The roughly 18,000 souls of Melfi in Italy live in an historic medieval town that dates back about 1,000 years. It’s also home to the subcompact Fiat 500X and Jeep Renegade that have been shipped to North America for the past five years.
Both relative newcomers share the same basic platform and powertrains, but remain unique in most other respects. The Renegade’s youthful, extroverted styling stands well apart from the 500X’s. The Fiat sticks to a more traditional design that, along with the 500 and 500L, pays homage to the tiny mid-1950s-era Cinquecento model.
The 2019 500X further diverges from the Renegade, in particular in the propulsion department. In place of the turbocharged 160-horsepower 1.4-litre four-cylinder and the optional non-turbo 180-horsepower 2.4 is a new one-engine-fits-all turbocharged 1.3-litre four-cylinder that puts out 177 horses and 210 pound-feet of peak torque. That last number is significant since it beats the outgoing turbo powerplant by 26 pound-feet.
A nine-speed automatic with a manual mode is the sole transmission. Note that the Jeep Renegade also adopts the new turbo, but keeps the non-turbo 2.4 as the base engine.
Another significant 500X alteration is that the previously optional all-wheel-drive system is now standard. As before, it comes with a free-wheeling (and fuel-saving) disconnect feature that engages the real wheels only when torque is required, thus stretching fuel dollars a bit further. The 500X is rated at 10.0 l/100 km in the city and 7.9 on the highway (better than the previous non-turbo 2.4 with AWD and a nine-speed automatic transmission).
Also standard is a “Dynamic Selector” knob that lets the driver choose from Auto, Sport and Traction+ settings. Each adjusts the engine, transmission and steering responses, according to driving and surface conditions. Although falling far short of the Renegade’s available five-mode AWD system (including a low-range Rock mode for the Trailhawk models), the 500X’s version should still help keep you out of harm’s way in most road conditions.
Exterior changes are relatively minor and consist of reworked front and rear ends, newly available LED headlamps, running lights and taillights, and new wheel designs. A new dual-pane panoramic sunroof with a power-sliding feature is available for all trims.
There are new premium seat materials, a revised instrument panel with easier-to-read graphics, and a new steering wheel that has been designed for a better grip.
There are no changes to the interior dimensions, but if maximum headroom and significantly greater stowage capacity is important to you, the taller Renegade is the preferred pick.
The 500X’s new engine and standard AWD results in a price hike of about $8,750 over the previous model. The base Pop now costs $34,000 including destination charges. Along with the basics, the standard-equipment list includes air conditioning, heated outside mirrors and seven-inch touchscreen (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility).
The Trekking has dual-zone climate control, quilted cloth seat covers and a multi-position cargo-shelf panel, while the Urbana comes with black wheels and trim.
While not exactly loaded, the loaded Trekking Plus has a navigation system, leather seat covers, eight-speaker audio, ambient lighting and front and rear park assist.
Among the list of extras is an assortment of dynamic safety technologies such as blind-spot warning, backup detection, forward collision warning/intervention, lane-keeping assist and automatic high-beam headlights.
Other options include roof rails, rain-sensing wipers, premium BeatsAudio system and 18-inch wheels (17s are standard).
Given the relatively low volume of Fiat vehicles sold in North America, it doesn’t seem all that risky to roll the dice by deleting front-wheel-drive from the made-in-Melfi 500X. The price jump does seem like a risk — perhaps a big one — but it’s clear that Fiat thinks the changes are worth it.
What you should know: 2019 Fiat 500X
Type: Four-door, all-wheel-drive subcompact utility vehicle
Engine (h.p.): 1.3-litre SOHC I-4, turbocharged (177)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Market position: Fiat made the right call by boosting the 500X’s output and making all-wheel-drive standard, even though the base price increases. It ultimately places the vehicle a step above, and apart from, the competition.
Points: Handsome styling remains mostly unchanged. • New base engine is small in displacement, but makes plenty of power. • Standard AWD should help sales in snow-belt regions. • Lack of standard active-safety tech gives the competition an edge. • Go with the Jeep Renegade if keeping it small, but more cargo-capable is important.
Active safety: Blind-spot warning with cross-traffic backup alert (opt.); active cruise control (opt.); emergency braking (opt.); lane departure warning (opt.)
L/100 km (city/hwy) 10.9/9.7; Base price (incl. destination) $34,000
Jeep Renegade 4×4
Base price: $35,950
500X relation has more cargo, headroom. Trailhawk model will take you off-road.
Honda HRV AWD
Base price: $26,600
Smaller than a CR-V, but has lots of interior space. Easy on gas, also.
Chevrolet Trax AWD
Base price: $27,500
Small and tall wagon is easy to own. All-new version is due out for 2020.
If you’re interested in new or used vehicles, be sure to visit TodaysDrive.com to find your dream car today!
-written by Malcom Gunn, Managing Partner at Wheelbase Media