SOCIAL CLIMBER OR ROCK CLIMBER? THAT IS THE SIZEABLE QUESTION ASKED BY THE 2016 JEEP RENEGADE TRAILHAWK. Because it’s good at one, and not so good at the other.
The Renegade plays in the fashionable small SUV segment, and is all pastel colours, funkified style and customisation options.
But it is also a Jeep, a badge born of an ability to get down and dirty. The Trailhawk range flagship tested here, with its raised ride height, low-range gearing and an all-wheel-drive lock button, shows a clear off-road intent.
So can this sub-$40,000 small SUV merge hipster with hardcore?
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
Price: $39,000 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 129kW/230Nm 2.4 litre 4cyl petrol | 9sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.5 l/100km | tested: 11.4 l/100km
Let’s deal with the elephant in the corner of the paddock first – when the Jeep Renegade launched early this year it was pricey. It has since had three price cuts.
What began as a range costing between $29,500 and $41,500 (plus on-road costs) now asks between $26,000 and $39,000 (plus orc). Curiously, the top models haven’t been cut by the same degree as the base models.
The Renegade Limited - flagship of front-wheel-drive models - with a Fiat-sourced 1.4-litre turbo four-cylinder and six-speed dual-clutch automatic now costs $4000 less than this 2.4-litre non-turbo and nine-speed auto Renegade Trailhawk range topper.
The extra spend doesn’t buy any extra comfort features, but it does add a plethora of offroad-related technology along with a capable all-wheel-drive system.
- Standard Equipment: power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, leather trim with electrically adjustable heated front seats and steering wheel, cruise control, auto on/off headlights and wipers, keyless auto-entry with push button start
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, AM/FM radio, satellite navigation and 9-speaker Beats audio
- Options Fitted: panoramic sunroof ($1900), auto park assist ($500), lane departure warning ($500)
- Cargo Volume: 351 litres
Jeep has done a brilliant job of both injecting character into its smallest SUV and disguising its shared origins with – of all vehicles – the Fiat 500X.
Although it wears an American badge, this baby offroader is made in Italy.
Hidden delights, or what the brand calls ‘easter eggs’, surround the soft-touch dashboard and colour TFT-screen on the centre stack and ahead of the driver.
These ‘eggs’ include a little navigation map imprinted into the rubber of the centre console tray, a classic Jeep face of circular headlights and multi-slat grille stamped onto the side of the rear-view mirror; even an outline of an original Willys Jeep on the lower windscreen ‘climbing’ up the A-pillar.
At just 4.26 metres long, the Renegade is shorter than a Volkswagen Golf Hatchback (at 4.35 metres, tip-to-toe) but provides comparable room.
Even the 351-litre boot is about par. However, thanks to its tall stature, the Renegade offers plenty of height for a really spacious feel inside and lots of room for the legs of rear passengers.
Unfortunately, however, visibility is not what it should be thanks to overly thick A-pillars inhibiting forward vision, and a hefty over-the-shoulder blind-spot created by the C-pillars. Thank goodness then for the blind-spot monitor.
But it is not short on features. In flagship Trailhawk trim – and even in the $35,000 (plus orc) Limited 2WD model – there are many ‘big car’ features such as fully electrically adjustable front seats with heating, and (optional) automatic park assistance, neither of which you will find in a Mazda CX-3 Akari automatic front-driver priced from $33,290 (plus orc).
That said, the Akari scores a head-up display, sunroof and active safety aids either unavailable or optional here.
The panoramic sunroof with removable panels, for example, is a $1900 option. And the Jeep’s lane departure warning (an extra $500) we would not bother with because it is as frenetic in operation as the spasmodic front and rear sensors. (In terms of electronics, the Renegade feels Italian and not in a good way).
The nine-speaker Beats audio also doesn’t pump as loudly as we expected, although there is decent clarity particularly when utilising the USB port.
In short, the Limited and Trailhawk continue to offer decent value inside, but for the price there is nothing outstanding to be found here beyond cute detailing inside.
ON AND OFF THE ROAD
- Engine: 129kW/230Nm 2.4 4cyl turbo-petrol
- Transmission: nine-speed automatic, AWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, independent rear
- Brakes: ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 10.8m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 400kg unbraked, 907kg braked
Choosing the all-wheel-drive Trailhawk adds a hefty 155kg to the kerb weight of the baby Renegade, taking it from a competitive 1295kg to a medium sedan-like 1550kg.
Medium sedans (and especially wagons) are far roomier than this baby Jeep, of course, but as with some models in that daggy segment, the engine of choice here is a 2.4-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder.
