Searching for refinement
THE GOOD
  • Likable looks
  • Spry handling for a crossover
  • Standard AWD
THE BAD
  • Loud engine
  • Jerky, indecisive transmission
  • Poor value
2020 Fiat 500X AWD Review

If the Fiat 500 is the automotive equivalent of a stylish handbag, then the 2020 Fiat 500X is like a designer backpack: it offers up much of the same style, but with a little bit more usability and practicality.

We here at autoTRADER.ca wouldn’t blame anyone for being enticed by the 500X’s combination of cute looks and added utility; but having received very little in the way of updates since its launch back in 2015, this Italian compact crossover charming veneer is wearing thin.

Styling: 8/10

Let’s start with the 500X Sport’s calling card: its exterior styling. So many cars and crossovers these days try too hard to look sporty with angry-looking LED headlights and intake vents galore, but not the 500X. With soft, rounded edges, bug-eyed headlights, and simple square taillights; the 500X has a whimsical look that’s undeniably refreshing.

The 500X Sport also gets some unique cosmetic touches to help set it apart from the entry-level Pop and mid-range Trekking trims that Fiat also offers. These include Sport-specific front and rear bumpers, standard 18-inch wheels – larger 19-inch units are available on Sport models as well – and body-colour side moldings.

We’re big fans of the Rovente Red exterior colour this particular 500X was finished in, as well, and it pairs perfectly with the red contrasting stitching and interior accents that come in the Sport trim. Other Sport interior enhancements include synthetic-suede-wrapped steering wheel and gauge cluster housing, and aluminum trimmed pedals. Otherwise, the interior materials feel cheap and downmarket. The infotainment screen is also small and poorly integrated into the dash.

Power: 6/10

Motivating the Fiat 500X Sport down the road is a turbocharged 1.3L four-cylinder engine, which is paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive. It only makes 138 hp, but with 199 lb-ft of torque on tap the 1.3L manages to feel surprisingly punchy at the right engine speed.

Most times, though, the engine and transmission make for a rather rough and unrefined driving experience. We found the nine-speed had trouble deciding which of its abundance of gears it wanted to be in, sometimes unnecessarily downshifting and then kicking up again. It wouldn’t be so bad if the shifts were smooth, but the transmission’s jerky nature ensures no gear change goes unnoticed.

We also found the electronic throttle lacked sensitivity. Pressing the throttle down to call up more power from the engine results in a noticeable delay before the additional power comes on. When the crossover finally does recognize the change in throttle input, it usually spins up way more output than what was asked for in the first place. This can make it hard to drive the vehicle smoothly, compounding the effects of the jerky transmission.

Our last gripe with the powertrain is the noise. The 1.3L engine sounds buzzy and loud under heavy acceleration (e.g. when getting onto a highway ramp) and idles like an old diesel. With a little more software tuning and some other small changes, this powertrain could probably be made to feel much more refined.

Fuel Economy: 7/10

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) rates the Fiat 500X’s fuel economy at 7.9 L/100 km on the highway, 10.0 L/100 km in the city, and 9.1 L/100 km combined; this is equivalent to $2,366 a year in fuel costs.

We found it easy to match or even exceed the highway fuel economy rating over an extended drive on the freeway, but like many newer turbocharged vehicles, drivers will want to avoid getting into the throttle very much at all to get anywhere close to the estimated city rating.

It’s also worth noting that this is a slightly worse fuel economy rating than some of the 500X’s main rivals. The all-wheel-drive Hyundai Kona with its 1.6L turbocharged engine, for example, returns an estimated 8.0 L/100 km on the highway, 9.0 L/100 km around town, and 8.6 L/100 km combined. The new Buick Encore GX with all-wheel drive and a 1.3L engine has a rating of 8.0 L/100 km on the highway, 9.0 L/100 km in the city, and 8.5 L/100 km combined [The discrepancy between the Kona and Encore GX’s combined ratings are due to rounding. –Ed.]. These improved ratings are only good for about $150 in fuel savings annually over the 500X, however.

Driving Feel: 7/10

The Fiat 500X Sport doesn’t get any suspension or chassis enhancements over lesser models to make it handle better, though the larger 18-inch wheels and lower profile tires probably give it a slightly stiffer and thus more performance-focused feel. Despite this, the crossover does feel spry for what it is and is fairly fun to drive in the corners with minimal body roll. A small turning radius and good visibility from the driver’s seat makes it easy and confidence-inspiring to manoeuvre and park.

