Here’s an oddball fact: Fiat, the Italian small car brand, currently sells only one new car, the 2021 500X, making the brand and the car synonymous, almost.
Can Fiat the brand survive when it’s only got one car to sell?
Time will soon tell.
What It Is
The 500X is a subcompact-sized five-door crossover with standard AWD, and the last new car Fiat still sells. The two-door 500 and 500L wagon are now gone, not so much because they were bad cars but because it’s hard to sell Americans on small cars.
And the 500 was really small—just 139.6 inches end to end, which for reference is almost four feet shorter end to end than a small car like the Toyota Corolla sedan.
The 500L, also no longer offered, was larger, but not much (167 inches end to end) and didn’t offer much in terms of performance, capability, or room. It was underpowered and front-drive-only.
The 500X offers capability—it comes standard with all-wheel-drive and a strong standard engine for the class (177 hp) with only a bit less room than others in the class, which just might help it sell.
Prices start at $24,840 for the base Pop trim. Other trims include Trekking, Sport, and the top-of-the-line Trekking Plus trim, which stickers for $29,745.
It’s chiefly the same as are other similar rivals such as the Mazda CX3 and the Honda HR-V, which both come standard with FWD and AWD optionally a much lower price tag to start ($20,640 and $21,020 respectively). But their cost goes up when equipped with AWD, and neither is available with an engine that’s as strong as the one that comes standard in the Fiat.
To make the 500X more compelling to potential buyers vs. its lower-priced rivals, Fiat has added a Sport Value Package to the roster of options that bundles an oversized, dual-pane sunroof, 19-inch wheels/tires, LED headlights, heated seats, and a premium eight-speaker Beats Audio stereo for $700.
Previously, these features were ordered a la carte, added more than $3,000 to the price of a 500X.
- A fun little thing that’s also a practical little thing.
- It does not have a CVT automatic (some people dislike them).
- Does have a much stronger standard engine than the engines available in rivals like the CX3, HR-V, and the BMW Mini Countryman, too.
What’s Not So Good
- The standard turbocharged engine needs premium fuel to make its peak horsepower.
- It’s significantly more expensive than rivals like the CX3 and HR-V and can get as pricey as a Mini Countryman, too.
- It’s still a little thing.
Under The Hood
All 500X trims come standard with the same 1.3-liter engine, the smallest four-cylinder engine in anything, not a motorcycle. But it makes more power, 177 hp, and 210 ft.-lbs. of torque, than the larger 2.0- and 1.8-liter fours that are standard in the Mazda CX3 and Honda HR-V. They only make 148 hp and 148 ft.-lbs. of torque and 141 hp and 127 ft.-lbs. of torque, respectively.
The reason—they’re not turbocharged while the Fiat’s engine is.
The downside—the Fiat costs more because the turbo and related components add to the cost of building the car. It also costs more to feed this car because the Fiat’s turbocharged engine needs premium gas to make its maximum power.
You don’t have to feed it premium, but it’ll cost you horsepower if you don’t.
The Honda and Mazda’s engines are regular unleaded engines, saving you about 30 cents per gallon at every fill-up.
The Fiat’s gas mileage is pretty good on the upside, especially given its stronger engine and standard AWD.
The window sticker says 24 city, 30 highway, which is within the margin of error vs. the 27 city, 32 highway posted by the FWD version of the Mazda CX3, and the 26 city, 31 highway posted by the AWD version of the Honda HR-V.
The Fiat has another upside, too, at least vs. the Honda. The upside is that the 500X comes standard with a conventional automatic transmission with gears that shift versus the continuously variable (CVT) automatic with no gears, just ranges, that is the only available transmission in the HR-V.
The Fiat’s transmission has nine gears, too—the most gears you’ll find behind such a little engine. The multiple overdrive gears are a big part of what enables the 500X to match more-or-less the mileage of lower-powered rivals like the HR-V and CX3.
That and the fact that the Fiat’s AWD system can be disengaged and let you operate in FWD, which reduces driveline drag on the engine as well as wear-and-tear on the AWD system itself vs. systems that are always on (i.e., “full-time” AWD, as most AWD systems are).
On The Road
This little thing fits almost anywhere a motorcycle fits, and it can go places few motorcycles can unless they’re off-road dirt bikes. And not just because it comes standard with AWD.
This Fiat has the most ground clearance (7.9 inches) of the bunch and without which AWD doesn’t make much difference off-road or in the snow.
It has much more ground clearance than either the Honda HR-V (which has 6.7 inches) or the Mazda CX3, which has only 6.1 inches, about the same as most cars. Both of these two are more on-road-oriented, with their optional AWD systems meant chiefly to deliver a handling/wet-weather traction enhancement than much help in the snow, much less off-road.
Without ground clearance, the car rides on top of the snow sooner, and once that happens, you’ll be spinning your wheels, whether just two or all four.
