I drove a $33,000 Fiat 500X and the subcompact SUV was extremely disappointing

Fiat 500XMatthew DeBord/Business Insider

  • I tested a 2019 Fiat 500X, a $32,755 subcompact crossover SUV that's made in Italy and shares a platform with the Jeep Renegade.
  • My Fiat 500X tester started at $25,995, but options took up the price by thousands of dollars.
  • The vehicle had a 177-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a nine-speed automatic transmission that didn't get along well.
  • The ride was uncomfortable, and the SUV was a chore to drive.
  • The Uconnect infotainment system, however, was excellent, although the 500X's screen is rather small.
  • I was disappointed with the Fiat 500X, which has far too many flaws and few redeeming qualities.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The Fiat 500 is a nameplate that dates back to the 1950s. The plucky original put the Italian car industry back in business after Word War II.

An updated 500 came to the US after the financial crisis, reestablishing the brand. Fiat, a division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, then added models, including the 500L, an SUV; the Abarth performance trim of the 500 coupé; a 500C convertible; and a 500e all-electric vehicle.

The original 500 and 500C are leaving the US market amid poor sales and a pretty bad reliability record. But other vehicles are sticking around, and for the 2019 model year, the 500X received an update.

The 500X shares a platform with the Jeep Renegade, a vehicle I had sort of liked when I reviewed it, so I was looking forward to the 500X.

Read on to learn what automotive disappointment feels like.

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Hello, Fiat 500X! My tester tipped the price scale at $32,755, well up from the base sticker of $25,995. The color? A handsome "Grigio Moda" ("Graphite Grey Metallic").

Hello, Fiat 500X! My tester tipped the price scale at $32,755, well up from the base sticker of $25,995. The color? A handsome "Grigio Moda" ("Graphite Grey Metallic").

The 500X draws on the design of the perky Fiat 500, itself based on ...

The 500X draws on the design of the perky Fiat 500, itself based on ...

... The Fiat Cinquecento, an important vehicle Fiat introduced in the late 1950s. The original 500 helped Italy's manufacturing economy recover from World War II; it was the Italian VW Beetle, sold until the mid-1970s.

... The Fiat Cinquecento, an important vehicle Fiat introduced in the late 1950s. The original 500 helped Italy's manufacturing economy recover from World War II; it was the Italian VW Beetle, sold until the mid-1970s.

With a set of 17-inch, blacked-out aluminum wheels, my Fiat 500X presented relatively well for a vehicle that's also the basis for ...

With a set of 17-inch, blacked-out aluminum wheels, my Fiat 500X presented relatively well for a vehicle that's also the basis for ...

... The Jeep Renegade.

... The Jeep Renegade.

Elevated, bug-eyed, and overall rather odd-looking, the Fiat 500X is a subcompact crossover. Effectively, a 21st-century hatchback with an Italian accent.

Elevated, bug-eyed, and overall rather odd-looking, the Fiat 500X is a subcompact crossover. Effectively, a 21st-century hatchback with an Italian accent.

I'm not a fan of the design, but there's no argument that the Fiat badge is among the auto industry's most historic and beautiful. Fiat is a 120-year-old brand, and its name is actually an acronym: FIAT, or "Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino."

I'm not a fan of the design, but there's no argument that the Fiat badge is among the auto industry's most historic and beautiful. Fiat is a 120-year-old brand, and its name is actually an acronym: FIAT, or "Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino."

The headlights are high-tech: halogen bi-function projectors with LED daytime running lights. They are among the few commendable features.

The headlights are high-tech: halogen bi-function projectors with LED daytime running lights. They are among the few commendable features.

Even though I like the wheels, the 17-inchers leave a lot of wheel-arch space.

Even though I like the wheels, the 17-inchers leave a lot of wheel-arch space.

While the 500X looks OK from the front — if you dig that Fiat 500 vibe — the rear is pretty standard-issue Euro-hatch.

While the 500X looks OK from the front — if you dig that Fiat 500 vibe — the rear is pretty standard-issue Euro-hatch.

The tail lights are unremarkable rectangles of red.

The tail lights are unremarkable rectangles of red.

My Fiat 500X was equipped with all-wheel-drive, perhaps because it's built on the same assembly line in Italy as the Jeep Renegade. I don't know if AWD for a subcompact style-mobile like this is needed. It probably degrades the 24 mpg city/30 highway/26 combined fuel economy.

My Fiat 500X was equipped with all-wheel-drive, perhaps because it's built on the same assembly line in Italy as the Jeep Renegade. I don't know if AWD for a subcompact style-mobile like this is needed. It probably degrades the 24 mpg city/30 highway/26 combined fuel economy.

Still, that's an attractive badge!

Still, that's an attractive badge!

Let's investigate cargo space.

Let's investigate cargo space.

It isn't great: 14 cubic feet with the rear seats up. That's smaller than the trunk on some compact sedans. With the seats down, the capacity rises to almost 40 cubic feet.

It isn't great: 14 cubic feet with the rear seats up. That's smaller than the trunk on some compact sedans. With the seats down, the capacity rises to almost 40 cubic feet.

The interior was black. Or "Nero," which sounds better.

The interior was black. Or "Nero," which sounds better.

The seats, front and rear, were uncomfortable. A passenger likened the cabin, unfavorably, to a box.

The seats, front and rear, were uncomfortable. A passenger likened the cabin, unfavorably, to a box.

The split sunroof was welcome.

The split sunroof was welcome.

Visibility through the Fiat 500X's backlight was not good. All in all, I didn't much enjoy my time in this dark, cramped realm.

