The redesigned and rejuvenated 500X, Italian’s Crossover bestseller, starts also a new epoch in state-of-the-art petrol engine engineering, with a new generation of so-called “FireFly” engines. This is innovative engine design at its best, and we will very probably see this new generation of engines soon in other models of the FCA group.
The engine was a true revelation for us, but this is not all. The 500X has gained in style and character, has now even more original “Cinquecento” content. It now carries an impressive standard equipment in driving aids and infotainment, and has more style than ever.
Just read on…
Hans Knol ten Bensel
This engine drives you into the future…
Petrol engine technology is developing fast nowadays, and a high-tech group like FCA is making big strides here. Its latest creation is a totally new generation of petrol engines, a modular structure based on 0.33 litre cylinder units. The new FireFly Turbo 1.0 and 1.3 engine line-up includes a three-cylinder 1-litre powerplant that delivers 120 HP and 190 Nm of peak torque coupled to a six-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive and a four-cylinder 1.3-litre engine with 150 HP and 270 Nm of torque, the latter combined with a six-speed DCT dual clutch automatic transmission and front-wheel drive.
To interpret and understand this engine, we have to go back in time a bit. When Fiat acquired the big part of the Chrysler Group, it was clear that standardization in the wide array of engines was very important and necessary. So the idea of a Globall Small Engine (GSE) soon was born. It seems very likely that the GSE was developed and designed by a worldwide team, with engineers stemming from Brazil, Italy, the US.
FCA’s “chief technology officer” is Harald Wester, but most key decisions were likely made by Powertrain Coordinator Bob Lee and Aldo Marangoni, Powertrain Engineering Director for Latin America. Bob Lee has been in charge of engines and electric propulsion since 2011, and joined Chrysler in 1978, leading both the New Hemi and Pentastar V6 programs (he was likely also in the 4.7 V8 program). Aldo Marangoni had a hand in the MultiAir, FIRE engines, diesels, and the highly regarded TwinAir.
One cannot let to be puzzled by the fac that Fiat has already a very efficient 2 cylinder 964 cc in the naturally aspirated twin air version, and a 875 cc engine in the turbo version. Yet, here Fiat opts now for the 333 cm3 combustion chamber size. According to Maragoni , “A 333 cm³ chamber allows for a perfect combustion, while a 500 cm³ would not be the ideal”, and this he told already 7 years ago…
The 1,3 liter “Firefly” in non-turbo, two valve per cylinder version made its debut in the 2017 Fiat Uno…in Brazil, replacing the long lived “FIRE” generation. But of course, a four valve per cylinder layout was on the shelf for a turbocharged version, which we see here in the 500X.
This new engine generation encompasses everything modern technology has to offer: first of all, the new engines are made entirely from aluminum alloy, ensuring unbeatable lightness (the three-cylinder version weighs just 93 kg), while the cylinder block, developed in partnership with Teksid, is in high-pressure die-cast aluminum alloy, with a bedplate architecture for the best combination of ride, weight and structural performance.
The FireFly engines use direct fuel injection to maximize volumetric efficiency and the low inertia turbocharger is controlled by an electrically operated wastegate actuator which, combined with a supercharger module water-cooled directly in the intake manifold, ensures a faster transient response and very swift acceleration.
Another innovation feature in the new FireFly Turbo engines is the introduction of the third generation of the exclusive MultiAir technology (called MultiAir III), which further optimizes combustion efficiency through continual control of intake valve opening and timing: thanks to the specific intake and exhaust cam profiles, this improves low load efficiency by recycling exhaust gas through advance opening of the intake valves. When higher power is required, the MultiAir III technology reduces the real compression ratio by delaying valve closure, controlling knock and substantially improving fuel efficiency even at the highest loads. The cam actuating the exhaust valve is only retarded during partial load so there should be no issue with detonation with the 10.5:1 compression ratio.
Remember that VVT, or Variable Valve Timing, was patented by Fiat in the ’70s, and used for the first time by Alfa Romeo in 1980. Now that patent has expired and any automaker can use it…
Of course, sturdiness and ease of service are paramount for such a global, world class engine. The FireFly therefore uses for, instance a chain to drive the valve train.
Driving is believing
What strikes us immediately when we push the starting knob is the utter silence and refinement of this engine. At urban and constant motorway cruising speeds, hardly a whisper is heard, when one pushes the throttle a bit deeper, a pleasant subdued growl is audible, reminiscent of an efficient six-cylinder unit. Flexibility is uncanny, and the engine will pull nicely from 1200 rpm onwards. Of course, it develops more than enough pulling power here. Its torque curve is at its highest at merely 1750 rpm, and torque remains virtually at this peak level until 3500 rpm, with 180 Nm still available at 4000 rpm.
