The FIAT 500’s swollen younger brother, the 500X crossover, is back for 2019 for those seeking a bit of Italian flair in a small crossover.
While not much has changed to the offbeat exterior styling, mostly updates to exterior lighting and the front fascia and wheel sizes, 2019 models feature a new powertrain, transmission and standard features.
The 500X’s entry level has risen from $20,000 on 2018 models to over $24,000 on 2019’s, but that price jump includes a more powerful engine and all-wheel drive as standard.
Gone is the option of 1.4-liter turbocharged inline four or a turbo-less 2.4-liter available in 2018 models. New for 2019 is a standard 1.3-liter turbo inline four found on all trim levels.
Despite the smaller stature of previous engine offerings, the 1.3-liter provides 177 horsepower and 210 lb.-ft. of torque, more than the outgoing options. The new power plant is refreshingly peppy and reactive, offering sporty performance in small package if you’re patient enough to let the turbo spool.
It’s not the most refined engine, it has a harsh noise that pervades that cabin under any spirited acceleration, but its lively personality makes for an enjoyable ride around town. The 500X has no troubles getting up to highway speed on short on-ramps, and while the engine and tire noise are audible at speed, it’s not deafening.
Fuel efficiency is supplemented by the 500X automatically shifting to front-wheel drive only when powering all four wheels is superfluous. That gives the FIAT 24 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway for a combined 26 mpg (no, I don’t understand that math either) which is a bit on the lower side of subcompact crossovers and surprising given its engine’s smaller size.
The 1.3-liter is paired with a nine-speed automatic and a manual is no longer offered. The auto is hesitant to downshift and is clunky when it does so. However, throw the 500 in sport mode and the automatic keeps the revs high and the 500X’s liveliness is less restrained. You can change gears manually, but paddles would be highly preferable over the practically useless Auto Stick gear lever.
For spirited driving, steering feel is far more communicative in sport mode and nicely weighted, if slightly on the feathery side. The 500X’s suspension keeps body roll to a minimum and handles undulations without unsettling the FIAT’s relatively high center of gravity. That stiff setup translates to a somewhat harsh ride for the daily commute, but its appreciated when you want a bit of fun.
When the everyday commute comes into play, the 500X is spacious enough in the front but cramped in the rear 60/40 split seats and 12.1-cubic feet of cargo space.
The 500X is offered in three trims, Pop, Trekking and Trekking Plus. The Pop (starting at $25,785 including destination) comes with full LED exterior lighting, 17-inch aluminum wheels, fold-flat seating, a rear backup camera, a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple and Android connectivity and USB ports in the front and rear. Left Lane’s tester included the Popular Equipment Group ($595) which includes deep tint sunscreen glass, automatic headlights, SiriusXM connectivity and FIAT’s ParkSense rear-park assist system.
The Pop isn’t as well-equipped as some of its competitors in the subcompact segment, but for those looking for utilitarian connectivity and safety features, it generally fits the bill.
The Trekking ($27,290) adds quilted cloth seats, leatherette door-trim inserts, a 3.5-inch color gauge screen and exterior styling accents while the Trekking Plus ($30,490) adds heated leather seats, driver seat back pockets, a rear cargo compartment cover, ambient lighting and other features.
All these things may be well and good, but some who lay eyes on the 500X are going to be mostly sold before knowing anything else about the crossover. For those who desire quirky styling, the FIAT delivers with its cartoon frog front end, body color matching dash insert, circular headrests, beefy buttons and circular door locks and other eye-catching features.
It also looks exceptional in FIAT’s new Italia Blue.
There are other choices in subcompact crossover market, including those that are faster, or more spacious, or loaded with more tech and creature comforts and for less of a hit to the wallet. But the 500X has appealed to a certain crowd since it washed onto the U.S. shores a few years ago. For that portion of the population that wants its form to follow function, the 2019 model retains the FIAT’s appealing looks while offering a new, engaging engine and standard all-wheel drive. The 500X is an enjoyable option in what can be a somewhat boring segment, provided you can look beyond its shortcomings.