By Bill Schaffer
Beverly Hills ? There is big news at Fiat this summer — literally — as Fiat rolls out the 500X adding a seventh model to the Italian/American brand in a new larger size. The 2016 Fiat 500X is also the first Fiat crossover adding a whole new dimension to the brand?s lineup.
Developed from the same basic platform, drivetrain and suspension as the FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) award winning Jeep Renegade the Fiat 500X has a sporty, European look that should make it a standout in this category. With design cues that closely follow Fiat?s unique styling palette, the Fiat 500X adds the extra space and utility needed for families and active lifestyles. And with five available trim levels, shoppers can customize the look, features and capabilities of their own choice.
Exterior design elements include double headlamps with a cool-looking ?500? logo in the lens. The trapezoidal nose, signature ?whiskers and logo? face and rounded clamshell hood produce a look similar to the original Fiat Cinquecento which was built in the 1960s and 1970s. The 500X is available with 16-, 17- and 18-inch wheels and tires with exaggerated wheel arches to give it more of an off-road look and more clearance for when someone does venture from the highways.
Like all the other Fiats I have driven, the 2016 Fiat 500X has a fun factor that few other cars can capture. From the moment I pulled open the door and climbed into the comfortable driver?s seat I found myself smiling — perhaps it?s the colorful exterior colored dash, the intuitive controls or merely the cozy interior.
The controls and instrumentation are intuitive with most functions controlled by simple knobs and buttons. The Fiat also loads up the steering wheel (on the front and the back side), with buttons that allow the driver to control multiple features without removing his or her hands from the wheel. I especially like that the Fiat has a version of Chrysler?s fantastic Uconnect system. This audio and navigation system is easily one of the best in the business with its instinctive fast-acting interface. The system supports features like Pandora, iHeart Radio, Slacker and Aha, there are other connectivity features like Bluetooth, XM Sirius Satellite Radio, and a media hub with USB port and auxiliary jack.
The rear seat will hold three people, but like most small cars, the center seat is tight. The cabin is bright and airy, especially when equipped with the available double sunroof with power opening front panel. Cargo space is 18.5 cubic feet available when all the seats are in place and up to 50.8 cubic feet when the rear seat backs are folded.
The 2016 Fiat 500X comes in five distinctive trims including Pop, Easy, Trekking, Lounge and Trekking Plus. The Trekking models have distinct styling features including more rugged-looking front and rear fascias and metallic accents.
The least expensive model, the Pop, is equipped with a 160-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir four-cylinder engine with a six-speed manual transmission. Optional on the Pop and standard on all the other models is the award-winning 180-hp 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder engine with the new nine-speed automatic transmission. The electronically controlled transmission has a console mounted Dynamic Selector knob that allows the driver to select from three customized modes (auto, sport and traction) to set up the vehicle for different driving conditions. The transmission is also designed with more than 20 individual shift maps to optimize shift points and shift quality for improved fuel efficiency, performance and drivability. The transmission can be shifted manually using the console mounted shifter. However, on a couple of occasions, on my drive through the mountains north of Los Angeles, I felt a bit of roughness in transmission shifting, but that might have been because these were pre-production models we were driving.
During heavy acceleration the Tigershark engine produces a throaty exhaust note and creates a more aggressive sounding package. No official 0 to 60 mph times have been released, but I?d guess it takes about nine seconds. EPA fuel economy is listed at 25 mpg city and 34 mpg highway for the 2.4-liter engine.
All models are front-wheel drive with all-wheel drive as an option on all versions except the entry-level Pop. The system runs in front-wheel drive mode during most conditions uncoupling the rear axle to improve efficiency and reducing parasitic loss. It switches instantaneously to all-wheel drive at the slightest hint of tire slippage.
The handling and ride quality of the 500X are very good with a precise control coming from the touring-tuned suspension and electric power steering. I was especially impressed by how quiet the 500X is on smoothly paved roads.
The 2016 Fiat 500X is ripe with convenience and comfort technologies including features like an electronic parking brake, keyless entry and start, heated seats, heated steering wheel, ambient lighting, heated outside mirrors and capless fueling. Available safety technologies include LaneSense Departure Warning Plus, rear park assist, backup camera, rear cross path detection, rain-sensing wipers and blind-spot monitoring. About the only thing I could see that was missing was active cruise control.
Fiat 500X pricing starts at $20,900, including the $900 destination charge, for the front-wheel drive Pop and goes as high as $25,750 for the Lounge. The two Trekking models are priced at $24,000 and $29,000. All-wheel drive adds $1,900. A Trekking Plus with the available upper-level option package lists for $32,500.
The 2016 500X is a perfect addition to the Fiat model lineup. Compact crossovers are about the hottest new vehicles on the market and this one has distinctive styling, good performance and fuel economy plus an nimble handling that produces a good deal of driving enjoyment. The available AWD is a big plus and should make it popular with shoppers in the northern climates. It?s a ?must drive? for the lists of compact cross shoppers.