Fiat 500 X has the grunt to tackle a Canadian winter

by Jim Kerr . Mar 11 2016
Lesley Wimbush / Postmedia Network Inc.The 2016 Fiat 500X is a small SUV with a big heart.

Lesley Wimbush / Postmedia Network Inc.

The 2016 Fiat 500X is a small SUV with a big heart.

Since the introduction of the first Fiat 500 into Canada in 2011, the brand has continued to evolve and the latest edition to the lineup is the 2016 Fiat 500X. X stands for all-wheel drive and this compact SUV (although it drives and feels like a much bigger vehicle) has the powertrain to handle the worst Canadian driving conditions.

Starting up front, there is no shortage of power from the Tigershark four-cylinder engine. According to Glen Macfarlane, the engine program’s chief engineer, engine development occurred in a remarkably short 95 weeks and created what the engineers called a “Tigershark” effect. The real Tigershark is at the top of the shark food chain and one of the strongest shark swimmers. Its burst of speed allows it to reach its intended prey — befitting the rapid development of this engine.

Two engines are offered in the Fiat 500: a 1.4-litre Tigershark MultiAir Turbo four-cylinder and a 2.4-litre Tigershark MultiAir2 four-cylinder. There are five trim levels of the Fiat 500X. The POP trim comes with the 1.4 turbo engine and manual six-speed transmission. Sport and Trekking models come with the same 1.4-litre and six-speed manual with an optional 2.4-litre and nine-speed automatic transmission. Both the Lounge and Trekking Plus models come standard with the 2.4 MultiAir2 and nine-speed automatic transmission.

MultiAir is an engine innovation that controls the opening of the engine valves. Fiat patented the MultiAir technology in 2002 but it took nearly ten years of development before the first MultiAir engine was offered in 2009. In operation, the engine computer controls electric solenoids that either block or allow oil flow to the hydraulic lifters. As the camshaft rotates and starts to move the lifter to open the engine valve, the computer lets the oil escape from the lifter, preventing the valve from opening. When it it time to start opening the valve, the computer operates the solenoid and blocks oil from escaping the lifter. The lifter then transfers motion to the valve and opens it. The difference between MultiAir on the 1.4-litre and the MultiAir2 on the 2.4-litre engines is MultiAir controls only the start and end of the valve movement while the MultiAir2 can extend the intake valve opening longer for better exhaust gas recirculation and even better fuel economy. Both systems allow the computer to control both the timing of the opening and closing of the valve as well as the total amount of lift, which in turn controls the charge of air into the engine cylinder.

Both power and efficiency are improved, with the 1.4-litre engine putting out 160 horsepower and 184 foot pounds of torque while the 2.4-litre engine has 180 horsepower and 175 ft lbs of torque without using a turbocharger.

While the smaller engine is coupled to a conventional manual transaxle, the 2.4-litre MultiAir engine gets a nine-speed automatic transmission. That many speeds allows a low gear ratio for quick acceleration from a start and smooth shifting between gears. Four overdrive ratios improve fuel economy while keeping engine speeds low for reduced noise and vibration.

The all-wheel drive system uses a part-time system with the front wheels driving all the time and the rear wheels automatically engaging when needed. Part-time systems reduce drag on the powertrain for better fuel economy. Two axle ratios are offered, with a 3.73:1 ratio as standard equipment on all models except the POP model, which has a 4.4:1 gear ratio to work better with the manual transmission. On icy roads, the all-wheel-drive system engages smoothly and provides good traction and a feel of stability.

While this is and looks like a small crossover vehicle, it drives and feels inside like a much larger vehicle. There is much more for technology beneath the shine of this compact vehicle, including Forward Collision Warning-Plus, LaneSense Lane Departure Warning-Plus and Blind-spot Monitoring— in depth analysis of those features will have to wait for another time — or until you try one out for a test drive.

james.kerr@sasktel.net