2020 Fiat 500X review: High style that lacks substance

The design isn’t for everyone, but I like how the 500X looks.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Fiat introduced the 500X in 2016, and ever since, it’s been an uphill battle to gain sales momentum. Even putting aside the current COVID-19 economic issues, the 500X sells a few hundred units each month, while competitors like the Honda HR-V and Toyota C-HR move a few thousand. After a week in Fiat’s little crossover, it’s easy to see why.

LikeStylish design inside and outRobust infotainment suite

Don’t LikeSub-par fuel economySmall cargo areaGets expensive quickly

Perhaps the one thing the 500X has going for it is some cute style. It’s like the regular Fiat 500 and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man had a baby. The 500X is a lot larger than the diminutive 500, with nearly 8 inches of ground clearance and 2 feet of additional length, but it’s still a tiny-tough little thing.

For 2020, there’s a new Sport trim, in addition to the usual Pop, Trekking and Trekking Plus models. All-wheel drive is standard across the board, as is a 1.3-liter turbocharged I4 and a nine-speed automatic transmission.

If commuting is your top priority, the 500X does an adequate job. If just commuting is your jam, then the 500X does an adequate job. The turbocharged engine delivers 117 horsepower and a punchy 210 pound-feet of torque. That best-in-class torque number means the 500X feels pretty quick off the line and can easily merge into high-speed traffic. The problems come with the 9-speed automatic, which is really lazy to downshift. Plan your freeway passes accordingly.

The Fiat 500X isn’t going to win any handling contests; it gets really sloppy when the road goes twisty. There are lots of body motions and the chassis isn’t all that composed while cornering. The super-numb steering doesn’t help matters, either. If you’re looking for a fun-to-drive small CUV, stick with the Mazda CX-3 or Mini Countryman.

The 500X gets an EPA-estimated fuel economy rating of 24 miles per gallon in the city, 30 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. That falls a bit behind other all-wheel-drive offerings in the class like the aforementioned Mazda and Mini, as well as the Kia Seltos and Hyundai Kona. If efficiency is what you’re after, look at the Nissan Kicks with its front-wheel-drive architecture and continuously variable transmission, good for an EPA rating of 33 mpg combined. During my week with the 500X, which included a highway-heavy trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles and back, I averaged 26.6 miles per gallon — accurate as far as the EPA data goes, but still behind the competition.

When it comes to cabin tech, the good news is that Fiat-Chrysler’s excellent Uconnect software is used on a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard. I’ve always liked this tech for its thoughtful layout and ease of use. It’s definitely one of the best systems available today. The Fiat’s screen isn’t as large as other FCA products, but Uconnect is no less effective here.

The bad news is that driver’s aids like blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control are optional, even on my top-trim tester. Drivers even have to option up for full-speed forward collision warning and emergency braking, something you can get on the sub-$19,000 Nissan Kicks as standard equipment.

Even on a 7-inch screen, FCA’s Uconnect tech is great.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

That said, I like that the driver-assistance features can be dialed in via Uconnect. I prefer my blind-spot monitoring just as a warning light, but those who want the system to give an audible chime can set it up that way. You can also set your emergency braking levels, timing for lane-departure warning and the strength of the lane-keeping assist’s steering intervention. It’s great to have options.

The 500X doesn’t have a wireless charging pad, but there are two USB-A ports for front seat passengers as well as a 12-volt outlet. Rear seat passengers get to argue over the one USB-A port.

The inside of the 500X is adorbs, with rounded corners and a body-color dash panel for a nice pop of color. My tester is equipped with a two-piece sunroof that adds a bit of asymmetrical charm for rear-seat passengers. Speaking of which, when sitting in back with the driver’s seat set for my 5-foot, 9-inch frame, I have about an inch of headroom and about an inch and a half of space before the driver’s seat would make things uncomfortable on my knees. Maybe keep the back seats for kids only.

Storage space for little items isn’t bad, with a two-tiered glovebox and door pockets deep enough for a very large water bottle or a Big Gulp of Diet Dr. Pepper. Cargo space for larger items, however, is on the low side. There are 14 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, which only expands to 32 cubes with the seats folded. Meanwhile the Honda HR-V goes big with 23.2 and 57.6 cubic feet, respectively. Even the 500X’s corporate cousin, the Jeep Renegade, does better with 18.0 and 50.8 cubes.

It’s cute, but that’s about it.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Overall, the 500X is just a bad value when you consider what else you can get in the class. A base Pop trim starts around $25,000, but option it up with the things you want and it gets seriously expensive. For my money, I’d start with a Trekking trim, as it’s the least-expensive way to gain access to the $1,395 Advanced Driver-Assistance Group. Of course, that also means adding the $895 Basic Driver Assistance Group, with things like LED lighting and parking aids. With just those options, I’m looking at $30,030 including $1,495 for destination. That’s already more expensive than a lot of top-trim subcompact SUVs. Now consider that my loaded tester costs more than $35,000. For that kind of coin I could get a nicely equipped Mazda CX-5 with more space, a better interior and a nicer driving experience. Heck, the mid-$30K price range even starts to open up entry-level luxury options.

It’s really tough to recommend the 2020 Fiat 500X. It looks unique, and I think there’s a lot to be said for that, but it’s not that nice to drive, has a cramped interior and gets expensive when you pack it full of useful features. If it were priced similarly to, say, the Nissan Kicks, or even the Kia Soul or Seltos, I wouldn’t be yucking the yum here. But as it stands, the 500X is expensive and compromised, and that’s just not good in this highly competitive segment.


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