Fiat 500X — Functionality with personality

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The Fiat 500X small crossover was given a few nearly invisible styling tweaks for its 2019 model year freshening — a rather weak recipe for adding some new life to the cute little sub-compact that started life in the U.S. in 2016 on the Jeep Renegade platform. But wait, there's more.

The big news is a new across-the-lineup 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine making 177 horsepower mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. It's one of the most powerful base engines in the segment replacing the previous 160-horsepower 1.4-liter turbo base engine and the 175-horsepower 2.4-liter optional 4-cylinder. Also gone is the 6-speed manual transmission that came with the base model. And Fiat sweetened the pot by making all-wheel drive standard across the lineup.

In addition to being more powerful the little crossover is slightly more fuel efficient at 24 miles per gallon city, 30 highway and 26 in combined driving. Perhaps the new engine's start/stop function has something to do with improving the city mileage number.

The 500X with its Jeep DNA from parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has nearly eight inches of ground clearance, bold wheel arches, and big wheels that give it a muscular appearance. Designers have left intact the character and iconic features of the tiny Fiat 500 hatchback, but in a larger and more mature package. On the exterior, design elements like double headlamps, a trapezoidal nose, the signature “whiskers and logo” face and the rounded clamshell hood pay homage to the original 500. The Italian design carries through to the interior with clever storage, body-colored instrument panel, a circular cluster display, an excellent up-high seating position, iconic door handles, and controls that are generally intuitive.

Back in 2016 we found the 500X a charming little SUV with functionality, performance, and a pleasing personality; a small vehicle that you will look forward to jumping into at the start of a new day — a true family car, a hauler for four adults or a respectable cargo carrier with 32 cubic feet of storage. Driving the 2019 edition has not reduced our fondness for the car.

Trim levels have been reduced from five to three — Pop, Trekking and Trekking Plus. We drove the base Pop with such standard equipment as 17-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, remote start, a rearview camera, a fold flat front passenger seat (a good feature when hauling long objects), a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth 7-inch touchscreen, two USB ports, a six-speaker sound system, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality.

Three choices of driving mode (Auto, Sport and Traction Plus) cover a wide range of driving conditions. Sport changes engine mapping for a sportier feel, quicker steering response and improved lateral dynamics. Traction Plus provides maximum low-speed traction for low friction surfaces like mud and snow.

Dial in the Sport setting, and you feel like you're behind the wheel of an entirely different car. It makes the handling noticeably crisper — and more rewarding — and it holds the gears longer giving the feeling of better performance especially at mid-range speeds. We found it very entertaining, but for normal driving chores and with any hope of attaining the advertised gas mileage numbers, it's best dialed back to the default Auto setting.

The interior is roomy for the front two passengers but like most vehicles in the sub-compact segment, rear occupants might have to negotiate for legroom with the front-seaters. Despite its small size and diminutive cargo hold, the 500X does have four small, but useful bins up front with usable cupholders.

Unavailable on our Pop trim test car was the $1,395 option called Advanced Driver Assistance Group, which includes a blindspot monitor with cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise, forward collision warning with active braking, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, and rain-sensing wipers. Advanced Driver Assistance is available on both the Trekking and Trekking Plus trims.

Perhaps one of the downsides to the 500X is its high starting price of $25,985 including a rather steep destination charge of $1,495. But there is a decent amount of standard equipment including AWD. Our test car had a couple of low-price options including the Optional Equipment Group including Sirius/XM radio with a 1-year subscription bringing the bottom line to $27,070. Trekking starts at $27,490 and Trekking Plus begins at $30,690.

Sales have been eroding for Fiat products, and FCA has decided to pull the very small — but charming — 500 two-door hatchback from the U.S. market, but we hope FCA continues production of the small, but much more useful and personality loaded crossover.

Base price: $25,985; as driven, $27,070
Engine: 1.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 177 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 210 foot-pounds @ 2,200 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
Length: 168.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,305 pounds
Turning circle: 35.3 feet
Luggage capacity: 12.2 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 32.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 12.7 gallons (premium recommended)
EPA rating: 24 city, 30 highway, 26 combined
0-60: 8.0 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Honda HR-V, Chevrolet Trax, Mazda CX-3

The Good
• Strong base engine
• Fun-to-drive nature
• Generous standard equipment

The Bad
• High starting price

The Ugly
• Cargo space on short side