More people depart the ‘burbs and move to cities every year. As a result, they need smaller cars. Add the renewed Fiat 500X to the mix: The 2019 edition gets a light design makeover, a new engine geared toward performance departing stoplights, standard all-wheel-drive, and a nine-speed automatic transmission. (Sorry, no stick shift.)
The 500X is an enjoyable car in a competitive market – think Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Mazda CX-3. The 14-foot length of the 500X allows for a decent cargo bay but not a spacious rear seat. Fiat offers useful driver assists, but adaptive cruise control is not stop-and-go. Did we mention the dashboard is to-die-for-red on our test car? Fiat also means style.
A Hint of Sex Appeal
You may recall a TV commercial circa 2016 of an older gentleman tossing a Viagra-looking pill toward his mouth. He misses, the blue pill bounces out the bathroom window, down steeply pitched urban roofs and gutters, and into the fuel tank of a car whose engine revs and roars as passersby, male and female, smile with appreciation. That’s the Fiat 500X: cheeky, fun, a little hint of romance.
For the 2019 500X, Fiat tweaked the outside with new designs for the headlamps, fog lights, and tail lamps. The faux front skid plate is gone. There are new wheel designs, and inside, the upholstery styles have been revamped. But the big change is the engine.
New MultiAir III Engine
For 2016 to 2018, the Fiat 500X offered a 160-hp 1.4-liter MultiAir (Fiat-Chrysler term) turbo engine of 160 hp (or a non-turbo 175-hp four-cylinder). The new MultiAir III in the 2019 model (the same engine as on the Jeep Renegade) drops to 1.3 liters, still four cylinders, plus a low-inertia turbocharger with an electronically triggered wastegate, which keeps too much pressurized air from being fed into the engine. Add variable timing of the intake valves and you’ve got what would have been a race-car engine a generation ago (meaning more than 100 hp per 1.0 liters of engine displacement).
This one puts out 177 hp, which is good (136 hp/liter), and 210 pound-feet of torque, which is just amazing for an engine that isn’t diesel or electric. Also, the torque is all there by 2,200 rpm. What that translates to is stellar performance at low speeds. The car feels like a Ferrari the first two or three seconds you’re hard on the throttle.
Fiat 500X on the Road
In a day test-driving the car on a trip out of and back into midtown Manhattan, plus some twisty suburban/rural roads, and along the New Jersey/New York palisade above the Hudson River, this was an enjoyable cruiser. The air conditioning worked well, the premium Beats Audio system with eight speakers sounded good, and driver and co-pilot had decent legroom and headroom. But we sat close together, as you’d expect in a smaller SUV.
The engine responded instantly to close gaps in heavy traffic, and the car was a blast to drive. As the torque curve with its early peak suggested, 0-30 mph comes up quickly; then 30-60 is a bit more leisurely. But it also means if you’re in a higher gear – the fifth gear ratio is 1.00 to 1 and 6-7-8-9 range from 0.81 to 0.48 – at low rpm, you’re right in the sweet spot of the torque band.
As a long-distance cruiser, the noise level is mostly acceptable but not class-leading. The luggage space is quite good, for two. Back seat space is okay if the driver is normal height or shorter. A console selector lets the driver choose three traction modes: automatic, sport, or traction-plus. The rear axle automatically disconnects for cruising efficiency. It is rated at 24 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, 26 mpg combined, or about 2 mpg better than the older 500X. It wants mid-grade premium fuel but runs on regular.
Technology and Driver Assists
The car comes standard with a 7-inch center stack LCD, and the well-regarded FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobile) UConnect version 4 touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay.
Driver assists and safety features that are available, mostly in packages, include adaptive cruise control, rear and front parking sonar, lane departure warning/lane keep assist, forward collision warning, blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert, rain-sensing wipers, and LED headlamps. Adaptive cruise and front sonar are new for 2019.
Most of the driver assists worked well on my drive. The lane departure system will pull the car back if you drive onto a lane edge, but it is not designed to self-center. The adaptive cruise control maintains speed on the highway down to 20 mph. Most new ACC systems are stop-and-go, meaning they go all the way down to 0 mph and then back in, say, rush hour expressway traffic.
Fiat 500X Trim Lines
There are three variants, all four-door, all all-wheel-drive of Fiat’s largest model:
Fiat 500X Pop, $26,235 including the mandatory $1,495 freight charge. It has 17-inch alloy wheels with 60-series tires (relatively pothole resistant), LED running and taillamps, manual-adjust cloth seats, a 3.5-inch instrument panel LCD, the Uconnect audio system with 7-inch color LCD, Bluetooth, 3 USB ports, remote entry, and remote start. A $595 Popular Equipment Group package adds rear parking sonar, tinted glass, satellite radio, and auto-on headlamps. There are no safety or driver-assist packages you can add to the entry model.
Trekking, $27,740. It adds most of the Popular Equipment Group gear, as well as premium cloth seats. The Advanced Driver Assistance Group (ADAG), $1,395, is an important option: adaptive cruise, full-speed forward collision warning with active braking, lane departure warning/lane keep assist, and blind-spot detection/rear cross-traffic alert. A separate Driver Assistance Group, $895, provides LED headlamps and front/rear parking sonar. A very good onboard navigation system is $695.
Trekking Plus, $30,940. Beyond Trekking, it adds leather seats, heated front seats, front and rear parking sonar, power driver’s seat adjustments, LED headlamps, eight-speaker audio, and windshield wiper de-icing. There are the same Advanced Driver Assistance Group and Premium Group options. All in, you can pay $35,000.
Should You Buy?
This is a mid-cycle refresh of a fun, subcompact car that goes after the upper level of the mainstream-brand segment, that is more Hyundai Kona or Mazda CX-3 than Nissan Kicks. It has style aplenty and the little engine that could. It also has competition aplenty. Mazda has done the best job among mainstream brands at proving “class above” is more than a buzzword, as has Hyundai with its little Kona and more recently with its largish Palisade SUV.
The rounded lines of the Fiat 500X make it stand out. Its size makes the 500X easy to park in big cities, especially if you order rear and front parking sonar. Some competitors make standard much of Fiat’s optional driver-assist features. The Premium Group, $1,395, provides a dual-panel panoramic sunroof – how many subcompact cars fit a sunroof panel for the back seat? – plus nine-speaker Beats-branded audio with subwoofer, and 18-inch alloys with 55-series tires. It’s quick off the line to about 30 mph, less so to 60 mph. A combination of a firm suspension and wheelbase just over 100 inches make this a car you’ll want to test drive with your spouse/partner on the kinds of roads you usually drive.
You may like the style of the 500X. It works well for a city resident who wants a car that parks almost anywhere. A minor plus is that Fiat didn’t go crazy-low-profile with the road wheels, so even with the optional rims, you’re less likely to suffer pothole damage.
With the new engine, the 500X is more competitive in a segment that has many good choices. You’ll want to also look at the Hyundai Kona, arguably the car to beat in the subcompact SUV segment, as well as the aging-nicely CX-3. If you’re looking for safety, be sure to add in the price of the Advanced Driver Assistance Group and Driver Assistance Group to the Fiat and the similar package on the competition. The right 500X to us is the Trekking with the two driver-assist packages, making it $30,830.