At these 4000 revs, already 110 HP is developed. This means a very lively behavior, and the figures amply show this. 0 to 100 is absolved in 10.9 seconds, and top speed is a good 188 km/h. Accelerations at intermediate speeds is quite vigorous, and this 500X is therefore a joy to drive, also thanks to the predictable handling and excellent gearbox and brakes.
When one wants to, achieve good consumption figures, one is well advised to make the most use of the good torque characteristics and remain in the lower rev ranges. Our test car was still brand new and even in those conditions, average consumption turned around the 7 liter/100 km range.
The manufacturer quotes for the combined cycle 5.8 to 6 l/100 km, urban conditions will average between 7 and 7.9 liter/100 km. CO2 emissions are for the combined cycle between 133 and 139 g/km.
Agile, comfortable and surefooted
A word of praise is also justified for the excellent handling characteristics and the good comfort of this compact crossover. It certainly will respond nicely when you drive it on a curvy road with abandon, and is also quite stable at high cruising speeds on motorways. Noise levels are very low indeed, and this makes this crossover also a (very) impressive Gran Turismo. The 1320 kg car is quite roomy and boot space is also very adequate.
Style and even more character…
The New 500X has an entirely refreshed exterior with new LED light clusters and Full-LED headlights, and updated interiors. The new Urban version features all-new front and rear bumper design, while the Cross and City Cross have new-look protective skid plates to reassert their audacious identity.
The new exterior design reasserts the two personalities of the model – the urban one for tackling city traffic at ease, courtesy of its compact dimensions and raised driving position, and the more Cross one for taking on out-of-town adventures, optionally also with 4WD.
One of the biggest innovations is a completely restyled cockpit, featuring a new instrument cluster with graphics that are now even easier to read, together with a new steering wheel which is contoured to ensure better positioning of the driver’s hands and perfect grip. We all loved it. Our test car came also with a very stylish textile upholstery pattern on the seats, which we liked too. The instrument panel maintains its arrangement into three circular elements, in the best 500 style, as the perfect blend of vintage looks and modern technology. Two analogue dials with speedometer and tachometers are arranged on the sides, while the 3.5″ reconfigurable TFT display in the middle provides key information to the driver in simple, straightforward manner.
Driving assistance systems standard…
Two new systems are offered as standard equipment on all versions. They are Traffic Sign Recognition which reads road signs and Speed Advisor, allowing drivers to adapt the running speed to the signs read along the way to prevent breaking the speed limit. Lane Assist, which is the automatic lane departure warning system, is also standard.
Optional equipment includes Blind Spot Alert, Safety Distance Manager (ACC), in addition to Autonomous Emergency Brake. It should also be noted that the automatic headlights with Adaptive-High Beam function switch on and off automatically depending on external light levels.
The UconnectTM 7″ HD LIVE system, the next-generation UconnectTM system with high-resolution 7-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth hands-free interface, audio streaming, text reader and voice recognition function, Aux and USB ports with iPod integration and controls on the steering wheel, is available on the higher equipment levels, namely the City Cross and the top line model 500X Cross.
Rear parking camera and new TomTom 3D integrated navigation system are available on request. Furthermore, users will always be connected with the UconnectTM LIVE services. By downloading the free UconnectTM LIVE app from the App Store or Google Play Store to their smartphones, they can fully exploit the benefits of UconnectTM LIVE, which includes music streaming with Deezer and TuneIn, news from Reuters and connected navigation with TomTom LIVE, and can keep in touch with friends via Facebook Check-in and Twitter.
The rejuvenation of the 500X is very well done and the new FireFly engine has transformed it. It has zest, breathes refinement, is quite lively and combines all this with very good economy. Indeed, the new engine develops ample torque, is very silent and smooth, and when you use it how it is meant to be, i.e. in the lower rev ranges, it will surprise you with state-of-the art consumption. The 500 X body has now more “Cinquecento” charm then ever, with no styling detail out of proportion or function, and has timeless contours, which will make this 500 X – and you – look good for years to come…
Hans Knol ten Bensel
Photographers’ notes: this time, we took a still older digital camera out of our collection, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC W 170, dating back to 2009, with a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 5-25 mm lens, (28-140 mm equivalent) and a 10.1 megapixel processor. It has been dropped twice, (see the dents on the right front side of the body…) went to all sorts of mistreatments, and yet still performs quite well …as the photos show, which were still further compressed, to be honest here. The actual shot of the Sony camera was taken by our recent Yuawei Y6II Compact, and this smartphone delivers, considering the light conditions on this indoor shot, quite creditable results. So again, it is not the camera, it is the photographer who delivers!