When Fiat products returned to American shores several years ago, the 500 was supposed to be the cute little bugger to draw in young buyers with hopes that they’d enjoy their time in them so much that as they got older they would move into the larger 500X and 500L.
Well, things haven’t gone exactly as planned. A precipitous drop in gas prices made small cars like the 500 an afterthought for buyers, crazed for roomy and comfortable sport-utility vehicles and crossovers. Quality issues with the 500 line-up didn’t help matters any either.
Last year, the FCA finally pulled the plug on the 500 as sales were abysmal; however, the sporty and practical – and bigger – 500X survives. Its more contemporary looks combined with a roomier interior has made it just popular enough to keep around.
Overview: The 500X Sport is new for 2020, although the 500X has been around for a while. It’s not Beetle cute, and when compared with the competition, like the Buick Encore, Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3 and others, it’s certainly a looker, but not gaudy. Something of a cross between the girl next door and girl with too much make up on.
It’s actually kind of sporty looking, living up to its trim level name, and to be honest, you feel good walking out to get into it — as if something fun could happen, even if it’s only a run to the grocery store or to drop off something. And if we’re talking about what’s under the hood, it’s plenty of fun! Peppy and spritely with good handling to match its good looks.
Exterior: It’s clear the 500X Sport is related to the now-extinct 500 – a distinction that’s much tougher to make for the 500L. However, it’s almost like someone decided to make it bigger and more athletic looking. We appreciate an attractive small car and the 500X is most definitely that and the updated front fascia and grille only enhances the car’s overall look.
“… Our test version came in the new “Rovente Red.” We’re not certain if rovente is Italian for aggressive, cool red, but if not, it should be….”
The car’s black accents on the mirrors and roof only enhance the almost rally car-like look of the Sport. Throw in the 19-inch sport aluminum wheels and you get a very, very attractive package.
Interior: The inside of the Sport is swathed in black with leather-trimmed sport seat complete with
“500X” almost stamped into the upper part of the front seats. Aside from the stainless-looking trim on the dashboard, it almost looks like a checkered flag exploded inside with just enough red accents to make it a fun and upbeat place to sit.
Controls are clear, easy to read and reach for the most part. However, it’s here that some of the quality issues crop up and sour the experience a bit. The volume knob for the radio was a bit jiggly and touchscreen sometimes required a rather forceful touch to respond. The layout looked good, but it didn’t always feel good.
Additionally, we appreciated the little storage space at the bottom of the center console where the USB and 12-volt connection were, but the required a bit of a reach, including getting around the gear shift. The seats were very comfortable and setting up good driving position wasn’t a problem. The back seat was big enough, if you’re a normal-sized human. The cargo space in the back in the hatch area is is spacious and with offers quick and easy access.
Powertrain: Our test vehicle was powered by a 1.3-liter in-line 4 cylinder turbo mated to a 9-speed transmission. This engine puts out 177 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque all while getting 30 mpg and comes with all-wheel drive standard.
It’s responsive and quick and clearly the best part of the whole car. It’s really fun to drive.
The 500X is rated at 24 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined and during our time with the car, getting those numbers can be done easily, although we suspect that our city mpg may have been lower than the 24 the EPA claims, but only because we had a lot of fun tossing it around a bit because of the surprising amount of pep available.
Safety & Technology: This is another area where the 500X Sport really shines. You can make this little car a tech safety marvel. In fact, FCA says it offers more than 70 available safety and security features on the car. Our test model came with the Advanced Driver Assistance Group, which includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind-spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Path detection, ParkView rear backup camera with dynamic grid lines, ESC with electronic roll mitigation and seven standard air bags.
Standard rear parking sensors and available front parking sensors, plus an electric parking brake system, round out the well-equipped small crossover.
However, it’s not just loaded with safety tech. The infotainment system isn’t too bad either. The car comes with the latest generation Uconnect 4 with 7-inch touchscreen display infotainment system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, which come standard along with available satellite navigation, SiriusXM Radio, and what we were really looking forward to: the Beats premium audio system.
The system was a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes the sound was amazing and other times, it couldn’t be tweaked enough to get it just right. No matter how much we fiddled with the settings, the 80s on 8 just sounded like it was coming from a radio from the 1980s. That may have been an “we” thing, but others attempted to adjust it and found the sound to be equally disappointing in certain situations.
Driving Impressions: Looking at the car, one expects a fun-to-drive, peppy vehicle and the 500X lives up to that billing. The in-line 4 is responsive and the handling is nimble and, as mentioned earlier, it’s a fun time when you’re behind the wheel. Braking is also good. For its size, it’s a real performer. It’s got rally car looks and, well, nearly rally car feel.
Wrap Up: Fiat’s get beat up pretty good because they’re small and underpowered (the 500) or they’re awkward appearance (the 500L) so the 500X is clearly the best one of the trio-now-duo in the line-up. FCA’s done a fine job with the design and offering all of the technology that younger buyers really like in a vehicle.
However, we’re stuck on something — price. The 500X Sport starts at $26,895, but after all of the goodies in our test vehicle were added, it swelled to $35,895 including the $1,495 destination fee. That’s $36K for a small crossover-like vehicle that is good — but not great. It’s a nice car, but we couldn’t say it’s a nice value, which in this segment it’s important to get what your pay for.