You’d never guess from looking at them, but the tested 2017 Fiat 500X and 2017 Jeep Renegade have more in common than their boldly orange paint jobs. Hidden below carefully distinctive styling — both brands pile on heaps of their respective flavors — these two subcompact crossovers are fundamentally identical.
The unexpected relationship between the curvy, retro Fiat and the assertively boxy Jeep stems from the merger between Fiat and Jeep’s owner, Chrysler. The two models ride upon a Fiat-designed platform and are powered by Fiat-designed four-cylinder engines.
Their mechanical relationship ensures that they share many strengths and weaknesses, even as they offer decidedly different flavors.
Regardless of whether you pick the Renegade or the 500X, you end up with an abundance of personality — a characteristic that’s lacking from such popular subcompact crossovers as the Honda H-RV, Nissan Rogue Sport and Chevrolet Trax. The impression is that the design teams genuinely enjoyed themselves.
The Jeep is filled with subtle and less-subtle references to the brand’s World War II origins, with Jeep grilles printed, molded and stitched into a host of surfaces and locations. A silhouette of an Army Jeep is hidden in the windshield defroster. A topographical trail map is imprinted onto the center console. And on the exterior, the Renegade looks like nothing else on the road — endearing round headlamps stand apart from the rest of the body, with is essentially a rounded-off square with a hood.
The 500X doesn’t offer the same scavenger hunt for hidden references to Fiat’s history. It quite obviously reflects the famous old Fiat 500 — and its modern retro-styled successor — but stretches its shape taller and longer to accommodate modern crossover dimensions. Rounded headlights and a slim chrome grille bar are cues drawn directly from the 1957 500, which was Italy’s answer to the VW Beetle.
Many buyers will be drawn to the 500X and Renegade for their looks alone. But they’re also among the least expensive crossovers on the market. The Renegade has a base price of $19,090 and the 500X starts at $20,990. (They’re almost identically priced when comparably equipped; the Fiat just has more standard features.) While common options will drive prices farther into the $20,000s or even beyond $30,000, note also that both models are also commonly offered with generous incentives that improve their value proposition.
The Renegade and 500X share the Jeep’s elevated seating position — a particularly unexpected feature in the sporty-looking Fiat. Unlike the competing Mazda CX-3, which feels like an ordinary hatchback behind the wheel, these two crossovers give the driver an SUV-like forward view. Their dashboards are generally user-friendly — fortunately, these crossovers’ imaginative design didn’t extend to unconventional controls. However, the most common touchscreen option is on the small side, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity aren’t offered.
Neither the 500X nor the Renegade is especially roomy. They’re too narrow for the front passengers to share the center armrest, and rear knee room is limited. The boxy Jeep has more headroom and more cargo capacity than the Fiat, but neither compares favorably to a Honda HR-V, Nissan Rogue Sport or Kia Soul. They’re roomier than the CX-3, though.
The Renegade and 500X don’t share the Mazda’s sophisticated ride and handling, however. Nor do they share its peppy yet fuel-efficient powertrain. Indeed, the driving experience is among these twins’ weakest points. The Fiat in particular suffers from a stiff ride quality, but neither is particularly smooth. Nor are they much fun to drive, despite respectable handling composure by SUV standards. Their 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is noisy and not terribly quick; their nine-speed automatic transmission doesn’t shift too smoothly; and their EPA fuel economy ratings stand at just 24 mpg in mixed driving with all-wheel-drive.
But if you’ve fallen in love with the exuberant design of the Renegade or the 500X, you may not be dissuaded by those weak points. The Renegade delivers a healthy helping of Jeep image at an affordable price, and with the everyday creature comforts and relative fuel efficiency that you wouldn’t get in an off-road-focused model. And the 500X provides a taste of Italian culture in a comparatively sensible body.
If you’re more interested in personality than on-paper qualities, and either of these mechanical twins tickles you the right way, be sure to give them a look.