by David Zatz
The Fiat 500X crossover shares its engines, transmissions, and basic layout with the Jeep Renegade, but they look and feel quite different. The 500X is more capable around turns, even in heavy, pouring rains, but I would not dare take one on even the “mild” Chelsea off-road test track, even if the Fiat crossover does has enough height to give it a proper compact crossover stance.
The 500X is good on twisting roads, around 90° corners, and on highway cloverleafs. It feels more nimble than its weight or crossover form imply, and lends itself to ever-faster turns without complaint, though its relatively heavy feel separates it from sporty cars. In the suburbs, the limit is not the car, but whether you can see far enough ahead. If you want a car with the cornering of a coupe but a height that lets you see further and a bigger-car ride, the 500X is there.
The electric power-assisted steering is heavy, simulating a manual setup, but it doesn’t respond naturally.
The Fiat 500X is well cushioned for a crossover that can zig and zag well, but larger bumps and pot-holes come through firmly (though not painfully), and driving down a cement highway was somewhat rough and bouncy. The 500X tends to lose traction gracefully when turning on rough roads. The driver and passengers will be aware of the surface they’re driving on.
The American/Canadian Fiat 500X uses a little Fiat turbo-four in the manual-transmission front-drive car; otherwise, it’s the 180-horsepower 2.4 with a nine-speed automatic. The EPA rates that at 22/30 (vs 25/34 with the 1.4 turbo). If you drive gently enough, you might achieve that 22 mpg city, despite a high idle speed, but you might just as well drop to 15; on the highway, it’s quite achievable, especially if you use cruise control, which gets you access to ninth gear.
With 180 horsepower and an efficient nine-speed, you’d think acceleration would be a breeze. The 2.4 is no standout, though, except on paper. The nine-speed helps the 500X pull away quickly enough from a stop, but it’s not exactly sporty.
On the highway, passing power is usually slow to arrive. Floor the gas at 60 mph and count one potato, two potato, and then the acceleration starts — sometimes faster, sometimes slower. The big engine tends to vibrate when cruising along. The nine-speed worked as expected; it was smooth, chose the right gears, and faded into the background.
The “feel” control has normal, all-weather/traction, and sport options. The transmission starts out in second gear when you’re in traction mode. Sport mode tends to be keep the transmission no less than two gears lower, mainly holding sixth gear on the highway versus eighth with the normal setting (ninth with cruise control on). Sport gives you better responsiveness and faster kickdowns, but the 500X really isn’t a great highway cruiser.
The interior is interesting — lower headroom and less head room than the Renegade, about the same leg room, and about the same hip room; the cargo area is smaller (less height) but the liftgate opening is wider, go figure. The area underneath the cargo floor is usable, and below that there is space for a spare tire that you don’t get, which leaves a good way to make sure breakables don’t move around (much).
There is plenty of room in the front and the headroom is still quite good; the rear seats are somewhat cramped but inhabitable even for normal sized people. The cargo area is actually fairly generous in size. Overall, the Fiat 500X probably has enough space, depending on your needs, even if you sometimes need to fit three people in the back seat.
The electronics are a mix of Chrysler and Fiat, largely well done. Our test car had the 6.5-inch UConnect system. Street names on nav-screen maps were tiny, but they’re tiny on the current 8.4 inch system, too; the TomTom navigation looks like Chrysler’s Garmin setup.
There were two trip computers (one for speed and distance to a destination and one for fuel economy and trip speed) with an easy preference panel. I liked the physical buttons for settings, mute, return, and categories; and while the two knobs were small, they did the same thing they do on, say, a Dodge Charger.
Those who have amassed a few points on their license may be happy with two separate overspeed systems; you can set it for alerts when you pass a set speed and when you exceed the speed limit by a pre-set number, which goes from 0 (handy for Europeans where there’s a zero-tolerance light-camera setup) on up in five mile per hour increments.
