2016 Fiat 500X: Generation X

Strong points
  • Reasonably nice lines
  • Solid handling
  • Comfortable seats
  • The 1.4-litre engine and six-speed manual transmission are a good pair (infinitely better than the 2.4-litre engine and nine-speed automatic!)
Weak points
  • Automatic transmission is erratic and unreliable
  • Overall dependability remains to be seen
  • Some may find the suspension a bit firm
  • Some trims are hard on the pocketbook
Full report

If you were born between 1961 and 1980, you’re part of Generation X. That puts you in the 35 to 53 age group, which tends to have a little extra spending cash.

Automakers love gen-Xers and want to treat them to all kinds of little pleasures. Maybe that’s why there are so many vehicles out there whose name includes an X. I’ll spare you the full list, but let’s take a look at the most recent addition to the X club, the Fiat 500X. This vehicle has big aspirations and takes aim at all generations, not just Xers.

Bring on the competition!

This latest Fiat creation joins the fast-growing sub-compact crossover category, which includes the Chevrolet Trax, Nissan Juke, Subaru Crosstrek XV, Kia Soul, Mitsubishi RVR, MINI Countryman, Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, and its kissing cousin the Jeep Renegade.

In fact, everybody’s saying that the 500X is essentially a Jeep Renegade dressed up as a Fiat. The two share the same platform, drivetrain and Italian manufacturing plant. The 500X is great-looking, too—at least much better than the 500L. But of course, this is just my opinion and you may politely disagree. Just like the Renegade, the Fiat relies on a 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo to power its front wheels. The engine develops 160 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. The other option is a 2.4-litre with 180 horsepower and 175 lb.-ft. of torque. In both cases, these figures match those of the Renegade. The only transmission available for the 1.4-litre mill is a six-speed manual. Meanwhile, the 2.4-litre comes with a nine-speed automatic.

Automatic box or Pandora’s box?

During the launch event, we spent most of our time driving units with the 2.4-litre. This engine does a decent job, though it doesn’t seem to put its heart and soul into it. Of course, it doesn’t get much back-up support. The nine-speed automatic built by ZF is an insult to human engineering capabilities, despite the fact that the company makes telescopes that can detect gamma rays millions of light-years away. This transmission is like a politician—it constantly changes position and lacks any semblance of reliability as it searches for the right gear. It takes far too long to make changes (upshifting or downshifting alike). When it does make a move, it’s always jerky. Electing to change gears manually doesn’t improve the situation, nor does the Sport mode.

If you want the Sport mode to be effective, you have to use it at the right time. Driving along a winding road at a leisurely pace, this mode quickly had me seeing red, as it prevented the automatic gearbox from changing gears—something it’s not particularly good at to begin with. However, the Sport mode does become useful when you drive faster.

The 1.4-litre engine and manual transmission are a much better combination. And they cost less, too. This engine may be a little less powerful, but it offers more torque (9 lb.-ft.) and makes it available sooner (at 2,500 rpm compared to 3,900 rpm for the 2.4-litre). The manual transmission may not be something to write home about, but it’s not curse-worthy either. The shifting distances could be a touch shorter and the clutch could be a bit firmer, but it’s not worth the tear in your beer. Too bad you can’t combine the 1.4-litre and manual option with all-wheel drive.

Five trim levels are available. There’s the Pop at $21,495, the Sport at $25,995 (FWD) or $29,290 (AWD), the Lounge at $29,990 (FWD) or $32,190 (AWD), the Trekking at $26,995 (FWD) or $30,690 (AWD), and finally the Trekking Plus at $30,490 (FWD) or $32,690 (AWD). You’ve surely noticed that all trims are available with front- or all-wheel drive, except the base trim, which comes with front-wheel drive only.

Italian to the power of four

The all-wheel drive system is the same one used in the baseline Jeep Renegade. This means that whenever the rear wheels don’t need torque, the transmission shaft completely disengages to reduce fuel consumption. Essentially, this system can expedite 50% of torque to the rear wheels or to any of the individual wheels. That means that it can send 50% to the rear left wheel and 50% to the front right wheel, if the situation calls for it. Although this system was borrowed from the Renegade, it has been calibrated to be less “aggressive” in the 500X. At the introductory event, I didn’t get the chance to drive a unit with all-wheel drive, but since no off-roading was on the agenda and our planned route was as smooth as a monk’s head, it didn’t make much of a difference. Interestingly, Chrysler (or FCA, according to the new designation) claims the front- and all-wheel drives weigh the same. In the Renegade, the all-wheel drive system tacks on an extra 63 kilograms.

Once you get over the shock of the automatic gearbox’s erratic behaviour, you find a vehicle that doesn’t roll in corners, offers solid road handling and treats you to comfortable seats. The suspension is a tad firm, but not enough to be bothersome (pothole season notwithstanding!). The steering is decent and is assisted just enough to accentuate the sport effect. In the rear, I found the seatback a little too vertical for my taste, but there was a good amount of room for my legs and head, considering the car’s small size.

It’s hard to say whether the Fiat 500X will be as popular as it deserves to be. But one thing is for sure: It will sell better than the 500L, which I predict is headed toward extinction. If I’m wrong, let’s pretend I never wrote this article.

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