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Top 12 Things to Know Before You Buy a 2016 Fiat 500X

1. What’s new for 2016?

Everything. This all-new four-door wagon propels Fiat into the burgeoning subcompact-crossover segment where it’ll compete with the just-introduced Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3, as well as the Chevrolet Trax and Nissan Juke. Also in the class is the Jeep Renegade, with which the 500X shares its powertrain and underbody structure. Jeep — along with the Chrysler, Dodge, and Ram truck brands — is part of the Italian-controlled company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, or FCA.

In contrast to Renegade’s rough-and-ready image, however, the 500X is aimed more at an urban and young-family audience. It’s also slightly more expensive. Like the Renegade, it offers a choice of front- or all-wheel drive (AWD), although the Jeep is available with an AWD system better suited to off-roading. Within Fiat’s own line, the 500X is significantly larger than the tiny two-door 500 minicar and marginally smaller than the 500L four-door hatchback.

2. How much does it cost and what sort of deal can I expect?

This new five-seater arrives in dealerships in May 2015 with base prices ranging from $20,900 for the entry-level version with manual transmission to $29,900 for the top-line trim with AWD (prices include Fiat’s $900 destination fee). Early purchasers will likely pay close to sticker price, which can approach $33,000 for the top model with every option.

The $9,000 base-price spread outpaces Renegade’s by $1,000 and is unmatched by any direct competitor. Similarly, the 500X lineup is the broadest in the class, with five trim levels and no fewer than 20 distinct option packages. The range begins with the Pop model and ascends through Easy, and Lounge versions, with Trekking and Trekking Plus editions affecting a more “adventurous” appearance via different front and rear fascias and satin-silver trim, plus unique interior accents.

At the time of this June 2015 review, this was the only Fiat not subject to factory-cash or low-interest-financing incentives. And no transaction-price trends had been established. With handsome styling, an amiable manner, and a place at the increasingly popular compact-crossover table, however, the 500X stacks up as the brand’s most promising U.S.-market model so far. For the first year or so, transaction prices are apt to run neck and neck with base prices – as pricing service TrueCar.com says they do for the Renegade. By comparison, buyers on average are taking home a Trax at some 4 percent below manufacturer’s suggested retail, according to TrueCar.

3. When will the next big change be?

Don’t look for substantive mechanical or appearance alterations until after 2019, and don’t expect the next all-new 500X before model-year 2021. In fact, the relative success of this mini crossover could spell the demise of the ungainly and underwhelming 500L. It should be a key part of a rejuvenated Fiat lineup that’ll expand in 2016 with the 124 Spider two-seat sports car, a version of the new Mazda MX-5 Miata.

4. What options or trim level is best for me?

The Easy model is most sensible way to enjoy this vehicle’s core appeal. It has the same engine as the more expensive models (see below), starts at a pleasant $23,200 with a nice range of standard features and can be had with a host of safety, convenience, and appearance options. If you’re looking to add a dash of visual spice and some cool interior decor, go for the basic Trekking version. Beginning at a reasonable $24,000, it too can be optioned to your heart’s content.

Every 500X comes with such features as powered and heated mirrors with integrated turn signals, a USB port and auxiliary jack, remote keyless entry, and cruise control. Go for the top-trim Lounge and Trekking Plus models and you get standard navigation, with leather upholstery optional on the former and standard on the latter.

But the more sensible move up from the entry-level Pop to the Easy gets you 17-inch alloy wheels instead of 16-inch steel rims, pushbutton ignition, illuminated vanity mirrors, a USB charging port, and an upscale leather-wrapped steering wheel. It also increases the audio touchscreen to 5 inches from just 3 while adding Bluetooth hands-free connectivity.

From there, a smart option is the $1,500 Easy Collection 3. It includes ambient interior lighting; a rearview camera and rear obstacle warning; blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection; heated steering wheel and front seats with an eight-way power driver’s seat; dual-zone automatic climate control; and a handy windshield wiper de-icer. For another $1,700 you get a dual-pane sunroof with an opening section over the front seats and a fixed panel over the rear. If you’re comfortable using the map app on your mobile device, forgo shelling out another $2,300 for the Easy Collection 6 package; it includes all the above while adding onboard GPS navigation and a Beats premium audio system.

Looking a bit more rugged thanks to more macho exterior trim, black-accented 17-inch alloys, and fog lamps, the Trekking essentially duplicates the Easy model’s standard equipment, while adding automatic-on headlights and premium cloth seats. The $1,500 Trekking Collection 5 package mirrors all the driver-assist, comfort, and connectivity upgrades of the Easy Collection 3 option. The dual roof is $1,200 here. And onboard navigation is part of a $1,700 Collection 5 package that also includes 18-inch alloy wheels.

5. What engine do you recommend?

Sharing its powertrains with the Renegade, every 500X has a four-cylinder engine and none is a speedster. But if you want automatic transmission or AWD, you’ll need the 2.4-liter that’s optional on the Pop and standard on the other models. At 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque, output is among the highest in the class. But the nine-speed automatic is prone to sluggish and indecisive shifting, putting a damper on throttle response and relegating acceleration to adequate or underwhelming, depending on your expectations and patience.

