When I shared on social media that I would get to take the wheel of the 2016 Fiat 500X and 2015 Jeep Renegade in a comparison test, all comments gravitated around the same question: how different or alike the two compact crossovers would be.
After all, they are built on the same platform, by the same company, assembled at the same production facility in Melfi, Italy. The two vehicles share the same powertrain and transmission, and they were both introduced in 2014, one in Geneva, and the other in Paris, just 6 months apart.
You would think that it all boils down to preferring the look of one over the other. You couldn’t be further from the truth, and it goes well beyond their inspired and unique designs.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Look-wise, FCA has made some bold choices for the design of their twins. You will either absolutely love the bug-eyed 500X and the baby Wrangler-looking Renegade, or you will hate it. I position myself in a lighter degree of “hate it”.
The cockpits are a different story and I will give it to the manufacturer; the interior designs of the compact crossovers are a sight for sore eyes, especially compared to others from the same category. Do not expect to be overwhelmed with luxurious materials and trimmings, not in this segment. However the quality of assembly and the hard surfaces are not made to look cheap either.
The Jeep Renegade showcases a more rugged cabin design, with red accents and squared-off angles, to give the American twin a more masculine feel. There’s a certain massiveness to the cockpit, especially with those thick A pillars. The Fiat 500X on the other hand plays on Italian design a lot more, with use of leather-like plastics, elegant curves and two-tone features. The dashboards are quite dashing (see what I did there) and in both cases, the ergonomics are optimal. At this point, you should have started to realize that both vehicles were not created with the same purpose in mind.
The 500X loses points on cargo volume. Fiat calls it large, we call it below average, especially when the advertizing use the words “unmatched versatility and utility”. I’m sorry to disappoint, but 345-liters behind the second row of seats positions the Fiat behind certain compact car models. That’s where the Renegade saves the day, with a more flexible 524-liter volume, and that number doesn’t even get it a place in the top 3 of the most spacious in the segment. The Renegade also takes the win for passenger comfort with easier access at the back and more space than its Italian counterpart.
The weight of the difference
On paper, the 2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk and the 2016 Fiat 500X AWD only have a few hundred pound difference in weight–about 300 lbs, to be precise. When it comes to handling the two FCA twins are as similar as day and night.
The Renegade handles much like a Jeep. Have you ever driven a Jeep Wrangler? The steering is very loose and imprecise and the suspension soft, almost bouncy. You feel the weight and the mass of the vehicle when you drive it and try to navigate it through an urban setting. And the Renegade, at a slightly smaller scale, is exactly the same. You know deep down that these 4×4 beasts are meant to take you off the beaten paths, and somehow you know they will be good at it.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have the very urbanite and not very off-road friendly Fiat 500X. You quickly realize that the twins are everything the other is not. The 500X has a slightly lower stance than the Renegade and though the Italian compact crossover–or 500 on Viagra, as their marketing suggests–is offered with the optional AWD, you wouldn’t venture very far off the tarmac with it. The suspension on 500X is stiffer and sportier than the Renegade’s. Steering is a lot more precise and dynamic and the flat-bottom steering wheel is Fiat’s way of hinting at the small crossover’s sporting cred.
Both versions tested were equipped with the same 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder Tigershark engine, but it felt as though there is an important gap in available power. The engine is rated at 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque and is teamed with a 9-speed automatic transmission. And that’s where the weight and the setup of the Renegade play against it. The 4-cylinder engine feels sluggish in the Jeep, even in sport mode. Brakes aren’t the Renegade’s forte either; with stomping on the pedal reminding me of stepping on a loaf of bread.
The more exciting drive is definitely the Fiat’s appeal. Where the Tigershark motor might feel slightly underpowered to carry the weight of the Jeep, it goes far in the Fiat, making the crossover perfect for zipping your way through the city and on the highway. A drive mode selector allows you to change the vehicle’s driving characteristics between Auto, Sport and Traction+. The Renegade on the other hand can be equipped with the Trailer Tow Group which allows up to 2,000-lbs of towing capability.
Just as the two vehicles share so much in common, they also have distinctly different personalities. While the 2015 Jeep Renegade is the off-road brute that, like riding an elephant would slowly but surely take you where you want to go. The 2016 Fiat 500X on the other hand, will be your urban best friend and take you out on the town, with style and spirit.
Which one speaks to you?
Photographs courtesy of FCA