As new arrivals expand the field of small and smaller SUVs, the Fiat 500X, now in its fifth year of production, stands out with its compact proportions, gentle curves, and animated face. Underneath all that Italian charm is a robust four-cylinder engine with meaty low-end wallop and standard all-wheel drive. An otherwise austere cabin gets a lift from retro design touches and a generous list of standard features.
But despite its fashionable appeal, the 500X falls short in some key areas. There’s not much cargo space, none of its few driver assistance features come standard, and it’s not very inspired on a twisting road. It’s also one of the pricier subcompact SUVs. Newer rivals such as the Mazda CX-3 and Hyundai Kona offer more for less.
Here’s What’s New for 2021: The midline Sport trim offers an optional Sport Value package that includes 19-inch wheels, panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, navigation, upgraded audio system, and parking sensors. Pop and Trekking trim levels get new seat upholstery and dash accents.
The 500X is powered by a 1.3-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine producing 177 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque. A nine-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive are standard. The punchy engine accelerates quickly, but loses momentum at highway speeds. The transmission helps most of the time by keeping the 500X in the right gear to maximize power. The Sport trim adds paddle shifters for those who prefer changing gears themselves, although the experience is hardly sporty.
The 500X’s tall profile and narrow tires can make it feel wobbly through quick turns, but the ride around town and on the highway is comfortable. Compact dimensions make the 500X easy to maneuver and park in tight spaces.
All-wheel drive can sap some fuel efficiency, but the Fiat 500X’s modest engine size and power contribute to respectable Environmental Protection Agency estimates of 24 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. That’s in line with competitors like the Hyundai Kona and Ford Bronco Sport, but short of more efficient models like the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V.
Unlike many subcompact crossovers, the 500X’s engine recommends premium fuel.
It’s tempting to praise the Fiat 500X’s interior as an example of cool Euro minimalism, but really, it’s just functional and plain. Three simple dials control heat and air-conditioning, while most audio and voice commands can be handled with steering wheel buttons. Two glove compartments and big door pockets accommodate large water bottles and personal items.
The cabin isn’t totally without style. Sculpted dash panels, an analog gauge cluster and the touchscreen’s retro TV shape lend some visual panache. The roomy front seats benefit from generous headroom, thanks to the 500X’s tall profile. Rear seat passengers won’t be as comfortable, but this is true for most subcompact SUVs.
With just 14 cubic feet behind the rear seats, the 500X suffers from limited cargo space. Folding the rear seats yields 32 cubic feet, but both numbers trail competitors like the Mazda CX-3, Hyundai Kona, even the Jeep Renegade, which shares the same underpinnings as the 500X.
The Fiat 500X comes with a 7-inch touchscreen, a common size among subcompact SUVs. It feels small relative to today’s phones and tablets, though. Compounding matters is the chunky, oversized bezel and housing around the screen. It looks vaguely mid-century retro cool, but it’s a terrible waste of real estate. The intuitive Uconnect operating system is still among the industry’s best, so despite the small display, getting around menus and functions is easy.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard, and the optional Beats audio system upgrade is worth considering if you like bass-heavy music. You’ll need to add one of the Value or Premium packages to get it, but it’s a good deal.
Overall, the Fiat 500X combines charming European style with all-wheel drive and a strong, yet fuel-efficient engine. But tight cargo space, a lofty price, and tough competition limit the appeal of this subcompact SUV.