Read more: 2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk drive review: School's in session | AutoweekDespite its cutesy looks, the Renegade is a tough little nut, with an agile chassis and a surefootedness that certainly feels as authentically Jeep as anything. And its compact size, though posing a bit of a challenge for chronic overpackers like us, proved invaluable in reaching more remote areas, where narrow lanes, rocky overhangs and tight turns make it difficult for larger, un-Renegade-like vehicles to maneuver easily.
“I drove one for a week, and it felt like I was driving a sports car,” says Oxford Dodge sales manager Greg Gandza. “It’s planted on the road, handles great and has every feature anyone could want. It’s a great little vehicle.”
Built on a new platform, the Renegade comes in four models, Limited, Sport, North and Trailhawk in 4x4 and front-wheel drive. The new Jeep was designed and engineered in North America and is being built in Italy for markets in 100 countries.
Two engine/transmission combinations handle the power demands: A turbocharged 1.4L four cylinder turbo linked to a six-speed manual transmission is standard in Sport and North models while a 2.4L four cylinder with nine-speed automatic is standard in Trailhawk and optional in North.
The exterior design leaves no doubt it’s a Jeep but the tiny details are impressive, like tail lights inspired by military jerry cans but with a centre graphic of the front of a Willys Jeep, a unique little indent on the gas filler door that indicates where to push to open it and the Jeep-on-a-hill profile in the moulding on the right side of the windshield.
Overhead, Renegade can be equipped with one of two class-exclusive My Sky open-air roof systems. Removable panels, which weight just 10 lb., are stored under the rear load floor.
Given the length of the Renegade, there’s a surprisingly large cargo area behind the rear seat, which becomes downright huge when the seats are folded.
“I’m six-foot-two, and I had plenty of head and legroom,” Gandza says.
The Renegade starts at less than $22,000 and offers an impressive list of standard features at that price. “This is one of the few SUVs you can buy with a stick shift. It’s standard with the 1.4-litre engine,” Gandza. “The nine-speed automatic transmission linked to the larger engine provides great fuel economy and performance.”
Among the many available options are: forward collision warning with active braking, backup camera and rear park assist, heated front seats, heated steering wheel and navigation.
“Renegade is a Jeep through and through,” Gandza says. “And it’s a blast to drive.”
$21,690 to $34,790
Seating capacity: 5
Engine options (power): Turbo 1.4-litre I4 (160 hp, 184 lb.-ft); 2.4-litre I4 (184 hp, 177 lb.-ft)
Transmission options: 6-speed manual, 9-speed automatic
9.9 L/100 km city
7.5 L/100 km highway
SOURCEJeep’s style never comes at the expense of substance. The Renegade’s boxy body offers plenty of interior room.
That’s not to say the Renegade isn’t a capable off-roader. The Trailhawk trim level is certified “Trail Rated” by Jeep, which means it can tackle some of the world’s toughest off-roading situations. Even non-Trail Rated 4WD Renegades pack far more four-wheeling capability than the average American will ever need.
But where the timeless Wrangler is built on its own truck-like chassis, the Renegade is based off the same platform as the Fiat 500L compact. In fact, it’s built alongside the Fiat 500X crossover in Melfi, Italy, a town bombed to smithereens by Allied air strikes during the Second World War…by pilots who likely drove to their planes in some of the first Jeeps.
Clearly, the designers spent plenty of time studying original Jeeps while working on the Renegade, because this truck’let is a rolling homage to its ancestors. The styling would almost come across as overcompensating, if the end result wasn’t so good-looking.
Shrinking down classic Jeep design cues – round headlights, seven-bar grille, squared-off edges – gives the Renegade a cute, cartoon-tough look.
Shrinking down classic Jeep design cues – round headlights, seven-bar grille, squared-off edges – gives the Renegade a cute, cartoon-tough look. If the Wrangler is a rugged park ranger, the Renegade is his baby brother who went into advertising. Smaller, a bit chunkier, but every bit related. It’s one of the most visually appealing of the recent batch of small sport-utes that have exploded onto the streets in the last few years (i.e. the Honda HR-V, Nissan Juke, Kia Soul, etc.).
If there’s one visual drawback to the Renegade, it’s specific to the few configured like my tester. Every Renegade gets a contrasting front grille – black on most models, but silver on the Limited trim. It’s designed to highlight one of the most signature Jeep features of the car but, on silver-colored Limited models, the grille somewhat weirdly matches the rest of the vehicle. This problem is easily solved by choosing another color if you’re buying the Limited.
Pop inside, and the fun-n’-fresh style treatment continues. The designers clearly had a blast putting together this baby Jeep, as the interior doesn’t take itself too seriously. Warm and cool air flows from afterburner-like vents, the passenger gets a beefy grab handle for off-roading (or clutching if the driver’s going too fast), and the red line on the tachometer comes in the form of a paintball impact-like orange splotch.
