A Jeep built it Italy … it sounds like the beginnings of a bad joke about the Second World War. But the Italian built Renegade is actually the latest in a string of surprising successes from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).
While the Renegade won’t — at least immediately — be replacing the Compass and Patriot, it is the first budget Jeep to keep the brand’s ethos intact. The littlest Jeep manages to combine a healthy smear of Fiat’s sense of humor with a surprising degree of practicality, especially in the just plain silly subcompact crossover segment. The Renegade isn’t even close to perfect. With its charm and capabilities, however, you would have to be some kind of monster not to like the twee Jeepster.
Small, wide, and to the point
For a vehicle that is expected to live up to the rugged Jeep name, the Renegade doesn’t exactly have the most auspicious parentage. Underneath the charming exterior the Renegade shares the same Small-Wide architecture as the Fiat 500L and 500X.
With this family tree, I wasn’t expecting the Renegade to have the feel or performance that goes with the Jeep name. So it was with surprise — but no lack of appreciation — that I discovered the rough and ready soul of the Renegade.
For starters, the steering and ride offer an impressive combination of refinement and truck-like ruggedness. The Renegade even manages to take corners without getting ruffled.
This doesn’t mean that the Renegade is quick, even when fitted with the 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder, as had been my Renegade Sport press demonstrator. In the Renegade this venerable Italian four-pot puts out 180 Italian stallions and more importantly 175 pound feet of torque. Mated to a nine-speed transmission this combination is good for a stately 8.8-second “sprint” to 60.
That being said, unlike other Tigershark applications, the version in the Renegade at least delivers reasonable torque at most rpm.
TrailHawk or TrailDove?
This is important considering the Renegade’s party-piece: off-road ability. Previous economy Jeeps were sadly disappointing in this regard, handling at best some wet leaves. The Renegade, though, at least in certain trims, delivers.
Yes, for people who want to pretend around town, it is possible to get the Renegade in front-wheel drive only units. Buyers who at least want to imagine they will someday go off-road, though, there are a number of available all-wheel drive options.
A Jeep built it Italy … it sounds like the beginnings of a bad joke about the Second World War.
The Sport, Latitude, and Limited Renegades can be fitted with Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction control and a specially-designed AWD system that boasts a Power Transfer Unit. This system uses a clutch instead of a transfer case to send power to the rear wheels. The advantage of this system is that when AWD traction isn’t needed, the rear axle can be detached, reducing friction and improving fuel economy. In fact, my press demonstrator had managed a lifetime average of nearly 30 mpg.
This setup is far more capable than those found on other small SUVs and crossovers, but is insufficient for any serious trips off the pavement. For buyers who value real off-road ability there is the Trailhawk.
As with other Jeep Trailhawks, the Renegade comes with a bevy of off-roading kit. The most important is reduction gears on the front and rear axles, which mimic the performance of a low-range gearbox. Other upgrades include 8.7 inches of ground clearance, a 20:1 crawl ratio, and skid plates.
I drove this setup on an ice-covered, off-road course and was seriously impressed by the results. It may not be a match for the Wrangler, but the little Renegade was capable of holding its own over moguls, 30-degree, ice-covered inclines and more. Unfortunately, this level of performance comes at a price. While a 4X4 Sport starts at just $19,995 the Trailhawk will set buyers back at least $25,995 — or nearly $4,000 more than the most basic Wrangler.
The Renegade may get more expensive than the Wrangler, but, even in its most basic form, it is far more livable. My $24,975 Renegade Sport was pretty stripped down, lacking navigation, Bluetooth, heated seats, and even headlights that turned off with the car. However, it came with removable roof panels, a surprisingly roomy interior, and approximately six million Easter eggs.
Very practical but even sillier
Despite its diminutive size, at 166.6 inches, it is just 6.0 inches longer than a Honda Fit. Despite its size, there is a surprising amount of room in the Renegade. Even full-grown adults can fit in the back seat — at least for short journeys. This backseat room does not come at the expense of cargo room either, as the Renegade features a generous luggage area.
The interior on the Sport model is bare, but it is far from boring. It seems that Jeep’s designers were encouraged to let their hair — and even their pants — down when it came to the Renegade. Pillars and speaker surrounds get Jeep grilles embossed in them and a knick-knack tray gets a topographical map of Moab.
Everywhere you look on the interior is another carefully placed little nod to Jeep’s heritage. Is it kitschy and overly cute? Yes, absolutely. But it is also the perfect way to make the smallest, cheapest Jeep feel special and loved.
Between the cutesy Easter eggs and the twee Pixar-like exterior styling, the Renegade is definitely not a car for everyone. That makes sense when we consider the market segment, which is inhabited by oddballs like the Nissan Juke and the Mini Cooper Paceman.
To be sure, there are more practical ways to spend the $25,000 than the Jeep Renegade. Unlike most other basic transportation, though, the Renegade has a soul … and even some unique capabilities. Perhaps most importantly, at least for Jeep fans, the first Italian-built Jeep lives up to the spirit of the brand, as the little Renegade that could.
- Good fuel economy
- Cute all-round styling
- Surprisingly good driving dynamics
- Might be too cute
- High price for loaded models
- Slow, slow, slow