The new offerings – known as the Fiat 500X and the Jeep Renegade – are based on the same platform. Indeed, they are made in the same Fiat factory in Turin, marking the first time a Jeep has ever been mass-produced outside of the United States. But are they any good, and if so, which is the one to go for? We compare the two stylish crossovers in our twin test.
In terms of crossover styling, the Fiat and the Jeep are at the opposite ends of the scale.
The 500X is instantly recognisable as a relation of the regular 500 city car – the round lights and distinctive grille remain, while the rear features similarly styled tail lights and a large chrome strip across the boot lid. We think the transformation into mini-SUV has worked well – the 500L looks like a regular 500 that’s eaten one too many pies, but the 500X looks like it’s been down the gym. Fiat offers two different styles. The ‘City Look’ looks most like a pumped-up 500, with fairly conventional looking bumpers front and rear, while ‘Off Road Look’ versions feature a chunkier bumper design, skid plates on the lower edges of the bumpers and roof rails.
In stark contrast to the Fiat’s curvy look, the Jeep is very much inspired by the American brand’s past off-roaders. Thanks to the trademark seven-bar front grille and square shape, its face is instantly recognisable. The chunky theme continues down the side, with huge squared off wheel arches hinting at a potential for off-roading, while flat sides and plenty of black plastic trim convey a ruggedness that’s perhaps lacking in not only the Fiat, but most other cars in the class, too.
Which is the best looking? It’s very tough to say, because it will be very much a case of personal preference. If you’d rather a little styling flair and class, then it has to be the Fiat. If you’d prefer your crossover to look like it might actually be capable of off roading, then the Jeep is the one for you. It’s important you don’t write-off the Fiat’s off-road performance based on its styling, however, for reasons we’ll come to.
As with the exterior styling, both cars take quite different approaches for their cabins. As with the rest of the 500 range, the X features a heavily retro-inspired design. It stands out from most other vehicles on the market and it’s certainly unique in this segment. We’re big fans of the body coloured swathe across the dashboard, which is meant to hark back to the original Cinquecento of the 1950s, and flashes of chrome and stylish dial graphics round off the touches and make it a very pleasing place to sit.
The Jeep, on the other hand, aims to be a little more tough and utilitarian looking. That isn’t to say it’s dreary – the design is livened up with flashes of red around the air vents and door speakers, for example – but there is far more black plastic and far less chrome trim than in the Fiat. We’d suggest that both have quite a youthful appearance, but the 500X edges the Renegade in the style stakes.
Given that both cars are so similar under the skin, it isn’t surprising that from a packaging point of view there is little to separate them. The slightly boxy styling of the Jeep benefits headroom, just edging what the Fiat offers. Aside from the slight roofline advantage, they’re pretty much identical for passenger accommodation and comfort.
That means both receive criticism from some quarters for feeling a little tight when it comes to rear knee room – particularly if tall occupants are sitting up front.
Both offer quite practical cabins, gaining positive comments from testers for both generously sized door bins and big storage bins (Fiat) and large cupholders (Jeep). Boot volume is near identical, too; 350 litres plays 351 (in favour of the Jeep, if it really matters.)
As you’d expect from two cars that are based on the same platform and share many mechanical components, the engine lineups are almost identical. We say almost, because the Fiat features a 95hp 1.3-litre Multijet diesel which the Jeep lacks, and the Renegade gains an entry-level 1.6-litre petrol not available in the 500X. Otherwise their ranges are the same. That means that buyers of the Jeep or the Fiat have a further four units to choose from.
Testers generally agree that the 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol (available with either 140hp or 170hp) is the one to have – it’s smooth, powerful and promises 47mpg fuel economy. The diesels are less of a success, mainly due to poor refinement. The 2.0-litre diesel in particular feels a little gruff, and isn’t as quick as you’d hope, due to being hampered by the heavy four-wheel drive system. In this instance, if you must have four-wheel drive, it makes more sense in the Jeep, as it is the model more likely to venture off road (purely by reputation, rather than any other advantage it holds over the Fiat.)
If you must have a diesel, testers recommend the smaller 1.6-litre version. It returns a claimed 68.9mpg in the Fiat and, although not the smoothest of units, it’s still better than the 2.0-litre. Though it’s nearly impossible to notice out on the road, each Jeep is very slightly faster than the equivalently powered Fiat.
Out on the road, the two cars are fairly closely matched. With similar mechanical setups, reviews generally point out the same strengths – and failings – in each. Both are generally quite pleasant to drive, in particular the “stable” chassis offers “strong grip”. Neither are thrilling by any means, but then that isn’t vitally important for cars like these. Both ride smoothly – especially the top-spec ‘Trailhawk’ Renegade, thanks to its high-profile off-road tyres – but larger alloy wheel sizes can start to make things a little jiggly around town.
The only major criticism of both comes in the form of the steering. They share the same electric power-assisted setup, and in both applications is described as “wooly” and “devoid of feel”. The Fiat very slightly edges the Jeep in terms of refinement, if only because the big, square door mirrors of the Jeep cause quite a large amount of wind noise at motorway speeds. Both models are available with automatic gearboxes. the 1.4-litre petrol and 1.6 litre diesel are offered with dual-clutch automatics, while the 2.0-litre diesel gains a smooth-shifting nine-speed ‘box. They’re all more than up to the task, though they are rather pricey.
Venture off the road and both cars cope with more than you’d expect of anything that looks like road-biased. Critics say the off-road ride can be slightly sharp, but the four-wheel-drive versions can slither across worse terrain than you’d think. The top-spec Renegade (called the Trailhawk) is said to be able to do nearly everything a Land Rover Freelander can – praise indeed.
Value for money
Picking which of the two cars represents the best value is difficult, because prices vary for each model at different rates in each car. For example, the cheapest Jeep starts from £600 less than the most basic Fiat, but when both are equipped with a 2.0-litre diesel, four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox, the top-of-the-range Jeep costs £1,150 more.
For a direct comparison, we’re taking a look at our pick of the range in each; the front-wheel-drive variants equipped with the 140hp petrol unit. This engine, in Pop Star trim, costs from £17,595 in the Fiat, while the entry level 1.4 costs £19,795 in the Jeep – a full £2,200 more. However, then you have to consider that the Renegade is equipped with satellite navigation, alloy wheels and roof rails – factoring in those options, there isn’t much to choose between them.
Given the two cars share so much under the skin. Picking a winner here is tough. Both are fairly capable out on the road and, as long as you choose the sweet 1.4-litre turbo, you’ll be at the wheel of a smooth, refined and fairly strong performing car.
So, perhaps unusually, this time picking a winner should come purely down to style rather than substance. Do you prefer Italian chic or stocky American build? Either way, you’ll be buying into one of the most capable cars in the class, and arguably one of the two most distinctive, too.
Why not let us know in the comments section below which you prefer. Then head over to our car deals page to check out the latest carwow discounts, then head over to our car configurator to see how much you could save on your next car.