Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: June 9, 2020
McDonald's. Apple. Old Navy. What do they all have in common? They all offer an XL version of their products, whether it be french fries, smartphones, or sweaters. Fiat has succumbed to this route as well for the hungry North American market with the 500X, a bloated Fiat 500 that took one too many Viagras. It’s a small urban crossover with the practicality and functionality to satisfy small families and city goers. But there isn’t much that the Fiat can do, that other crossovers can’t. Sales have proven that, with the 500X lagging behind the Mazda CX-30, Hyundai Kona, and Honda HR-V. The newly launched Kia Seltos and Nissan Kicks should be even more worrying. That goes for the entire brand as well - remember the 500L? Yes it’s still surviving, but barely. The 124 Spider hasn’t garnered enough praise to warrant one over an MX-5 either, and you can say Arrivederci to the classic 500, our favourite of the Italian litter, which has already been axed from the Canadian market. If there’s any glimmer of hope, it’s in the booming subcompact SUV market, and the 500X aims to course correct that.
Following the 2019 additions of a standard 1.3-litre turbo engine, the 2020 model year adds a new Sport model to the mix, equipping the extra-large Fiat with a handsome hue of Rovente Red, a paint colour that wouldn’t look out of place on a Ferrari. Sport models also receive unique front and rear fascias, black mirror caps, black door handles, new 18-inch wheels, a Sport badge on the front fender, and a new black roof option. Inside, the 500X receives unique Sport seats in black, Sport floor mats, and Alcantara inserts on the instrument binnacle and 9- to 3-o’clock positions of the steering wheel.
The word ‘Sport’ may conjure up dreams of canyon carving and high-strung V8 engines, but it’s all strictly cosmetic here. In fact, that is what the Fiat brand tends to nail: aesthetic charm. That shows with the unique and cutesy interior, bubbly sheetmetal, and a clear design emphasis on round objects. Just count how many circles you see in the center console alone. It’s like an Italian MINI. The interior is a refreshing place to spend time in, with rounded instrument dials and a touchscreen unit that resembles a tablet. The infotainment is a similar UI to the ones used in Jeeps and Dodges but for some reason, the Fiat’s feels a tad slower in terms of responsiveness. Still, the learning curve is minimal. Even your 90-year old nona would be able to navigate through the menus, as it follows a simple smartphone-like layout with shortcuts on the bottom. The 500X also comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The suede steering wheel is a nice touch and unique in its segment. It’s a pretty package both inside and out, and unlike the smaller 500, the driving position here is excellent. It doesn’t force taller drivers to sit awkwardly forward, and there’s a great deal of headroom even for my six-foot figure. That’s helped by the fact that ours didn't have the optional sunroof cutting into the real estate. We didn’t have the optional BeatsAudio sound system either, but the base speakers sounded just fine to our ears. As charming as it may be, the Fiat still lacks the interior refinement expected these days from a $30-40,000 SUV, especially when you’ve seen what Mazda has been up to with the CX-30. Panels aren’t always flush with each other, and it lacks that sturdy and durable feel that you would even find in today’s Hyundais and Kias.
The sole engine option is the carried over 1.3-litre turbocharged inline-four that produces 177 hp and 210 lb-ft through a 9-speed automatic. That sends power to all four wheels with its standard AWD system. There are three driving modes on offer as well: Auto for daily driving, Traction+ for low-grip situations, and Sport for a perkier drive.
I liked the Fiat 500X more than I was expecting to, probably because of that turbo. There is a noticeable delay when you catch the turbo sleeping but boy, when it wakes up, there’s proper boost, more than enough for quick jaunts down the freeway. I definitely didn’t expect that from an engine with such small displacement. This one’s got fizz, but is coarse around the edges during transitions and makes an unpleasant tractor noise under stress. The noise is even more unpleasant with the windows down.
We didn’t like the 9-speed when we drove the Jeep Compass and we still don’t like it now. It remains the weakest point of the powertrain. Clunky and unresponsive when rowing the gears yourself, the transitions are slightly softer and smoother when left to its own devices. We just can’t help but wonder how much more engaging the 500X would be with a proper manual transmission. Of course, nobody would buy one, but one can still dream of a 500X Abarth with a peppier engine tune and a muffler delete. That just might be the needed stimulus to propel the 500X into the hearts and minds of customers. I digress. The 500X actually drives pretty nicely. It shares its platform with the higher-riding Jeep Renegade, and heavily leans into corners like any other crossover but the front tires seem to egg you on with surprising grip. You can punt it around without worrying about it toppling it over or understeering into a tree. There isn’t a major disconnect between the body and chassis but it’s not like its springing with life either. Still, it was more fun than I expected it to be.
Standard all-wheel drive and a turbocharged engine leaves the 500X with a hefty starting price. The base Pop model starts at $31,995, with our Sport model punching above at $33,495. Loaded to the brim with options as ours was, and it’s pushing just a hair above $38,000, making the 500X clearly not the sensible choice of the litter. Objectively, there are far superior crossovers to buy with that kind of money but let’s be honest, who gets a true kick from being sensible? The Fiat is the outlier, and may lag behind with interior refinement, powertrain polish, and overall value but for some, it will meet you in the middle with enough charm to make you forget about everything else.
Model: 2020 Fiat 500X Sport
Paint Type: Rovente Red
Base Price: $33,495
Price as Tested: $38,175
Engine: 1.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 177 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 210 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 10.0 / 7.9 / 9.1
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 10.0