MALIBU, Calif. — We lived with the Fiat 500X for a year and were pleasantly surprised by everything it had to offer but — and this is a big but, a but worthy of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s affection — the entire powertrain. It’s no small feat that the small crossover was able to charm us despite our distaste for the very thing that makes it move. For 2019’s mid-cycle facelift, Fiat has addressed that exact issue. Gone is the old, naturally aspirated 2.4-liter inline-four that Fiat called the Tigershark, but we called a boat anchor. It was noisy, unresponsive, and an insult to tiger sharks. We preferred the lower-spec 1.4-liter turbo to the higher-spec 2.4, and suggested that it should be offered on all trims. Now the sole engine on all trim levels is a turbocharged 1.3-liter with stop-start and Multiair III, Fiat’s third-generation cam-less variable intake valve system. Fiat also eliminated the front-wheel-drive option for 2019, making all 500Xs all-wheel drive. Though the motor is down three horsepower overall — 177 versus the Tigershark’s 180 — it more than makes up for it in torque. The outgoing engine produced 175 lb-ft at a lofty 3,900 rpm, which wasn’t really useful in real-world driving. The 2019 comes with 210 lb-ft at a mere 2,200 rpm, giving drivers significantly more grunt at the low end. Beyond that, Fiat says the engine is less thirsty than the 2.4-liter — the only engine available in 2018 all-wheel-drive models — returning 24 city and 30 highway mpg. That’s 3 mpg better in the city and 1 on the highway, made possible with more efficient technologies like needle roller bearings around the exhaust cam, a variable displacement oil pump, and an integrated charge-air cooler and exhaust manifold. We'll note that the 2018 500X equipped with front-wheel drive, the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine and six-speed manual transmission is still the most efficient of them all, returning 25 city and 33 highway mpg. “The engine is about 80 pounds lighter than the 2.4,” chief engineer Adam Remesz told us, putting total curb weight for the AWD model with 17-inch alloys at 3,305 pounds. Improved efficiency also means reduced CO2 emissions, down from 264 grams per mile to 242. According to Remesz, that’s “about the amount expelled by an average adult male running a 10k race.” Sure. The new mill mostly addresses our biggest gripe with the 500X. The throttle feels peppier, and rolling acceleration is much improved. Unfortunately, it fails to compensate for the second part of the equation, the nine-speed automatic transmission. Programmed for fuel efficiency, it shifts around more than a sugar-addled kindergartner. When climbing hills, it requires constant throttle modulation, and anything but the deepest of floorboard plants results in a delayed reaction off the line. It’s a shame, really, because the rest of the driving experience is fairly decent for a small crossover. The steering is nicely weighted, and its effort changes depending on the drive mode. Feedback isn’t sports car-like, but paired with the …
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|MPG||24 City / 30 Hwy|
|Power||177 @ 5500 rpm|
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