Comfort: 7/10

While the Fiat 500X Sport handles a bit better than most crossovers we’ve come across, it does feel a bit stiff when driving over bumps and potholes. We think the culprit is the larger wheel and tire package that comes standard on the Sport trim; models with 17-inch wheels will have more tire sidewall and thus a plusher ride. With that in mind, we would avoid the aforementioned 19-inch wheels that are optional on the 500X Sport; they are simply too big to provide a decent ride on a vehicle this small.

The 500X’s seats are also quite supportive and have decent side bolstering, though the ergonomics of the steering wheel are just plain weird. The steering wheel spokes at 10 and two o’clock are too thick for most people to properly get their hands around, making it feel awkward no matter which way we held it.

Practicality: 9/10

The Fiat 500X is a compact crossover with seating for five. Front row head-, shoulder-, and legroom is respectable, while rear-seat passengers also get plenty of space for a compact. The 500X may be a small vehicle, but it never feels crowded or cramped from the inside.

The crossover also has a rather low, long, and flat load floor, providing a cargo capacity of 399 L behind the second row and 1,127 L with the seats folded down. We took the 500X to a cottage and found it had more than enough space for three adults, three weekend bags, and some food and other supplies.

Ground clearance on the 2020 Fiat 500X Sport is less than that of the Pop and Trekking models, which have different front bumpers that provide a little more height. This a city crossover through and through, and we wouldn’t take it on any terrain more taxing than a dirt road or gravel parking lot.

User Friendliness: 6/10

The only user-friendliness gripe we have with the Fiat 500X is with the infotainment screen. This seven-inch unit was extremely slow and laggy during our time with the crossover, making it very frustrating to use. The screen quality was also quite soft and blurry, further contributing to the overall poor user experience of the system. It does come standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which solves some of the user friendliness issues, but the system’s slow operation still impacts the overall experience. In a time when even the cheapest of tablets/smartphones have good screen quality and touch response, having a screen like this in a $40,000 vehicle is simply unacceptable.

Features: 6/10

The Fiat 500X may be the second-most-expensive trim (behind the range-topping Trekking Plus) but some more desirable features and options are still optional here. For example, our tester came with the Cold Weather Equipment Group, which charges $495 for heated wipers and heated front seats, the latter of which should be standard on a car starting at more than $32,000. Many buyers will also want the equipment locked away in the $995 Driver Assistance Group, which includes front and rear parking sensors and LED headlights, while the $695 Comfort Group includes popular items like dual-zone climate control, an eight-way power driver’s seat, and four-way power lumbar adjust.

Safety: 7/10

If safety is a priority, buyers should consider the $1,795 Advanced Driver Assistance Group. This package, which our tested came equipped with, includes advanced safety items like lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert with automatic braking, and blind spot monitoring.

As far as the Fiat 500X Sport’s safety rating is concerned, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives it an overall evaluation of “Good” but noted poor headlight performance in both low-beam and high-beam modes.

Value: 3/10

The Fiat 500X has a rather high starting price of $32,245, and while it does come standard with all-wheel drive, many features that should be standard at this price point are optional, such as heated seats, dual-zone climate control, and front and rear parking sensors. The Fiat 500X is also markedly more expensive than many of its rivals. The Hyundai Kona, for example, starts at $21,249 for a front-wheel-drive model and $23,249 for AWD; the Subaru Crosstrek, meanwhile, is priced at $23,795 with a six-speed manual transmission and standard AWD. With very little to justify this price premium apart from its cute looks and Italian heritage, the 500X is an objectively poor value.

The Verdict

The Fiat 500X Sport charms at first with its whimsical, bug-eyed exterior appearance, fun attitude, and sport-inspired interior, but its unrefined powertrain, dated technology, and unjustifiable price tag are enough to sour the experience. It’s a shame, because with some changes to the engine and transmission, more up-to-date technology, and a lower starting price, this would be a very solid offering from the Italian automaker.

Searching for refinement 8/31/2020 6:30:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 1.3L   Model Tested 2020 Fiat 500X Sport AWD
Engine Cylinders Turbo I4   Base Price $33,745
Peak Horsepower 148 hp @ 5,500 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 199 lb-ft @ 1,850 rpm   Destination Fee $1,895
Fuel Economy 10.0 / 7.9 / 9.1 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $40,420
Cargo Space 399 / 1,127 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$4,680 – Cold Weather Group, $495; Comfort Group, $695; Advanced Driver Assistance Group, $1,795; Driver Assistance Group, $995; Uconnect 4 Nav with 7-inch display, $700