A vehicle’s design is the first thing that speaks to you and eventually piques your curiosity (or doesn’t). In the case of the refreshed 2019 Fiat 500X, its bubbly, chic looks set it apart from everything else in the subcompact SUV segment. And now, with the addition of standard all-wheel drive and a new 1.3-liter turbo-four replacing the old 1.4- and 2.4-liter units, the 500X wants to prove it’s more than just a cute ute.

Throw It Back

Retro themes abound inside the 2019 Fiat 500X’s passenger compartment. The body-colored interior trim creates a vibrant atmosphere, and the large buttons and knobs on the center stack give everything a nice, chunky look. Even the seats look stylish with their rounded design, circular headrests, and two-tone brown and black leather upholstery. If only they had softer cushions and held you in place better during emergency maneuvers. Rear-seat passengers don’t have much head- and legroom, though. The available panoramic sunroof, which lowers the ceiling, cuts into the former, robbing more interior volume.

At 12.2 cubic feet with all seats up and 32.1 cubic feet with the rear seats folded, the 2019 Fiat 500X doesn’t have space for the spoils of your Ikea shopping sprees. The rear window cuts into cargo capacity, so you’ll need to drop one side of the 60/40 split-folding seatbacks and remove the cargo cover to fit bulky items or multiple roller bags. Even then, the 500X’s interior pales in comparison to the superbly packaged Honda HR-V‘s.

Despite the interior’s cool retro looks, material quality needs improvement. Buttons and knobs lack tactility, and the door card panels feel flimsy. There are nice materials like the squishy armrest cushions, but they’re surrounded by chintzy plastics and roughly textured surfaces. On the highway, an excessive amount of road- and wind noise enters the cabin, particularly from the driver’s side A-pillar.

Mighty Unrefined

With 177 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque, the 1.3-liter turbo I-4 has plenty of torque for merging, passing, and climbing grades, but it suffers from excessive turbo lag. At the track, the 2019 500X hit 60 mph in 8.3 seconds on its way to a 16.4-second quarter mile at 85.2 mph. Road test editor Chris Walton noted that the SUV doesn’t wake up until you’re past 15 mph. The nine-speed automatic still hesitates, amplifying the engine’s lack of responsiveness; step on the accelerator, and it takes a few seconds for the transmission to kick down and give you power. Sport mode wakes the powertrain up a bit, but it still lacks urgency in its responses. Braking performance, although consistent, didn’t inspire confidence, taking 120 feet to stop from 60 mph. Walton observed plenty of dive during hard stops and described the tires as “gravely.”

A stiff suspension gives the 2019 Fiat 500X a nervous ride that only gets worse on uneven pavement. Handling, while secure, never inspires confidence; delayed steering responses further detract from the overall driving experience, giving you a feeling like the car isn’t cooperating with you. The Mazda CX-3, Hyundai Kona, and Mini Countryman are more engaging and have superior road manners when the tarmac gets twisty.

During our testing, the 500X finished the figure eight in 28.5 seconds with 0.58 g average and generated 0.77 g of lateral acceleration. Testing director Kim Reynolds found it nimble but complained about excessive understeer at the limit and the uncooperative transmission. When driven enthusiastically the 500X becomes a handful because of its tendency to snap back on center once you exit a turn at more than 30 mph. The all-wheel-drive system only adds traction when accelerating or driving in poor weather conditions, and it won’t send power to the rear wheels to help the little SUV handle better.

The Mixed Tech Bag

FCA’s UConnect interface remains one of the easiest infotainment systems to learn. In the 2019 Fiat 500X, it comes standard with a responsive 7.0-inch touchscreen featuring a logical layout and big icons. We do wish it had the larger 8.4-inch display from other FCA models and crisper map graphics for the built-in navigation. The optional nine-speaker Beats audio system also requires some fine tuning because it doesn’t distribute sound evenly throughout the cabin.

Active driver assistance features are only available on the Trekking and Trekking Plus grades via the Driver Assistance and Advanced Driver Assistance Groups. Although most systems work as intended, lane keeping assist ping-pongs the vehicle between the lanes, and adaptive cruise control applies the brakes in sudden motions, jerking occupants around.

At What Cost?

Starting at $26,235, the 2019 Fiat 500X is one of the pricier subcompact SUVs (though it does come with standard AWD). Our Trekking Plus tester with Premium and Advanced Driver Assistance Groups dressed in Milano Ivory stickered for $35,075. At that price, the little Italian SUV becomes a hard sell, especially when put up against sportier and roomier competitors that offer equal amounts of style for less money.

Even with all-wheel drive standard and a better engine, the 2019 Fiat 500X falls short. With its poorly packaged interior and sloppy driving dynamics, there’s not enough goodness behind that cheeky face. You’d have to be infatuated with the Fiat’s styling to justify it. If you are, stick with the mid-level Trekking grade, which costs $27,740 and is available with the same options as the Trekking Plus.

2019 Fiat 500X AWD (Trekking Plus)
BASE PRICE $30,690
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 1.3L/177-hp/210-lb-ft turbo SOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,396 lb (60/40%)
WHEELBASE 101.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 167.2 x 72.3 x 63.7 in
0-60 MPH 8.3 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.4 sec @ 85.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 120 ft
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.5 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 140/112 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.74 lb/mile

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