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First Drive: 2019 Fiat 500X

A Spicier Meatball

Like pasta arrabiata or pizza napoletana, the Fiat 500X carries a certain spice and appeal as an import from Italy. We've generally found it to be a likable subcompact crossover SUV since its debut in 2016. For 2019, Fiat is tweaking its 500X recipe to help it stand out among a growing menu of subcompact SUV offerings.

2019 Fiat 500X

Upgrading by Downsizing

The most significant change for 2019 is an all-new turbocharged 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine that now stands as the 500X's singular engine choice. Previously, Fiat offered a turbocharged 1.4-liter engine or a non-turbo 2.4-liter four-cylinder. The new engine utilizes the next generation of Fiat's unique Multiair valve system, which improves fuel efficiency and reduces tailpipe emissions. The EPA estimates the new engine gets 26 mpg combined (24 city/30 highway) with all-wheel drive — a 2-mpg improvement compared to the old 2.4-liter engine.

On top of that fuel-savings gain, the 1.3-liter engine produces 177 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque (on premium fuel), which makes it more potent than either of the old engines and the highest torque output of any small SUV it competes with. Torque is what helps you accelerate more quickly from a low speed, so more of it will make a car feel zippier around city streets.

This engine pairs up to the same nine-speed automatic transmission from last year, which has been recalibrated to suit the new engine. We weren't fans of the nine-speed's shifting characteristics when attached to the old engine, but this new combination seems to work a lot better. Acceleration from a standstill is smooth, and power builds linearly, though when moving at highway speeds, full-throttle downshifts still take a beat too long to engage. It's hard to say if the 500X is the quickest in its class, but it's far from the slowest. We'll answer that question soon when we get one in for testing.

All-Wheel Drive for All

All 500Xs now come standard with all-wheel drive, which not only helps deal with slippery road conditions but eliminates wheelspin and torque steer for those drivers with a heavy right foot. We floored the gas with the wheels cocked when merging onto a busy highway, and the 500X just got moving — no jerky steering wheel or chirping tires.

2019 Fiat 500X

You can pick among three selectable drive modes: Auto, Sport and All-Weather. These alter the way the all-wheel-drive system behaves plus change how the engine, transmission and steering respond. In the default Auto mode, the transmission can decouple the rear axle when conditions permit, thereby delivering 100% of power to the front wheels, which helps save fuel. All-wheel drive is always engaged at a stop, in case you need maximum thrust right from the start. In the Sport and All-Weather modes, all-wheel drive is always engaged to a certain degree to help maximize traction.

Fiat also added an idle stop-start feature this year that shuts the engine off temporarily to save fuel when stopped in traffic. This feature can be annoying in some vehicles, whether it be slow engine refiring or extra engine vibrations. In the 500X, it operates inconspicuously, though you can still switch it off if you like.

2019 Fiat 500X

A Whiff of Fresh Design

In addition to the hardware updates, Fiat has updated the 500X's styling. There are slight tweaks to the front and rear fascias plus new LED taillights and available LED headlights. We're glad to see Fiat dropped the chrome taillight surrounds since they cheapened the look of the car from behind. Both 17- and 18-inch alloy wheels have also been redesigned for a more modern look, and there are three new paint colors to choose from.

Inside the cabin, you're treated to a more premium cloth seat upholstery and new steering wheel and gauge cluster designs that elevate the look of the interior. The relatively user-friendly Uconnect 4 infotainment system carries over as standard equipment and comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity.

Fiat has added adaptive cruise control and front parking sensors to the Advanced Driver Assistance package, which also includes blind-spot monitoring, auto high beams, forward collision mitigation, and lane departure warning systems. These are welcome additions, but we were bummed to discover that the adaptive cruise only works at speeds above 19 mph, which means it won't alleviate the strain of stop-and-go traffic.

2019 Fiat 500X

The Verdict

Overall, we're pleased with the updates Fiat made to the 2019 500X. Some small crossover rivals, such as the Honda HR-V, are more practical. Alternately, you'll get a little more features for your money with Hyundai's Kona. But if you want something a bit more special, we think you'll be pleased with the 500X.

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