2016 Fiat 500x – Review

2016 Fiat 500x - an all-wheel-drive CUV that's stylish, small and snappy

2016 Fiat 500x – an all-wheel-drive CUV that’s stylish, small and snappy

The Fiat 500X is Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s newest entry into the red hot ‘cute-ute’ subcompact class.  It competes with stellar vehicles like the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3.

At first glance, the 2016 Fiat 500X has plenty of features to make you give it a good, hard look when shopping for one of the many excellent vehicles in this class.  The 500 is undeniably cute, rivaling the much more expensive Mini, has full-time all-wheel-drive, at comes at a variety of very attractive price points.  (The base 500X ‘Pop’ starts at $22,295, while our top-of-the-line 500X ‘Trekking Plus’ has a base price of $31,490.)

Two engines are offered in the 500X:  a 1.4-litre turbocharged I-4 engine with 160 horsepower and the 2.4-litre I-4 naturally-aspirated TigerShark engine with 180 horsepower that our test unit had.

Our test unit arrived in the middle of a cold snap, and Trekking AWD model comes loaded with features that will warm (pun intended) the hearts of Canadians.  It has heated steering wheel and heated front seats, and brilliantly, when starting the car in minus 16 Celsius temperatures, the car is smart enough to automatically turn on the the heated steering wheel and driver seat, and the rear window defroster.  Brilliant!

Cabin

The interior of the 500X is pretty nice.  Materials appear to be of good quality and most surfaces one contacts are fitted with soft to the touch coverings.  However, I wasn’t keen on the instrument layout.  The speedometer is in the left of the 3 round instrument ‘pods’; the dominant, large centre pod houses the fuel gauge and coolant temperature, as well as various information such as outside temperature, clock, etc.  We’d have preferred a digital speedometer readout in that prominent place.

On the road

Driving the 500X is a straight forward affair.  Jump into the car, push the dashboard start button to turn on the engine, shift into ‘Drive’ and go.  Nope.  Wait.  The electronic Parking brake is on.  Here’s a pet peeve.  The 500X is programmed to automatically engage the electronic Parking brake any time you put the transmission in Park.  So, pull up in front of the kids’ school to pick them up, put the car in Park, and the Parking brake engages.  Undoubtedly, this is one of those safety features some engineer has conceived, but it is inconvenient.

FCA’s 9-speed automatic with all-wheel-drive is fitted with an electronic ‘mode’ selector, allowing you to choose from Normal, Sport and Snow.  Oddly, our test unit arrived with ‘all-season’ tires.  That’s unusual because in winter, every media demo unit we’ve received in the winter have come fitted with winter tires.  With lower traction all-season tires, we were reluctant to test the Sport mode and tested the vehicle in Normal mode, and there wasn’t any deep snow to properly test the Snow mode.

The 500X provides a good ride given it has a very short wheelbase.  In city driving, it’s compact size makes this an enjoyable and easy car to negotiate through traffic  and being a short car, it’s easy to park.  On the highway, the car’s short wheelbase is a negative and the ride becomes noticeably ‘choppy’ on some surfaces.  And while wind noise seemed well managed at highway speed, our test unit suffered from at least one non-stop interior creaking noise that simply wouldn’t go away.  To be generous, our testing took place in very cold weather, which is the time when creaks and groans are most likely to show up.

However, the A-pillar is very thick and it blocks your right- and left-front views when cornering.

2016 Fiat 500X

2016 Fiat 500X behind 2nd row seat cargo area

Fiat 500's wide A-pillars hinder sight lines when turning

Fiat 500’s wide A-pillars hinder sight lines when turning

One of the surprisingly convenient features during night driving is the cornering lamps.  When the turn signal is engaged, a bright lamp built into the front corner of the car lights up and fills in the darkness the headlight misses.  We liked that.

Fuel economy

The 2016 Fiat 500X AWD with 2.4-litre 4-cylinder engine and 9-speed automatic transmission is rated at 10.6/7.6 L/100 km (city/hwy).

Our observed fuel economy was an unremarkable 11.0 L.100 km (90-percent highway driving, but in extreme, -16 Celsius temperatures.)

Transmission

I was really intrigued to test drive the Fiat, especially with it’s new and highly-touted 9-speed automatic transmission.  More gears give engineers greater flexibility, allowing them to specify lower gearing to get a vehicle to move smartly from a stop, with higher overall gearing to lower engine revs, thereby increasing fuel economy.  Win-win.

There are two problems here.  First is one that’s been reported by various automotive writers – few people have ever seen their test vehicles actually shift into 9th gear (as shown by the gear indicator on the dash.)  I did get the Fiat to show ‘D8’ while cruising at 88 kph on a slight downhill with an air temperature of -15 Celsius.

On the highway, cruising at 120 kph and an air temperature of -19 Celsius, the 500X showed ‘D7.’

The second problem with the German-brand ZF 9-speed automatic transmission is it causes the car to lurch annoyingly under light throttle when shifting from 1st to 2nd gear and 2nd to 3rd gear.  This lurch was so severe in one particular instance I thought the car had stalled – it felt like the the engine had shut off for a moment when pulling away from the curb.

Sad to say, the ZF automatic transmission is not programmed correctly; it feels like the engineers responsible for finalizing the shift points on the transmission went for coffee and the transmission was rushed into production before they gave their final ‘ok’ on its specs.

Pricing

Pricing of the 2016 Fiat 500x Trekking AWD starts at a competitive $30,690.  ‘Standard’ equipment on the Trekking includes lots of goodies, such as Keyless Entry with pushbutton start, 5-in. touch screen, cruise control, remote starting system, satellite radio, 6-speaker audio system, automatic head lamps, cornering lights and much more.

Options

  • Rosso pearl red paint, $995
  • Convenience Group (heated seats/steering wheel, windshield wiper de-icer, climate control, etc.), $1,295
  • Driver assist group, $1,250
  • Navigation group, $1,100
  • Power dual pane sunroof, 8.4-in. touch/SXM/Nav, $1,295
  • BeatsAudio premium sound, $995
  • Compact spare tire, $295
  • 18×7-in. aluminum wheels, $575
  • AC excise tax, $100
  • Destination charge, $1,745

Price as tested, $40,335

Overall

We can’t recommend the 2016 Fiat 500X with its bizarrely-designed automatic transmission.

We’ve never driven a car with such an abysmal transmission, and its so flawed we certainly could not live with it.

The Fiat 500X can be a charming car.  If you must have a Fiat 500X, test drive one with the manual transmission.  If you’re shopping for a sub-compact CUV and you must have an automatic transmission, the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3 or Subaru Crosstrek are all much, much superior alternatives.

Fiat 500X's instrument layout isn't to our liking. We would have preferred a large digital speedometer readout to be available in the large, centre pod instead of the busy, numerous readouts available

Fiat 500X’s instrument layout isn’t to our liking. We would have preferred a large digital speedometer readout to be available in the large, centre pod instead of the busy, numerous readouts available

Likes

  • Heated driver’s seat, steering wheel and rear window defroster automatically turn on when starting the car at cold temperatures
  • Numerous electronic driving aids enhance safety
  • Capless fuel filler
  • Price point (Trekking AWD starts at $30,690)
  • Stylish and practical

Dislikes

  • Terrible automatic 1st to 2nd and 2nd to 3rd gear transmission shifts
  • Wide A-pillar blocks views when turning
  • High tech 9-speed automatic never shifted into 9th gear
  • Parking brake automatically engages when transmission put in Park
  • Options add up fast (as-tested price, $40,335, includes Destination Charge $1,745 + AC excise tax $100)

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