2016 Fiat 500X & 2016 Jeep Renegade 4x4 - Red Hot Tomato, Yellow Hot Mustard Fraternal Cute Utes - Comparison Review, Video

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Fraternal twins aren't genetic twins. Since one is a boy and the other a girl, they aren't being constantly compared for character differences as genetic twins are.

Car manufacturers have been doing fraternal twins for a long time now. Sometimes fraternal quadruplets. Coming out of the same birthing factory at the same time.

Often the parental DNA sharing is a mere assembly of minor cosmetic differences to obtain greater assembly line capacity.

The new 2016 FIAT 500X and 2016 Jeep Renegade small crossover utility vehicles share FIAT Small 4x4 Architecture (BU) derived from the Small Common Components and Systems (SCCS) platform jointly developed with General Motors. These fraternal Cute Utes are assembled on the same FIAT line in Melfi, Italy. Yet their differences are more than skin deep.

Divergent Destination:

- The 2016 FIAT 500X fills a large model range gap in U.S. FIAT "STUDIOS." It slots comfortably between the 500 Cinquecento micro-car and the 500L compact family wagon. Offered with optional all-wheel drive, a northern clime feature lacking in the comparable Kia Soul.

- The 2016 Jeep Renegade, revives a name last affixed to a AMC CJ-7 decal package. Think of the new Renegade as a Wrangler Unlimited which stopped growing at age 15. The new Renegade banks on the Jeep brand's global reputation for ruggedness. In case off-roading becomes trendy in China.

Civies or Camo:

- FIAT 500X is a Jelly Bean with greater definition;  Nose says "Cinquencento" but hood is plenty sloped & beltline is high; In a conservative color it avoids "Clown-Car" certification; Windshield & backlight are seriously raked for reduced noise; Wheels have been moved as far to the corners as possible; 17" wheels seem right at home inside large wheel arches; Resembles a super-lifted MINI Cooper 5-door right down to the taillamp housings.

- Renegade is Erno Rubik's hexahedron. A 7-vertical slat between round eye front end commemorates the 1941 Willys [Military] Jeep; Though "X" is in the FIAT's name, Renegade gets the "X"  insignias on the taillight housings. Beltline dips down after A-pillar and rises up just after C pillar for a stock market graph. Even in less "extreme" Latitude trim, nothing is meek about the look: from such a upright windshield and rear liftgate to the oversized square side mirrors.

Equally Energized:

U.S.  2016 FIAT 500X and 2016 Jeep Renegades share power/ drivetrain combinations, [except for Renegade's exclusive Trailhawk's Active Drive II].

Standard Powertrain: 1.4L liquid intercooled turbocharged 16V SOHC Multi-Air gas inline-4 which also happens to pull the similarly weighing FIAT 500L, matched exclusively to a rubbery, longer throw 6-speed manual transmission with super short 1st and 4.44:1 final drive gearing. Which translates to lots of shifting to get to 40 mph.. Unlike the 500L there is no DCT option.

In the Jeep Renegade Latitude 4x4 the 1.4L MultiAir musters enough to squirt around suburban neighborhoods, but local passing demands frequent dips to 2nd gear. Fifth gear is located like Maine on the U.S. map. All ears aboard will hear it when freeway merging saps the very last 140 hoofs.

Optional Powertrain: 2.4L Tigershark I-4 Chrysler/Hyundai World Engine in the  Dodge Dart  & Chrysler 200. As in the Chrysler 200, it's only matched to a fuzzy logic, fuzzier behaving 9-speed automatic gearbox.

Fitted to the  FIAT 500X FWD, this combo offers a broader power band; In normal mode it's hampered by a frantically upshifting transmission, never seeming to land 9th gear. Sport Drive Mode locks up the torque converter faster for engine braking on steep mountain climbs and descents, also improving chances for successful passing of traffic on highways.

Trek or Trail:

Both FIAT 500X and Jeep Renegade Latitude feature independent front Macpherson strut upper A-arm and rear Chapman strut link arrangement for greater travel. Dampers are dual flow Koni FSD (Frequency Selective).

