Fiat's quirky crossover could use a few changes.
The Fiat brand returned to the US market after a nearly three-decade hiatus back in 2011. Its first product was the 500 hatchback, which was quickly recognized as being too small for the average American consumer. Fiat knew it needed a larger product, which is why it first released the 500L followed by the far less ugly 500X. The 2020 Fiat 500X adds a Sport trim level to the mix but otherwise remains the same from the facelifted 2019 model.
Based on the overall popularity of crossovers, we'd expect the 500X to be Fiat's best-seller by far. In fact, the 500X was outsold in 2019 by the now-discontinued 500 and the Mazda-built 124 Spider. There must be a reason why Fiat's stylish crossover has failed to catch on and after reviewing a 2020 Trekking Plus model for a week, we think we know why. This is what we liked about it and what we think needs to change.
Styling is the most subjective part of any vehicle but beautiful design is core to the vast majority of Italian-built vehicles. Fiat managed to capture many of the design elements from the 500 and successfully translate them over to a larger SUV. The results of this design transformation look a lot more elegant and cohesive than the 500L and we'd be inclined to call the styling "charming" or "quirky." Not everyone will love the 500X's styling but for those who prefer a more rugged and less cutesy design, the Fiat's stablemate, the Jeep Renegade, is also available.
Fiat used to offer the 500X with the option of a six-speed manual transmission but as of the 2020 model year, a nine-speed automatic is the only choice. This is the same ZF unit used by many Fiat Chrysler vehicles and other manufacturers such as Honda. We've never liked this particular transmission because it constantly hunts gears and feels sluggish to downshift on-demand. Fiat claims the 500X was designed to be a fun driving experience but the nine-speed automatic saps most of the enjoyment out of any otherwise nice powertrain.
As part of the 2019 facelift, Fiat ditched its outdated 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine in favor of a new 1.3-liter turbocharged unit. This smaller engine actually offers a slight reduction in horsepower from 180 to 177 but a nice improvement in torque from 184 to 210 pound-feet. Torque is actually the important figure in real-world driving and the 1.3-liter mill feels punchier than the outgoing 2.4, we just hate the transmission it is linked to. All 500X trim levels now include all-wheel-drive as standard though, which is rare at this price level.
No matter which 500X trim you get, the only infotainment option is a seven-inch Uconnect touchscreen, which can be optioned with or without navigation. Not only is this screen small by 2020 standards, but it is also sluggish to boot up, unresponsive, and filled with glare when the sun hits it. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility at least make the screen simple to use but we can't imagine why Fiat didn't have included the excellent 8.4-inch touchscreen found on many Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, and Ram products.
As the top trim level of the 500X, the Trekking Plus model includes leather seats as standard equipment. Buyers can opt for either black or brown leather, which feels premium as though it belongs in a luxury car. As a downside, the seats are heated but are not offered with ventilation and the leather itself is very firm, making the seats feel less comfortable.
The 500X may be larger than the regular 500 but it is still a tiny vehicle. Back seat occupants will feel cramped with only 34.8 inches of legroom and the seatbacks are stiff and awkwardly titled. Behind the second row, the 500X offers a snug 14.1 cubic feet of cargo space, which is small even by sub-compact sedan standards. Folding the rear seats makes the storage situation more acceptable with 39.8 cubic feet of space but it is still highly lacking compared with other sub-compact crossovers.
Much like the exterior, Fiat has managed to craft a visually appealing interior. Fiat's use of body-color trim will likely be polarizing but we think the execution looks pretty cool and retro. There is also ample storage around the cabin, including a hidden storage compartment above the glovebox and we enjoyed the 500X's optional dual-pane sunroof, which offers a shade that can remain closed even when the glass portion is open.
The 2020 Fiat 500X Pop trim level starts at $24,590, which factoring in the standard AWD, is not a terribly unattractive price. But even with AWD factored in, the 500X is still more expensive than other competitors in its class, including the mechanically similar Jeep Renegade and the standout Kia Seltos. Our Trekking Plus tester with options came with an as-tested price of $34,375, which edges awfully close to entry-level luxury territory. At this price, we feel there are better options including the more fun-to-drive Mini Countryman.