Do you think of Jeep as a premium brand? Consider for a moment that it has a storied history going back 75 years, it’s a global seller, and its flagship Grand Cherokee can be purchased with a number of powertrains including a Euro-sourced turbo-diesel and a 475-horsepower V8 (the last one selling well into the $70k range). The Grand Cherokee and some of Jeep’s other entries deliver interiors that rival luxury brands when it comes to refinement and features.
So, if Jeep isn’t premium, it certainly gives a good reason for luxury buyers to question the need to spend more for what often is less. The new Jeep Renegade is such a premium brand challenger.
While the Trailhawk version I tested is capable of blazing through thickly wooded forests, trudging in and out of knee-deep marshland, fording fast-moving rivers, and spewing sand from oversized tires as it speeds up and over dunes, it’s also made to a much higher standard than most of its peers with respect to interior material quality and detailing. It’s really hard to believe an SUV that starts at just $21,495 can be this good, but it’s truly a sign of Euro-sourced lusso qualità affecting an entry-level, volume-branded model here at home. You can say the same for the Fiat 500X that shares its underpinnings, both near-luxury entrants that are more fittingly compared against the premium-branded Buick Encore and MINI Countryman than any of the usual subcompact SUV suspects.
Before I tell you why I consider the 2016 Jeep Renegade a premium compact SUV instead of just a run-of-the-mill economy model, my Trailhawk tester deserves some attention all on its own. First off, this trim adds a rough and rugged look to the otherwise cutesy little 4x4, with a big matte black decal on the hood, thicker black cladding around its lower edges and wheel cutouts, an all-black roof top and side rails, plus cool red tow hooks front and rear. Bold, red-painted “Trail Rated” badges join red drop-shadow-like underlays around the Renegade badges on each front door and a red-winged “TRAILHAWK” badge fixed to the rear hatch.
Just in case you forgot you were driving a Jeep, the brand’s logo is attached in the usual fashion to the front centre of the hood, plus there’s one on each wheel cap, tiny versions printed on the mirrors, and another large “Jeep” insignia stuck onto the rear hatch. Also, if you look closer, you’ll find a little slotted grille and headlight emblem within the headlamps themselves.
Open the front doors and there’s the usual brand nomenclature on the steering wheel hub and one on each of its all-season floor mats (front and rear), while a big digital “Jeep” graphic lights up on the infotainment screen. Yet more grille and headlight logos can be found on the red-rimmed speaker grilles, the sides of the interior mirror housing (that also incorporates forward collision alert electronics), and the inside plastic panel of the liftgate.
Additional Trailhawk logos are stitched into the leather-clad seats, attached in designer label-style coloured tabs to the backside of the front seats, while my accessorized example had another Jeep logo infused into the nylon bag of the cargo area for holding the removable roof panels. Finally, Beats Audio badges get added to the front and rear speakers, plus the rear subwoofer.
The little Jeep Renegade is an exercise in branding overkill, although I’m not quite sure how tool companies that manufacture Phillips screwdrivers benefit from the unique taillight design that’s also embossed into the bottom of each cup holder. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that Jeep remembered to incorporate its legendary “Since 1941” slogan atop the infotainment display.
Surprisingly refined interior
While I find all these cute little details interesting, the Renegade is superbly executed overall and filled with top-tier features in Trailhawk trim. Along with the aforementioned metallic red speaker surrounds (the stereo is superb, by the way) is the same application to the front vents at each corner, as well as the shifter surround and trim around the front cup holders. That Trailhawk embroidery mentioned a moment ago is also stitched in red to match the thread around the leather-wrapped steering wheel, while tying together the leather shift boot, binding the leather seat bolsters, and adorning each side of the centre armrest.
Additionally, the entire dash top and instrument panel to the halfway point is constructed of premium-level, soft-touch synthetic, while each door insert and side armrest is made from one fluid piece of nicely padded leatherette. To match the steering wheel the shifter knob is also wrapped in leather, and both feature attractive satin-silver trim, which mirrors the gear-style bezels around each primary gauge dial. A splash of brownish-orange mud (although it kind of looks like flames) represents the tachometer’s redline, and the bottom of the gauge cluster features a nice leatherette protector so that no gap appears between the dash and steering column. The door handles also get the satin-silver treatment, as does the tip of the electromechanical parking brake, while many of the dials and rotating knobs around the cabin are rimmed in shiny chrome.