- On pavement, the 500X manages a firm compliant ride with some rear corner lift and frequent reminders of front end plow; Off-road chassis hop borders on excessive; Overboosted, yet quick steering mostly muffles road feel; Pedal feel for the four-wheel disc brakes, starts off spongy.

- Jeep Renegade Latitude 4x4 clears about a full 1"-inch above ground > fraternal FIAT 500X  for some steeper climbing; Greater suspension travel means some pitch and bob as speed increases: nothing like live-axle Wrangler, mind you. Brake pedal feel isn't improved over the 500X, and dive is apparent.

Jeep's Active Drive I = on-demand front transaxle to viscous multi-plate clutch PTU center differential type all-wheel drive. Depending on traction, either the front PTU or rear-driveshaft decouple from the open axles for up to 100% torque distribution to either end. The center-console Selec-Terrain dial moves torque splitting from automatic to either Snow, Sand or Mud modes.

Similar Sizing:

- Packaging an AWD floorpan and chassis on the same length wheelbase as a Kia Soul has to take a bite somewhere. FIAT 500X and Jeep Renegade Latitude rear seat legroom gets tight for adults over 6'0". 500X front seats are greater in girth for > long haul comfort, but the Jeep seats (so emblazoned, no less) which win in side bolstering.

- A sloping liftgate devours rear cargo space in the FIAT 500X. Twin removable MySky T-roof panels take a chunk out of Renegade's cargo area. Eschewing donut-spare tire for 12V goo inflator, both of these Italian fraternals has sub-cargo floor storage, but don't expect the 60/40 split rear seat backs to fold flat. Renegade's front passenger bucket folds about 45 ° forward.

- Doors and center console nook and cranny storage is adequate in the 500X, but stingy inside Renegade. A thoughtfully illuminated USB port at the center stack bottom won't prevent cables from tangling near the manual transmission shifter. (A second USB port sits in the front center armrest bin. The 500X features dual gloveboxes.

Dormroom or Barracks:

Differing allocation of contrasting plastic speaks about the models divergent missions:

- The 500X  includes a body-color matching glossy plastic swath spanning most of mid-dash like a dorm-room bean bag chair, jazzed up by mirror chrome some bezels and dial trim; A good amount of soft trim is on the door panels. A waywardly front seat track end cap on our 500X evidenced some trim cost cutting.

Renegade's military barracks cabin is contrasted by bronze bezels and the hexagonal door speaker housings stamped with a Willys Jeep grille relief. Seat upholstery is reminiscent of worn & faded jeans; Cabin carpeting is micron thin and coverage isn't complete; Hard plastics = coarseness;

Control dials split between usefully large dials and switches. Its D-shape makes the FIAT steering wheel is nicer to hold, though the spoke switches aren't very distinguishable on both these Fraternal Cute Utes. Out of the two similar analog gauge clusters, with useful center 3.4" LCD trip display,  500X's is dowdier.  The 500X's cabin faux pas is a media display sitting atop the center stack, climate vents at mid-thorax height and automatic climate dials, with integrated LED displays, at a hard-to-read waist height. Renegade does this better.

Since Renegade's MySky T-Roof already power tilts and partly retracts, why bother detaching it. Stowed in it's cloth pouch it devours cargo space. Even with the MySky roof closed, it probably contributes to a more wind and road noise than in the far quieter 500X.

- The base 5.0" Uconnect touch/ rotary knob LCD display with Bluetooth, USB & aux inputs is a classy simple yet welcome respite from today's maze-like media systems. Auspiciously absent even at this level: HD radio.

Summed Up:

2016 Fiat 500X Easy is a new "Cute Ute" an already crowded field; Better executed than the smaller 500 Cinquecento  and larger 500L , it still clings to some FIAT quirks;  Cheery cabin has trim fit issues; Cruises smoothly but lacks the dynamics of a MINI Countryman; 500X survives light off-roading and earns an IIHS Top Safety Pick +, seeking to increase FIAT Studio traffic.

2016 Jeep Renegade Latitude 4x4 is in a class of its own; Nothing else sold in North America this compact and affordable looks and plays the Off Road role; Cabin MJ grille motif is cheesy; The front seats are tight as is cabin storage; MySky T-roof is a pain and the cabin gets noisy; But hey, it's a Jeep and no one will mistake it for anything else.

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