In a platform shared with the Jeep Renegade, the X rolls off the same assembly line in Italy.
Here at DoubleClutch.ca, having a small crossover utility vehicle in the fleet each week is more or less a guarantee. There’s a lot of seat time in vehicles from this segment, and sometimes the differences can blur together in a twisted concoction of metal, plastic, and simulated leather. This time around, Fiat Chrysler Canada sent over a 2016 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus AWD for evaluation. It’s the latest in a string of products meant to bolster the 500 lineup, complimenting the several forms of the regular 500, and also the wagon-esque 500L.
In a platform shared with the Jeep Renegade, the X rolls off the same assembly line in Italy and comes with similar powertrain options – more on that later. The Trekking Plus trim represents the highest of five trim levels for the 500X, which range from spartan utilitarianism all the way to kitchen sink. With cute and cheerful styling, will the bubbly Fiat be able to keep up with the countless heavy hitters that it’s up against? Par for the course in the small crossover class, the 500X comes available with seating for five, and has a rear hatchback that holds plenty of cargo. With the rear seats folded down, it was absolutely no problem to fit eight passenger car winter tires that were mounted on rims.
While it did take some creative contorting to get everything in, the Fiat didn’t miss a beat and swallowed it all without complaint. Beyond the cargo space, front and rear seat legroom is reasonably good, and no single seat in the X could be considered to be a penalty box. The Trekking Plus AWD test vehicle came equipped with leather seating surfaces (heated up front), as well as a heated steering wheel that comes in handy on chilly mornings. Seat comfort is moderately good, with flat seats that offer little in the way of lateral support – longer trips may become a bit of a pain. Thankfully, although the ride quality is on the firm side, it isn’t too jarring.
As for the rest of the Fiat 500X’s interior, the verdict depends on the trim level you’re paying for. The materials and fit and finish make for a respectable interior for the lower trim levels, but once you dish out for the Trekking Plus model, the abundance of gray-black plastics don’t give the impression that the 500X is a high-end car. The airy dual pane sunroof and touches of leather offer glimmers of hope, as do the metallic-look bezels throughout, but overall there isn’t much to write home about once you’re settled down on the inside. There needs to be more to distinguish the Trekking Plus from the lower end models.
While the hardware on the interior appears to be a little lacking, the Fiat’s media connectivity is the excellent (optional) UConnect 8.4 navigation system, with a touch screen equalling that number in inches. This UConnect is seen in many other Fiat Chrysler products across the board, and features a slick and easy-to-use interface that never lets you down. Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming work very well, and the pairing process is quick and easy.
Included on the test vehicle was the $495 BeatsAudio premium sound system, which somehow managed to be fairly soft when it came to dropping the bass, even after a significant time spent adjusting the equalizer. The non-premium sound systems in other UConnect-equipped Fiat Chrysler products manage to hit harder – which leads to the suspicion that perhaps there was a packaging constraint in the doors that prevented better speakers from being installed.
Moving under the hood, the Fiat 500X shares most of its powertrain configuration with its Jeep Renegade sibling. Base models get a 1.4L turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and the Trekking Plus trim level gets the 2.4-litre Tigershark MultiAir with 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque. With a curb weight of 1,487 kg (3,278 lb), the 500X has approximately one hundred kilograms of less mass to move compared to the Trailhawk trim level on the Renegade, and so the X feels a bit more responsive and can have a slightly easier time when merging or passing. All-wheel drive can only be had with the larger mill and automatic transmission.
The gearbox is the same ZF nine-speed automatic seen in the Renegade and many other Fiat Chrysler products. Unfortunately, it has been the subject of previous criticism for its lack of refinement and extra complexity, and the 500X is no exception. The Fiat’s transmission does not get a low range, and so the car will utilize all nine gears from a stop. This gives the Fiat a little more spring in its step off the line with a short ratio first gear, since the Renegade uses only eight gears under normal conditions, and sacrifices first gear (combined with a shorter final drive) to give a driver-selected low range for off-roading.
In the Fiat, the transmission still likes to wind out gears to higher engine rpm, and still shifts harshly at lower speeds. The shift between fourth and fifth is usually the one that kicks the whole car, and the 500X transmitted some of this kick throughout the whole cabin as it rowed through the gears. Thus far, no two ZF nine-speeds under test in various vehicles have performed identically to each other – some are rougher under all conditions, some are rougher during specific gear changes, and some are relatively smooth. At the end of the day, tweaks need to be made to this transmission in order to improve refinement and drivability.
On paper, the extra gear ratios in the transmission provide a wide range of choices to keep the engine operating at its optimum peak, in terms of both performance and fuel economy. When equipped with the 2.4-litre engine and AWD, Fiat rates the 500X at 11.0 L/100 km in the city, and 7.9 L/100km on the highway. Like the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, it was fairly difficult to achieve these numbers. With a mix that favoured city driving, the 500X offered up 13.5L/100km. Part of this can be attributed to colder weather; however competitors such as the Ford Escape managed to beat the Fiat by up to 2.0 L/100km in a similar city-highway mix.
A redeeming quality about the 500X could potentially be the price point, but the Trekking Plus AWD trim doesn’t quite achieve this objective either. With an as-tested price of $35,875 before taxes and fees, heavy hitters such as the Subaru Forester XT and the Ford Escape Titanium come to mind as vehicles that offer a more premium feel. The base “Pop” and “Sport” trims on the 500X starts at $20,995 and $25,495 respectively, and are certainly the ones to get when looking for value for money. In either trim, both powertrains are available, but only the Sport can be had with AWD. When it comes to the top Trekking Plus AWD trim level, the 500X should be considered if one requires the cute and fun exterior styling combined with all the gadgets it has to offer. Otherwise, get the lower trims or consider its rugged sibling, the Jeep Renegade.