This is just another example of how the 2016 Jeep Renegade could easily pass for a premium model, because you won’t find higher-quality switchgear in the majority of luxury brands: the vent actuators, the three dials that make up the dual-zone automatic climate control system, the 4WD low and lock selector complete with “AUTO”, “SNOW”, “SAND”, “MUD” and “ROCK” settings, with buttons and digital readouts incorporated within their centres, plus thick, rubberized grips around their circumferences. A chrome-trimmed USB and aux port interface joins a 12V charger on the lower portion of the centre stack, just above a little storage bin offering a removable, rubber-bottomed tray that is detailed out with a relief map of the world and, you guessed it, a tiny grille and headlights logo stamped on the corner edge. Jeep has truly gone above and beyond to make this little SUV look and feel special.
The seats in the Renegade are excellent, with superb lower back support, while Jeep incorporates true 4-way lumbar support on the driver’s side, so you can add pressure in and out as well as up and down in order to find necessary relief to appease your lower back discomfort. You can’t even get such adjustability on the majority of premium cars. For a subcompact SUV, the rear seats are also nice and roomy plus very supportive with excellent lower back support. The centre position can be folded down to expose a nicely padded leather armrest-cum-console with integrated dual cup holders, while above is the removable roof panel noted before, covered in rich black velvet no less. The sunroof up front is finished to the same high standards and offers identical removability, but can also be powered rearward for easier use. Still in the backseat, a 115V household-style AC charger sits on the backside of the front console supplying peripheral power.
Lots of pleasant amenities
This, of course, is hardly the extent of the 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk’s electronics roster. My tester included a very large and comprehensive colour TFT multi-information display, which I found much nicer than those offered in many premium luxury models, while the sizable, high-resolution colour infotainment touchscreen atop the centre stack is superbly executed and very easy to use. There was also Bluetooth wireless phone and audio streaming, one of the better navigation systems boasting very accurate TomTom guidance and mapping, a clear rearview camera, and more.
Additionally, the heated steering wheel is a nice touch in this top-line version of Jeep’s smallest SUV, warming quickly and providing heat all the way around, unlike some that only do so at the 9 and 3 o'clock positions where hands normally rest. The dual-intensity heated front seats also heat up quickly and provide toasty warmth at their topmost temperature.
Solid and agile
Along with all this impressive luxury kit and premium detailing is a compact SUV that incorporates the solidity of a much larger vehicle. Build quality is most noticeable when closing the doors, moving the well-made seats around, and of course taking it out on the road. The Jeep Renegade is like a little tank; I’d call mine Sherman if I owned one, although this reference might give the wrong impression, as it’s way too agile at high speed for anything running on tracks.
Really, you’ll be surprised how much fun the Renegade is to drive, taking to corners with poise and precision and fleeing from standstill or highway passing with loads of gusto thanks to an energetic 2.4L 4-cylinder engine capable of producing 184 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to a segment-exclusive 9-speed automatic transmission with shifter-actuated manual mode, plus standard 4WD.
One of these days I really must take the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk off-road as I’m sure it delivers just as well where pavement ends and the trail begins, but so far I haven’t had the opportunity. I’ve learned that the “Trail Rated” badge doesn’t come easily, however, any Jeep wearing it having scaled the punishing Rubicon Trail. I’ve driven that vertically challenging Lake Tahoe, California natural off-road course before, including Cadillac Hill, albeit at the wheel of a JK Wrangler, and that was impressive. The Renegade is small enough that all of the tight corners I experienced difficulty with while piloting the long-wheelbase Wrangler Unlimited would be child’s play.
I could go on and on about this fabulous little 4x4, but I’ll just add that the substantial $39,420 as-tested retail price is reasonable when factoring in its premium-level attributes (the Trailhawk starts at $33,290). What’s more, I must commend its fuel economy of 11.2L/100km city and 8.0L/100km highway ― commendable for a well-equipped off-road capable SUV that can tow up to 2,045 kg (4,508 lbs) when properly equipped ― and laud its sizable 524 litres of cargo room with the rear seatbacks upright and 1,438 litres with said seatbacks folded.
Summing up the Jeep Renegade
The 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk is a small SUV that’ll make you question Jeep’s volume-brand status. Is it really deserving of such lowly comparison, or should it be lifted up to premium ranks and therefore be judged next to the likes of Buick, MINI, and dare I say, Land Rover? You decide. Either way, the Renegade is one fine subcompact ‘ute that’s worthy of your undivided attention.