Eric's Autos: 2021 Fiat 500X
Here's an oddball thing: Fiat -- the Italian small car brand -- currently sells only one new car, the 2021 500X.
That makes 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 all-wheel drive -- and the last new car Fiat still sells.
Prices start at $24,840 for the base Pop trim. There are also Trekking, Sport and the top-of-the-line Trekking Plus trim, which stickers for $29,745.
Its chief same-sized/ballpark-priced rivals are the Mazda CX-3 and the Honda HR-V, which both come standard with front-wheel drive (all-wheel drive optionally) and so a lower price tag to start ($20,790 and $21,220, respectively). But their cost goes up when equipped with all-wheel drive, 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 versus 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.
It's a fun little thing that's also a practical little thing.
It does not have a continuously variable automatic transmission (common in this class, but some people dislike them).
It does have a much stronger standard engine than the engines available in rivals such as the CX-3, HR-V and even the much more expensive BMW Mini Countryman.
What's Not So Good
The standard turbocharged engine needs premium fuel to make its peak horsepower.
It's significantly more expensive than rivals such as the CX-3 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 -- which is the smallest four-cylinder engine there is in anything that's not a motorcycle . But it makes more power -- 177 horsepower and 210 foot-pounds of torque -- than the larger 2.0- and 1.8-liter fours that are standard in the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V, which only make 148 horsepower and 148 foot-pounds of torque and 141 horsepower and 127 foot-pounds of torque, respectively.
The reason for that being that their engines not turbocharged, while the Fiat's engine is.
The downside of that being that 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.
The Fiat has another upside, too, at least versus the Honda. Which is that the 500X comes standard with a conventional automatic transmission -- with gears that shift -- versus the 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 more or less match the mileage of lower-powered rivals such as the HR-V and CX3.
Additionally, the Fiat's all-wheel drive system can be disengaged and let you operate in front-wheel drive, which reduces driveline drag on the engine as well as wear-and-tear on the all-wheel drive system itself versus systems that are always on (i.e., "full-time" all-wheel drive, as most of them 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 all-wheel drive.
This Fiat has the most ground clearance (7.9 inches) of the bunch, without which all-wheel drive doesn't make much difference off-road. Or in the snow.
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 other two -- even though they are nominally crossovers -- have car-like ride height.
It's not quite as spacious as inside as its main rivals, especially the Honda HR-V in terms of back seat space. The Honda's 39.8 inches is very impressive for the size of the thing -- as much or even more back seat legroom than in several full-size sedans -- versus 34.8 inches in the Fiat's second row. However, the Fiat stacks up well versus the Mazda CX-3, which has 35 inches of second row legroom.
There are 14.1 cubic inches of cargo space behind the second row, and when they're folded, the available space opens up to 39.8 cubic feet, impressive for the tiny overall size of this thing.
Because Fiat -- the brand -- is not doing so well, the odds are pretty good you'll be able to negotiate a deal on a new 500X.You might even be able to snap one up for about what you'd pay for a lesser-engined (and front-wheel drive) CX-3 or HR-V.
The Bottom Line
It's so small it's almost not here anymore. Better hurry if you'd like to see one before it's not.
Eric's latest book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate, Inc.