San Jose, CA – I giggled when I first laid eyes on the Renegade, but not because I thought it looked ridiculous or anything like that. No, I LOLed because Chrysler had just thrown an atom bomb into the friendly and increasingly popular sub-compact crossover segment.
Jeep is a killer brand. I don’t care if you don’t like Jeeps; the bottom line is that, like Ferrari or Audi (to name a few), slap the world-famous, 7-slat grille and Jeep name on anything and consumers will flock to get their hands on one. Now, I may not be a fan of the Compass (I can deal with the Patriot), but this Renegade business is all good.
First, Renegade is as Jeep as apple pie is American. Then there is styling, packaging and powertrain bragging rights. Jeep will be marketing the Renegade to the young, the active, the thrifty, and all that jazz, but the truth is that this vehicle will appeal to a huge audience, and it will do well.
The new 2015 Jeep Renegade is a mix of cute, rugged, and purposeful -- and it seriously works. It is immediately recognizable as a Jeep, so on that point alone, Chrysler wins.
7-slat grille and more, much more
The quintessential Jeep is the Wrangler, and the Renegade borrows heavily from its iconic sibling. It also draws from one of the best all-around SUVs currently available, the Grand Cherokee. With these two trucks serving as inspiration, the Renegade could not fail aesthetically.
And it hasn’t, save for one detail that keeps popping up in my social media feeds: the square taillights. They work on the Wrangler, but I think they will age the Renegade faster than it should.
Otherwise, there’s that unmistakable grille, the trapezoidal wheel arches, the short overhangs, and the upright cabin. The Renegade’s diminutive dimensions give it a “cute” aspect, which I guess is part of its charm and what will attract different types of buyers. A retractable/removable panel sunroof called “MySky” is available as well.
For the going, whatever it may be
In this segment, there are many aspects to consider: Fuel economy, performance and capability are all equally important. This Jeep must climb hills, average under 8L/100km, and reach 100 km/h in less than 10 seconds -- and it does.
The available powertrains are familiar FCA-sourced engines that are currently found in the Dodge Dart and a few other products. The turbocharged 1.4L MultiAir 4-pot is good for 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. This is the standard mill and it comes with a 6-speed manual gearbox. Alternatively, the 2.4L 4-cylinder TigerShark engine provides 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque, and includes a segment/industry/world/galaxy-first 9-speed automatic transmission. This combo is standard with both the Trailhawk and Limited models.
FWD is what you get in either Sport or North trims with 4WD being optional (yet a must). We’re talking about Jeep’s Active Drive 4x4 system that allows the driver to select between Auto, Snow, Sand, and Mud modes.
Because it is “Trail Rated”
No true Jeep can be a Jeep without this stamp of approval. This is where the Trailhawk comes in (the only version that is “Trail Rated”). It offers up 8.7” of ground clearance, the ability to wade into 19” of water, and is prepared for serious off-roading with skid plates, all kinds of obstacle-clearing angles (including a 31-degree approach angle), a 4.33 final drive, a 20:1 crawl ratio (for max torque to the wheels that have traction), and more.
And more? Yes, the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk adds a “Rock” mode to the existing Selec-Terrain system. Even more? Well, it is lifted by almost 21mm, and has a blacked-out roof, unique wheel and tire package, and tow hooks for the perfect mix of styling and functionality.
It is, in a word, surprising.
The all-new, “small-wide” 4x4 platform, which can accept 16 different powertrains for global markets, is comprised of 70% high-strength steel and supports a fully independent suspension (McPherson front and Chapman rear struts). This creates an impressively composed and refined ride that’s nearly unheard of in the segment right now.
Thus, driving the 2015 Jeep Renegade is truly fun and pleasant. What’s more, the vehicle’s electric steering is precise, and assistance is well judged. I actually preferred it to the Grand Cherokee SRT8 I drove just the day before.
Of the two engines, I’d take the turbocharged 1.4L MultiAir over the 2.4L Tigershark. Its throttle response combined with the 6-speed gearbox is particularly agreeable, more so than the 9-speed with the 2.4L. The 1.4T’s 22 psi of boost generate max torque from 2,500 rpm all the way to 4,000 rpm. This, compared to the 2.4L mill’s peak torque at 4,400 rpm, explains the 1.4T’s spirited demeanour.
The 6-speed manual has reasonable-length throws, and the clutch’s action is light. Heel-and-toe shifting is easy and enjoyable. The 9-speed autobox, on the other hand, is not as gratifying. Although it will hold a gear, it will resist the downshift or upshift unless the go-pedal is mashed against the firewall. At times, it even felt uncertain about what it was doing…
Off the cuff, the Renegade Trailhawk is roughly 600 lbs lighter than the Cherokee, giving it a serious advantage when off-roading. Their 4x4 systems are very similar and, as such, the Renegade crawls, climbs, and descends (hill descent control is included in this trim) with the best of them. On the off-road course, the lead Wrangler seemed to be working only marginally less than my Renegade as we climbed and tackled ruts and loose dirt and sand.
Once more, Chrysler has put a real effort into its interior quarters. The layout is smart, ergonomic, and would only benefit from an extra cubby or two to hold various smaller items.
The Renegade’s seats are cozy, although far from being snug, and the trunk is sufficiently spacious for the vast majority of the small crossover buying public. All manners of passive and active safety features are obviously on board.
The new 2015 Jeep Renegade has just become, in one swift move, the one to contend with in the sub-compact CUV segment. It is and will likely be the only truly capable off-roader, and the only one capable of towing up to 2,000 lbs (when properly equipped). It’s a Jeep!
To the Nissan Jukes and Chevy Traxes of the world: Watch out for the new kid in town! Based on this experience, I look forward to comparing the Renegade to the upcoming Mazda CX-3, which should be another strong contender.