Visibility through the Fiat 500X's backlight was not good. All in all, I didn't much enjoy my time in this dark, cramped realm.

The steering wheel itself felt good in my hands, but the steering was vague, numb, and cumbersome.

The steering wheel itself felt good in my hands, but the steering was vague, numb, and cumbersome.

But my oh my! That badge!

But my oh my! That badge!

It might resemble a Nintendo DS, but that seven-inch unit is the 500X's infotainment screen.

It might resemble a Nintendo DS, but that seven-inch unit is the 500X's infotainment screen.

It runs FCA's generally excellent Uconnect system. GPS navigation was fine, Bluetooth connectivity was a snap, there's SiriusXM satellite radio, and you have available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This is the car's finest moment.

It runs FCA's generally excellent Uconnect system. GPS navigation was fine, Bluetooth connectivity was a snap, there's SiriusXM satellite radio, and you have available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This is the car's finest moment.

The Beats audio system, surprisingly, did not beat much. It's a six-speaker configuration.

The Beats audio system, surprisingly, did not beat much. It's a six-speaker configuration.

The drive-mode selector offers Normal, Sport, and bad-weather choices.

The drive-mode selector offers Normal, Sport, and bad-weather choices.

Two-level heated seats are a nice touch. Even if the eight-way adjustable drivers seat with lumbar support was a disappointment.

Two-level heated seats are a nice touch. Even if the eight-way adjustable drivers seat with lumbar support was a disappointment.

The 500 logo is actually quite cool, rendered in a sort of gold-bronze.

The 500 logo is actually quite cool, rendered in a sort of gold-bronze.

It reappears on the seats.

It reappears on the seats.

And the X-factor shows up on the exterior.

And the X-factor shows up on the exterior.

The 500X has a 1.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, making on paper a respectable 177 horsepower. The transmission is an easily flustered nine-speed automatic.

The 500X has a 1.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, making on paper a respectable 177 horsepower. The transmission is an easily flustered nine-speed automatic.

So what's the verdict?

So what's the verdict?

Disappointed!

Yes, it sort of looks cool. And PLEASE don't think I'm joining the dour chorus of complaints about the updated Fiat 500, a car that routinely dwells at the bottom of customer surveys, but that did help the Italian brand reestablish itself in the US market after departing in the 1990s.

No Fiat. No Alfa Romeo either, by the way.

Granted, FCA products have wildly impressed me in the past. I also rather like Italian brands, and I don't mind Jeeps at all — and one of those undergirds the 500X.

The 500X, is then, singular. Singularly awful. Apart from the somewhat cool styling — which in all honesty, I don't think scales up very well — the vehicle reminded me, in an alarming way, of the PT Cruiser. The worst car I've ever driven in my entire life. The PT Cruiser was worse than the Fiat 500X. A lot worse. But the 500X nonetheless brought up bad memories.

Almost everything about the 500X is flawed. I say "almost" because the infotainment system, essentially FCA's excellent Uconnect setup, works well. The screen is pretty small, but at least it's something to commend.

Otherwise, where do I begin? The steering is a strange combination of flimsy, imprecise, and heavy. The engine — on paper a peppy thing — is noisy and crude when not in Sport mode. However, when in Sport mode, it's reluctant to actually be sporty. The turbo lags like a quartet of swayback hamsters are under the hood, in need of a violent rousing and doses of contraband Four Loko. Even when the theoretical power spools up, it arrives in a woozy lurch.

The 500X is supposed to be fun to drive. It is, in fact, a chore.

The architecture is upright and boxy, reducing the impression of space that the larger platform is meant to create for anyone who's ever squashed themselves into a two-door 500. The seats are uncomfortable. The interior materials are a smorgasbord of mediocre plastic. Put the pedal down and there is no joy. Remain in staid cruising mode and feel your lumbar vertebrae compress in real time as you wriggle to gain some semblance of support. Lay a hand on the gearshift and relish the sad thrum of an undernourished motor. You can't even bass-out on the Beats audio system, given that it's mysteriously, perhaps shockingly, devoid of bottom-end.

The 500X shares a platform with the Jeep Renegade, a vehicle I sampled in 2017 and decided was an Italian-built example of an American nameplated ride that was strenuously not trying to come off as Italian.

"The bottom line is that the Renegade feels absolutely nothing like an Italian car," I wrote. "That dashing spirit of The Boot has been ruthlessly engineered out and replaced with steadfast Jeepy values. And if you think about it, that means the Renegade is something of a work of genius."

Flip the equation — try to re-embrace the overtly Italian marque even though you've committed to the whole Jeep thing — and the pretzel logic becomes palpable. More than once I had to admit that I sort of was OK with the Renegade even though it wasn't a real Jeep because at least it was adequately faking Jeepness; meanwhile, I hated the 500X because it was much too coarse to be wearing Italian livery.

That exercise made my head hurt, so it was ultimately easier to simply dislike the 500X and move on.

For the record, the 500X joins less than a handful of vehicles we here at Business Insider have really, really, really not grooved on. The others were the Volkswagen SportWagen, which actually had an excuse because it was fairly bare-bones (and in any case, VW recently pulled the vehicle from the the US market); and the Lexus CT200h (also now discontinued), a car I actually quite liked but that my then-colleague Ben Zhang detested.

We've had some complaints about the hundreds of other vehicles we've reviewed since 2014. But the Fiat 500X is the first that I would without hesitation tell you not to buy. There are far better options in the FCA family — including the Jeep Renegade!

It causes me pain to rip into a vehicle this way. It doesn't happen very often. But the 500X simply isn't worth anyone's time or money.

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