For its size it makes a decent 129kW and 230Nm, but those numbers are produced high in the rev range at 6400rpm and 4400rpm respectively.
However, the heavier an SUV gets the more it arguably needs extra torque down low in the rev range, and, oddly, it’s the lighter 1.4-litre turbo Renegades that feed in an equal 230Nm from just 1400rpm.
Allied with a nine-speed automatic with a short first gear, the Renegade Trailhawk steps off the line keenly. However, beyond light cruising, the engine demands revs, yet, by contrast, the transmission is determined to grab tall gears at every opportunity.
More frustratingly, despite having all nine gears to choose from, the auto has few ideas about how best to use them.
It fails to detect falling speed on hills without being prompted by adding throttle, and it only then holds a lower ratio. Add quick throttle to fill a rapidly closing traffic gap and the auto dithers for two seconds before kicking down.
Dull response, portly kerb weight and an engine hungry for revs conspired to deliver awful fuel economy of 13 litres per 100 kilometres around town, only lowering to 11.4 l/100km after an extended freeway run.
Despite wearing chubby ‘mud and snow’ tyres, this Jeep has a knobbly urban ride that rarely settles. That rubber doesn’t gel with the firm suspension through corners, resulting in a lack of grip and snappy attitude (rather than a more-malleable compliance).
The light steering too is a tad dull and vacant on-centre (but it does liven-up when cornering).
These are the on-road compromises we need to flag loudly and clearly for a vehicle that can go offroad. The simple fact is that the Renegade Trailhawk is soundly trumped by a CX-3 (for instance) on bitumen, but there is more to this ‘trail-rated’ Jeep than its performance on the black-top.
It can go much, much further into the rough stuff than any comparably-priced light-duty SUV.
Get onto a gravel country road and the Italian-American is surprisingly quiet and soaks up big hits well.
Its stability control is immaculately tuned on dirt, and the ground clearance of 211mm is up 50mm on the front-drive versions while even eclipsing a Suzuki Jimny (the ancient leader among tiny offroaders) by 21mm.
Take it even further, like up a fire trail, and its short overhangs, multi-mode all-wheel-drive system, and decent approach, departure and ramp-over angles (30.5 degrees, 25.7 and 34.3 degrees), as well as the relatively short wheelbase and protective skid-plates, will have you in and out of some adventurous places without knocking skin off the undersides.
Unlike a CX-3 or anything else in the class, the Renegade Trailhawk’s multi-mode all-wheel-drive system with auto, snow, sand, mud and rock modes, in addition to low-range gearing and a ‘lock’ button to ensure all four wheels get power, endow the little Jeep with genuine off-road ability.
We stopped, at one stage, in the middle of a mudbath and powered away without a problem.
Simply, there is nothing else in this segment that goes as well offroad as this Jeep. Call it two-and-a-half stars on-road, four-and-a-half stars off it.
ANCAP rating: Not yet tested.
Safety Features: Dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags, ABS and ESC, front and rear parking sensors, reverse-view camera, blind-spot monitor.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: three years/100,000km.
Servicing: Jeep does not offer a capped-price servicing program. Speak to your Jeep dealer about servicing costs.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
A Forester with manual transmission offers a convincing all-wheel-drive system and the most impressive ground clearance in the medium SUV class. The 2.0D-S version offers similar equipment to the Renegade Trailhawk for similar money, while being a full size larger.
Mazda’s CX-3 and CX-5 are surprisingly capable and enjoyable steers on-road, as well as offering similar lighter-duty off-road capability as the Forester. You can pack the family and crawl all over the Flinders Ranges in a CX-5 for instance.
Meanwhile the Jimny is about half the price of the Renegade, but with about 10 percent of the interior quality, amenities and safety compared with the Jeep. It offers even greater offroad capability however.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Jeep Renegade Trailhawk is sorely let down by its lacklustre petrol engine and automatic transmission – it begs for a torquey diesel engine and smarter transmission software.
So, if all you need is an on-road fashion accessory – and the Renegade has real funk appeal – then look to the lighter and cheaper 2WD Renegade Limited.
This Trailhawk is a mixed bag in a whole lot of ways. We would love it to drive better on bitumen, we wish Jeep would knock some sense into that nine-speed transmission, and we would hope for better fuel economy.
But, that said, for all the compromises on bitumen, the Renegade Trailhawk pays dividends offroad. Here, it can really surprise for its capability.
This is its USP, its “unique selling proposition”: ordinary on-road but exceptional off it. If that’s what you’re looking for, this little Jeep will fit like a glove (and if it only had a proper, grunty engine option...)
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