Accounting for a tiny percent of sales will be the price-leader Pop with its six-speed manual transmission and a turbocharged 1.4-liter with 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Pops are unavailable with a performance adjunct standard on all other 500Xs: the Dynamic Selector system. This allows the driver to choose from normal, Sport and Traction+ modes. The last helps in snowy conditions while Sport imparts a marginally more athletic feel by quickening steering and throttle response and altering transmission shift points.

Sticking with standard front-wheel drive essentially means your 500X is a subcompact hatchback with a tall-roof and some crossover styling cues – not unlike the front-drive-only Kia Soul. About 40 percent of buyers are expected to shell out $1,900 for AWD. It’s a basic system, automatically transferring power to the rear wheels when it senses front-tire slip — though it does save some fuel by disconnecting the rear axle when AWD isn’t needed. The AWD system in Renegade’s Trailhawk model is calibrated for serious off-roading, but the Fiat setup is a useful traction aid in snow or on gravel paths.

6. How is the fuel economy?

Well below best in class. The manual-transmission, front-drive 1.4-liter Pop is EPA-rated 28 mpg city-highway combined, which is on par with rivals of similar configuration, though Fiat recommends premium 91-octane gas for this turbo.

The more mainstream 2.4-liter 500Xs fall behind the class pacesetters, at 25 mpg combined with front-drive and 24 with AWD. By comparison, the 141-horsepower HR-V with its continuously variable automatic transmission and the 146-horse MX-3 with its six-speed automatic both rate 31 mpg with front- drive and 29 with AWD. The 138-horsepower Trax with a six-speed automatic rates 29 and 27 mpg, respectively.

7. How does it handle?

Like a tall-riding subcompact hatchback. With outward visibility enhanced by a modestly elevated seating position and lots of glass area, city maneuverability is the little Fiat’s forte. Steering feel is pleasantly natural, though reaction to inputs is far from sporty-car quick, even in Sport mode. Faster cornering speeds elicit gentle body lean – more than in the better-handling HR-V, CX-3, and Juke, but less than in the Renegade. Highway cruising is stable and confident.

8. Are the controls easy to use?

A balance of styling character and ergonomic substance means control placement isn’t optimal but nothing is a challenge to use. Gauges are large and legible and the steering wheel presents well-organized clusters of audio, Bluetooth, and cruise buttons – and its thick rim and flat bottom impart an upscale sportiness. Even at 5 inches, the audio touchscreen seems crowded with the navigation map displayed. Climate controls are mounted a bit low for easiest access while driving.

Gently rounded forms enhance that styling character, as does the Italian-traditional use of exterior body color on the dashboard face of the Pop, Easy, and Lounge models. Trekking versions get a gray face with an intriguing pebbled “stone” finish that’s modern and equally fashionable. Par for this class is a plethora of hard plastic surfaces, but there’s padding where you need it and, in details like vents that move and feel as if poached from a luxury car, surprises where you don’t expect them.

9. Is it comfortable?

If you can abide a ride that’s decidedly firm and, with the 17-inch wheels and especially with the 18s, can be downright choppy on poorly maintained pavement. Otherwise, the chair-height seating affords fine legroom all around. Head clearance is generous in front and good in back, though taller folks should test the rear seat in models with the dual sunroof to see if they’re happy with the gap between scalp and ceiling.

Versatile cargo space in a body with modest exterior dimensions is an asset with these sorts of vehicles and indeed, room behind the rear seats rivals that of a midsize car’s trunk. Folding the seatbacks opens a useful 50.8 cubic feet – slightly more than the class norm – though the seatbacks don’t fold flat, complicating long-object loading. A huge below-floor bin is a helpful adjunct.

10. What about safety?

At the time of this review, neither the 500X nor the structurally similar Renegade had been crash-tested under the government’s 5-Star Safety Rating system or by the influential Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Standard and available safety features are fully up to date, however. Optional on all but the Pop model is Forward Collision Warning-Plus; it alerts of an impending collision then applies the brakes to lessen the impact. Optional on all but the Pop and Easy is LaneSense Departure Warning-Plus that can steer you back if you inadvertently stray from your traffic lane. Standard on the Trekking Plus and optional on all but the Pop is blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection.

11. How’s the reliability and resale value?

Sketchy. The 500X is too new to accumulate useful data but the outlook is questionable, if Fiat’s recent history is an indicator. Consumer-research firm J.D. Power had not published results from owner surveys in time for this review, but it ranked other Fiat models below average for reliability. Worse, the brand falls dead last among more than 30 listed in Power’s 2015 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study.

Trade-in value may be a brighter story, though the 500X would have to reverse a trend established by the 500L and 500. Value tracker ALG places vehicles in one of five categories based on projected depreciation and the 500L ranks in the second-from-last category, the 500 in the lowest. The 500X, however, may benefit from the trendy popularity of subcompact crossovers. ALG places the Renegade in its second-from-top category, though the Jeep name almost certainly does more for residual value than a Fiat badge.

12. Is it better than the competition?

This is by far the best-looking, most appealing vehicle in Fiat’s U.S. lineup, at least until the 124 sports car arrives. Subcompact-crossover competition is brutal, though, and you’ll need to be smitten by the 500X’s styling or continental flair more than you’re frightened by Fiat’s poor reliability and resale reputation. That said, there is just enough here to spark some infatuation, so put in on your shopping list.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]