The not-CVT automatic is another plus if you don’t like the way CVTs operate. They are designed to maximize fuel efficiency by letting the engine rev to the optimum spot in its powerband for maximum efficiency. This can get noisy because the engine will stay at that spot in the powerband, usually close to redline under WOT acceleration. A conventional automatic will shift up to the next-forward gear, reducing engine revs and engine noise.
CVTs also have a reputation for not being as tough or as durable, and replacing a croaked CVT is not cheap.
As far as speed: the 500X goes zero to 60 in about 8.5 seconds, but it’s much quicker than the glacially-accelerating Honda HR-V, which takes almost 10 seconds to make the same run. The Mazda CX3 gets to 60 about as quickly as the Fiat and is more confident in the curves because it is much lower to the ground than the Fiat. The price you pay for that is less confidence when it snows.
To make the most of the 500X’s bad-weather capabilities, opt for the available Michelin CrossClimate tires.
And if you are desirous of more speed, dialing up the turbo boost would slake that desire. You could have a lot of fun with this rig by adding Abarth over-the-counter upgrades, including the open-piped Harley exhaust dump that used to come standard in the 500 Abarth.
Guaranteed to wake up the neighbors!
But be careful as these little engines are already running a lot of boost and the Abarth force-feeding is likely to end up resulting in the same as force-feeding a goose to make pate de foie gras.
At The Curb
The 500X is the smallest vehicle of its type you can buy, but just barely.
At 167.7 inches long end-to-end, it is only slightly smaller overall than the Mazda CX-3 (168.3 inches end-to-end) and the Honda HR-V (170.4 inches), but it feels bigger from the inside because you’re sitting up higher. The two rivals, even though they are nominally crossovers, have car-like ride height.
The 500X also looks very much like the small crossover it is rather than trying to pretend it’s the car it’s not.
And it looks different, perhaps this Fiat’s single most persuasive sell. It looks like the Italian job it is, especially if outfitted with the available contrast-color exterior paint schemes available. There’s a cheery vibe about the thing that sets it apart from the others, especially the Honda, which is a brilliantly utilitarian rig with all the personality of a kitchen sink.
The Mazda’s a looker, too, but it looks very different. Sexy vs. cute. It’s nice to have this meaningful choice of visuals in a class of vehicles largely defined by look-alikes.
It’s not quite as spacious as inside as its main rivals, especially vs. the Honda HR-V in terms of backseat space. The Honda has a very impressive backseat for the size of the thing at 39.8 inches. It has as much or even more backseat legroom than in several full-size sedans vs. 34.8 inches in the Fiat’s second row. However, the Fiat stacks up well vs. the Mazda CX-3, which has 35 inches of second-row legroom.
It’s pretty much the same story concerning cargo space.
The Honda is the leader again and not by a hair. It has 23.2 cubic feet of space behind its second row, and if you fold them down, you have 55.9 cubic feet, which for a subcompact crossover is cavernous space.
As far as being practical goes, it’s the king of small.
But the Fiat still has more room behind its second row (14.1 cubic feet) than most much-larger cars, and with its back seats down, there are 39.8 cubic feet of space, which is still a lot of space given the ultra-small size of this package. It’s also very close to the space inside the larger CX-3, which has 17.8 cubic feet behind its second row and maxes out to 42.7 cubic feet when they’re folded.
The 500X has two big problems aside from it being small.
The first is its cost – especially as you ascend the trims and get up to the Trekking Plus, which stickers for more than a BMW-built Mini Cooper Countryman, which lists for $28,400 to start (vs. $29,745 for the Trekking Plus 500X).
On the one hand, and in defense of the Fiat, the almost $29k-to-start Mini comes standard with a much weaker 1.5-liter, 134 hp engine and FWD. You get more for your money at the Fiat store. The Mini also comes with less ground clearance (6.5 inches) even when ordered with its extra-cost AWD system, making it less practical.
But you also get less of other stuff, which is the second problem.
Fiat isn’t Mini, and Fiat may not be around much longer, depending on what the new recently merged and named company Stellantis decides. Stellantis owns Fiat, Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, Jeep, and Peugeot and may decide to do away with Fiat, the not-doing-well Italian small car brand, which is already almost gone. Finding a Fiat store to sell you a 500X is a challenge.
On the upside, it is almost certain you’ll be able to buy a new 500X for much less-than-sticker—precisely because Fiat isn’t Mini.
If you can pick up a loaded Trekking Plus with AWD and 177 hp for say $25k or even less, then the almost-$29k price of the FWD, 134 hp Mini, which you’d almost certainly pay (because it’s a Mini), seems ridiculous. You’d also likely feel some pain if you paid around the same for a mid-trim HR-V or CX-3 without all the goods you get in the TP, which includes the excellent Beats upgrade audio system, the heated (and leather-trimmed) seats, the upgraded 7-inch UConnect LCD touchscreen, suede Alcantara trim, and an electric windshield deicer.
The Bottom Line
It’s so small it’s almost not here anymore. Better hurry if you’d like to see one before they’re not.
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.