Meet the new crossover from Fiat — The 500X

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(December 15, 2014) Just when you thought it was safe to go into the Fiat showroom, another variant of the 500 appears. This time, its a crossover that shares its underpinnings with the Jeep Renegade, but clothes them in a skin than isn’t as over the top.

Fiat, of course, has staked its future on the 500, hoping to repeat the magic BMW created with the Mini Cooper. (If you must use a Mini analogy, the 500X is Fiat’s Countryman.) The rest of the company's lineup is moribund, and built off a chassis borrowed when it was a partner of GM; the 500 is all Fiat has got. Thus, it churns out more variants in the hope of stabilizing its namesake brand long enough to service the debt, and to create a new family of cars that wear the Fiat badge.

American buyers will have a choice of two powertrains: the 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo mated to a six-speed manual driving the front wheels, or the 2.4-liter Tigershark MultiAir2 mated to a nine-speed automatic and available with either front- or all-wheel drive. Those wishing to shift for themselves will be able to call on 160 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque, while the shiftless get 180 horsepower and 175 lb.-ft.

All-wheel drive versions of the 500X get a disconnecting rear axle as part of the package. And while the folks at NHTSA might become alarmed that the rear axle will part company with the rest of the car and be ready to initiate a recall, this actually means that, in order to improve fuel efficiency, the rear axle is not sucking any power when all-wheel drive capability isn’t needed.

Also, the Dynamic Selector lets the driver choose from one of three drive modes (Auto, Sport, Traction+), depending on conditions. These affect the settings for engine performance, power steering assist, ESC calibration and shift patterns for automatic transmissions. In addition, Traction+ transmits torque to the rear axle more quickly on four-wheel drive versions or activates the electronic front differential system on front wheel drive versions.

As you would expect, the 500X looks like a Fiat 500 on steroids. Designed at Fiat Centro Stile in Turin, and built at the Melfi assembly plant, the 500X has a drag coefficient of 0.34, sits higher and gives the driver a more commanding view of the road. The respective approach, departure and breakover angles are 21.3°, 30.1° and 22.3°, and the 500X comes equipped with protective skid plates to protect the bodywork and mechanicals.

About 70% of the 500X’s body structure is formed from high-strength steel, and structural adhesives are used to increase rigidity further while lowering overall vehicle weight. MacPherson struts are used front and rear, and the front axle is equipped with a dual-function cross member. It increases rigidity, lowers noise levels and directs crash forces along a unique load path to improve energy absorption. The shock absorber mounting is “split” to send road vibrations along two load paths to reduce transmission of road noise and improve the ride.

Inside, the 500X gets a new instrument binnacle that is divided into three circular displays. The center unit features a reconfigurable 3.5-inch TFT display, and is flanked by a speedometer and tachometer. The revised steering wheel offers improved grip and comfort, a heating option, and audio and vehicle system controls, while the retro-look instrument panel gets new switchgear and a 5.0-inch or 6.5-in. Uconnect touchscreen, the latter with navigation.

Uconnect includes Bluetooth phone and music streaming connectivity, as well aux-in and USB ports, and the system can even read incoming text messages on compatible mobile phones.

European models offer a BeatsAudio sound system boasting a 560-Watt, eight-channel digital amplifier. It’s uncertain, though likely, this will be offered in models sold in North America. The 2016 Fiat 500X offers up to 70 standard and available safety and security features, including Forward Collision Warning-Plus, LaneSense Departure Warning-Plus, Blind-spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Path detection. Electronic stability control (ESC) with Hill-start Assist and electronic roll mitigation is standard on all models, as are seven air bags.

To go with the 500X’s more upmarket image, soft-touch material use has been expanded, a PVB layer inside the windshield absorbs background noise, and acoustic deflectors on the pillars are made from sound-absorbent foams. Even the floor mats in the 500X are unique: they feature a map of the Melfi factory where the 500X is built.

Scheduled to launch in the first half of 2015 as a 2015 model, the Fiat 500X will be available in five trim levels: Pop, Easy, Lounge, and the more rugged looking Trekking and Trekking Plus. These feature unique front and rear fascia designs, and satin silver accents.

The Virtual Driver