LOOKING SOMETHING LIKE A SHRUNKEN WRANGLER BUT BUILT ON A FIAT PLATFORM, THE RENEGADE VENTURES INTO NEW TERRITORY FOR THE JEEP BRAND.
Compact crossovers are rapidly becoming the car of choice younger Australian buyers, and the Renegade is one more entrant in what is an increasingly busy segment.
But with a starting price of $29,500, the Renegade ain't cheap. Built in Italy, the funkily-styled Renegade carries a hefty premium over its segment rivals.
At its core it's more than just a decent compact SUV, it's easily one of the better ones. Is it worth the extra coin? That depends on how much you value its rough-and-tumble styling and the top-spec Trailhawk's genuine 'trail-rated' off-road capability...
Vehicle Style: Compact SUV
Price: $29,500 to $41,500 (plus on-roads)
- 81kW/152Nm 1.6 petrol 4cyl | 5sp manual
- 103kW/230Nm 1.4 turbo petrol 4cyl | 6sp dual-clutch automatic
- 129kW/230Nm 2.4 petrol 4cyl | 9sp automatic, AWD
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.9 l/100km (1.4L), 6.0 l/100km (1.6L), 7.5 l/100km (2.4L) | tested: 8.4 l/100km (1.4L)
You may think the Jeep Renegade is the smallest Jeep around, but you’d be wrong.
The two (or is that three?) door Wrangler is shorter both in length and wheelbase, so if “compactness” is your main reason for purchase, go with that one.
But if you're looking for something more civil than the utilitarian Wrangler, with four proper doors and a steel roof and plenty of space for your mates and your stuff - and something that’s identifiably 'Jeep' - well, the Renegade ticks all of those boxes.
Based on the Fiat 500X's platform and built in the same Italian assembly plant, the Renegade hides its European heritage well.
The interior, the sheetmetal, it's all unique, and it's all very, very Jeep.
It’s also chock-full of fun little throwbacks to the first-ever Jeep. Look at the windshield blackout paint and you’ll see a Wrangler’s silhouette in the corner. Open the fuel filler flap and there’s a redback spider moulded into the plastic.
The crosses in the tail lights emulate those that were stamped into WW2-era Jerry cans, and the iconic seven-slot grille motif is literally everywhere.
I lost count at 20 instances, but I’m fairly certain it’s incorporated into virtually every piece of interior trim.
All this is to remind buyers of Jeep's hard-won heritage and rugged image. So, while it may be comparatively expensive, it’s got a persona that’s entirely unique.
But what of the rest of it? Is there a genuinely good car beneath all of that warpaint?
The first thing that hits you upon entering the Renegade is the headroom. You could sit in here in a tophat.
There’s headroom to spare in the Renegade’s upright cabin, more than what’s offered in the substantially bigger Cherokee, for instance.
In fact, thanks to the tall seating position, there’s plenty of room everywhere.
Even backseaters get decent legroom and a supportive rear bench. As a point of comparison, it feels only a smidge smaller than the Honda HR-V - one of the roomier options in the compact SUV segment.
And while it’s expensive, there’s a healthy list of standard equipment. All models get an electric parking brake, seven airbags and a touchscreen display (5-inches in the Sport and Longitude, 6.5 inches in the Limited and Trailhawk).
Dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlamps and rear parking sensors are standard from Longitude grade and up, while powered front seats, leather upholstery, sat-nav and bi-xenon headlamps are standard on the Limited and Trailhawk.
The boot measures 351 litres with the rear seats in place, putting it in the same ballpark as most small sedans. It’s substantially bigger than the Mazda CX-3, but a bit far from the HR-V’s 437 litre boot.
Over-the-shoulder vision however is quite poor thanks to the upwards kick in the beltline and the fat D-pillar. The A-pillar is incredibly thick and hard to see around too.
The big side-mirrors help minimise the resulting blind spots, and a reversing camera is standard on all models. From Longitude spec and up, blind-spot monitoring is standard.
ON/OFF THE ROAD
The base model Sport manual with a 1.6 litre naturally-aspirated engine has not yet arrived in the country, but we can vouch for the 1.4 litre turbo auto that powers the bulk of the range.
Producing 103kW and 230Nm, it’s a peppy and willing motor with just the right amount of power for a smallish SUV. It won't scorch the blacktop, but it'll get you where you need to go at a reasonable clip.
It’s coupled exclusively to a six-speed twin-clutch automatic and takes power to the front wheels. Having been appalled by Fiat-sourced single-clutch automatics in the past, this twin clutch is a major improvement.
There wasn’t much stop-start traffic along the test route to assess the transmission’s low-speed crawl behaviour, but it was smooth enough off the line, didn’t jerk through shifts and kicked down when needed. It’s substantially better than the jerky dual-clutch in the Renault Captur.
Besides the 1.6 and 1.4 turbo, the other powertrain in the Renegade range is the 2.4 litre 'Tigershark' inline-four, borrowed from the Cherokee and pressed into service in the Renegade Trailhawk.
The Trailhawk is the only AWD model in the range, featuring an on-demand driveline that can be locked in 4x4 mode at speeds up to 60km/h.
There’s no dual-range transfer case, but the nine-speed transmission is geared such that you don’t really need one. First gear is low enough for most work.
We weren’t offered the opportunity to drive the Trailhawk on road, but on a mildly challenging off-road course it surprised us with its ability to keep moving.
There’s plenty of chatter from the brake-based traction aids (there are no tricky locking differentials to contain wheel-slip), but it will keep moving over lumpy ground.
The front bumper is cut higher on the Trailhawk to afford it a good approach angle, there are underbody skid plates to protect its mechanicals, a big red tow-hook if you get properly stuck and a full-size spare in case you pop a tyre.
Couple that with a multi-mode traction control system and hill descent control, and the Trailhawk will take you further than the average compact crossover.
But then again, so will a Jeep Wrangler Sport, which costs $6500 less than the Renegade Trailhawk.
ANCAP rating: The Jeep Renegade has yet to be assessed by ANCAP
Safety features: As standard, all Renegade models receive ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control, stability control, seven airbags and a reversing camera.
Blind spot monitoring and rear parking sensors become standard from the Longitude grade upwards.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Figuring out the competitor set for the Renegade is a little tricky given it’s sized like the HR-V and Mitsubishi ASX, yet priced like the bigger CR-V or Outlander.
But if you want a four-door crossover with some visual pizzaz, its only real competitors are the MINI Countryman and Mazda CX-3.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Jeep Renegade has a lot going for it. It’s spacious, despite its small(ish) stature, and it’s got plenty of visual attitude to set it apart from the rest of the compact crossover pack.
You may find the price an insurmountable obstacle, however, especially if looking at the upper-spec models like the $41,500 Trailhawk.
But if your pockets are deep enough, the Renegade does everything you could reasonably ask of a small SUV and then some.
And its uniquely-Jeep styling is something you simply won’t get from another marque. It has a character, capability and style all of its own (and worth paying a little extra for).
MORE: Jeep News and Reviews