Our huge USB thumb drive was read and indexed quickly, and it took only a few seconds for the system to start reading it after starting — during which time the radio stayed silent. The sound system was unexceptional to listen to, feeling heavy and without exceptionally good or bad clarity or separation.
The center digital gauge seemed like a Fiat design, and had some oddities, including changing its readout to match the UConnect when the trip computer was selected in the big screen. The digital speedometer became my default, given the analog speedometer’s small gauge and 150 mph sweep.
When you back up, the rear camera goes on — activating the radio, if it was off. Need the navigation? You will need to use the small physical mute button. When you set the car for a “power memory” so the stereo stays on after you shut the engine — the stereo not only stays on until you open up the door, but for 20 minutes afterwards, glowing brightly all by itself. The backup camera was fine during the day, but in poor light, it was almost too filled with static to be useful.
The gauge cluster was attractive and well integrated, with the digital center display flanked by a tachometer and speedometer. The fuel and heat were divided into wide bars, though the screen is high resolution and can show exact positions; but otherwise there was little to complain about.
The symbols were usually clear, and you can customize, to a degree, what is shown (information is limited to drive modes, voltage, oil heat, and tire pressure).
The little car icon sometimes bounced a little, and I never did figure out why.
The Fiat climate control system is similar to Chrysler’s, using three knobs with pushbuttons within. It has a good tactile feel, generally makes sense, and includes a manual fan override.
Our interior was quite nice to look at, with nicely colored leather seats, all part of the $3,250 Lounge Collection package along with the blind spot and rear cross path detection, which is handy in parking lots and highways. It also came with a dual-pane power sunroof, 18” aluminum wheels, 215/55 all-season tires, and the rear parking sensor/beeper. They did both front and rear up nicely.
Even the $20,000 “Pop” has air conditioning, a black and white cluster display, power windows, stereo with USB, tilt/telescope steering column, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, power heated mirrors with turn signals, seven airbags, alarm, cruise, electric parking brake, and a capless fuel filler.
The Lounge itself includes a heated steering wheel and front seats; for safety and convenience, it has a built-in parking camera. The Lounge comes with other options one would normally expect in a more upscale car: remote starter, the mode knob, dual-zone automatic temperature control, the color gauge-cluster display, audio controls on the steering wheel, a power eight way driver’s seat (the passenger seat adjusts manually but also folds flat), ambient lighting, and heated rear-view mirrors. It all comes at a price, of course — $27,895, including destination, so that our car rang the till at $31,145 including the Lounge Collection package.
The dual sunroof has manual sliding covers for both front and rear, which worked well; and the control for the sunroof itself was simple and easy to use, with an automatic mode.
Safety gear includes the usual stability control and four-wheel antilock disc brakes, along with side curtain airbags for front and rear, seat-mounted side airbags for the front, mandated driver and passenger sets, and a driver’s knee-bag. There is also, on some models, a collision alert system that jerks the brake as well as sounding an alarm; you can set it to not fiddle with the brakes if you choose, and can set the distance to near, medium, or far away depending on your comfort level. There are few false alarms and the owner’s manual has a lot of detail on how it works.
Visibility is good in all directions, save for areas blocked by the rear pillars. The large windshield, tall ceiling, and side windows give the interior an airy feel. The electric parking brake takes some getting used to, but always cinches up tight and never needs adjustment.
The 500X automatic is made in Italy, using 29% US/Canadian parts, including the engine and transmission. Government safety ratings haven't been issued yet (February 2016), but as MJAB pointed out, the car had top scores on every IIHS measure of crashworthiness, which is impressive. It was better than the Jeep Renegade, which had the top score except in small front overlap and head restraints/seats (where it scored “acceptable,” the second best rating out of four).
The Fiat 500X is meant for whipping around turns rather than climbing over rocks, despite the odd-feeling steering and heavy-car ride. The all wheel drive can be handy, there is a lot of usable space, and while the car is small outside it’s not too small inside. The down side is poor city gas mileage and higher cost than a sedan.
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