ever increasing sales pie of this category.
The 2016 Fiat 500X arrives in showrooms this summer and the starting price is set at $21,495. The Sport FWD starts at $25,995 and the jump to AWD requires $2,195. A top-line Trekking Plus AWD goes for $32,690.