Monday, 3 November 2014

The new Jeep that's secretly a small Fiat

GREAT THINGS happen when America and Italy get into bed together.

How else do you explain Spaghetti Westerns, deep pan pizzas and The Godfather Part II? It gets even more special as soon as cars are involved – how else do you explain the Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California – so it was probably only a matter of time before Fiat’s transatlantic tie-up with Chrysler finally came up with the goods.

That’s because the latest unbelievably rugged offering from Jeep is, if you peel away all the Action Man packaging, basically the four-wheel-drive Fiat 500X unveiled earlier this year.

In fact, it’s more than that; because it’s built around the underpinnings developed by Fiat for its small cars (the company’s imaginatively-titled ‘Small’ platform) the new Jeep Renegade is also a distant relation to the Fiat Punto, the Alfa Romeo MiTo and – by virtue of the firm’s previous infatuations with General Motors  - the Vauxhall Adam.

The fact the Jeep Renegade manages to do the motoring equivalent melting down a Barbie doll, putting it back together and flogging it on a second time as a G.I Joe action figure is all down what the car industry called platform sharing. Ever wondered why a Volkswagen Golf and a SEAT Leon feel strangely similar to drive, or why the Toyota Aygo and the Peugeot 108 have the same vigour for small, twisty roads? It’s because under the skin they’re basically the same.

In the new Renegade’s case, it’s a bit like Fiat taking two pizzas and lavishing them with radically different toppings – olives and pineapples for the Fiat 500X, and every red meat imaginable for the muscular, macho Jeep. It’s great news for the car makers because they can sell the same basic product to two completely different sets of people.

Would I ever buy a slightly bloated version of the Fiat 500 that’s then been given four-wheel-drive to remove it even further from the 1950s micro marvel it roughly apes? No. Chances are, however, that I would buy something that looks a bit like the Jeep Cherokees which were all the rage here a decade or so ago, but shrunk down to make it more manageable in a Britain where petrol costs £1.30 a litre.
After what feels like an eternity of being treated to blobbily-proportioned family hatchbacks which only vaguely resemble off-roaders, it’s great that Fiat’s small car know-how has finally given Jeep the chance to make something which actually looks the part.

Fingers crossed it’s as good off the road as it’s Fiat-developed siblings are on it.