The designers clearly had a blast putting together this baby Jeep, as the interior doesn’t take itself too seriously. Warm and cool air flows from afterburner-like vents, the passenger gets a beefy grab handle for off-roading.
But the Jeep’s style never comes at the expense of substance. The Renegade’s boxy body offers plenty of interior room; even at six-foot-four, I had so much headroom, I could have worn a ten-gallon hat without scraping the ceiling. The back seat isn’t enormous, but it’s more than large enough to seat two or three average-sized folks.
All this room comes at the expense of cargo space, unfortunately. With the privacy cover in place to shield your belongings from lookie-loos wandering past, a couple of medium-sized suitcases will totally fill up the trunk. On the other hand, if you fold down some or all of the rear seats (the Limited trim comes with a 40/20/40 tri-fold bench, while other Renegades come with a simpler 60/40 split seat) and this Jeep can swallow an apartment’s worth of flat-packed IKEA furniture.
Those IKEA-loving millennials are sure to dig the Renegade’s large selection of tech features, too. My Limited offered up two USB inputs, 12V and 110V three-prong outlets, Bluetooth, satellite radio, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen controlling the excellent Uconnect infotainment system. This is Fiat-Chrysler’s go-to means of manipulating everything from the stereo to the navigation to the phone, and it shows up in everything from this Renegade to the $100,000+ Maserati Quattroporte.
The available 180-horsepower and 175 lb.-ft. of torque may not sound like much, but combined with the low ratios in the first few gears, it adds up to a zippy driving experience in off-road or around-town speeds.
Sitting beneath the Uconnect screen – at least on four-wheel-drive Renegades – is this petite SUV’s secret off-road, all-weather weapon: The Selec-Terrain dial. Gone are the days when activating 4WD involved climbing out and locking the wheels by hand. Now, the Renegade switches into four-wheel-drive at the press of a button marked “4WD LOCK.”
In fact, you don’t even need to press it. That’s because the Renegade’s Jeep Active Drive 4x4 system sends power to the rear wheels within an instant of detecting front-wheel slip. Twist the Select-Terrain dial, though, and you can snap the Jeep’s 4WD system into modes custom-designed to deal with mud, sand, or snow. I only had the chance to try the mud mode, which dragged the Renegade through Cape Cod’s sticky tidal marsh muck with ease.
Some of the credit for the Renegade’s mud-crawling skill must go to the combination of its 2.4 liter turbocharged inline-four and nine-speed automatic transmission. The available 180-horsepower and 175 lb.-ft. of torque may not sound like much, but combined with the low ratios in the first few gears, it adds up to a zippy driving experience in off-road or around-town speeds.
On the plus side, the Renegade rides smoothly, soaking up potholes and road imperfections just as well as it does back road bumps and ruts.
Get onto the highway, however, and you need to plan passing maneuvers far in advance, due to the combination of a boxy shape, stunningly tall overdrive gears (in top gear, the engine is turning at 1,800 rpm at 79 miles an hour) and close to two tons of weight with passengers aboard.
Floor the throttle and the transmission needs a second, or two, to shuffle down three, four, even five gears to find all its horses. Even then, it moves as quickly as a teenager ordered to clean his room. If you’re planning on doing some hustling on the highway, the best way to drive is to slide the shift lever to manual mode and put the car into sixth or seventh gear.
Some of the credit for the Renegade’s mud-crawling skill must go to the combination of its 2.4 liter turbocharged inline-four and nine-speed automatic transmission.
On the plus side, the Renegade rides smoothly, soaking up potholes and road imperfections just as well as it does back road bumps and ruts. In fact, its smooth ride is one of the reasons the Renegade is an exceedingly good choice for New Yorkers in need of a fun, affordable car.
Admittedly, my $31K Limited test car pushes the boundaries of “affordability” for a small car, but it was also optioned to the gills. You can pick up a well-equipped Renegade for far less money and still have all the Jeep-ness you could ever want in a smaller, city-friendly shape.
“I don’t even know the number,” says Jeep head of design Mark Allen, when asked about the number of Easter eggs his designers hid somewhere on the Renegade.
See that tiny Jeep-face in the center of the headlight? He’ll be showing up a lot.
Adding these little visual treats isn’t new for Jeep—for example, the rock-climbing Jeep silhouette on the windshield has shown up on Wranglers and Grand Cherokees—but Allen says the Renegade’s funky, fun attitude and character gave the designers license to go wild with them.
Amongst MANY other places, the Jeep face is on the seats.
Allen says there’s no coordination between interior and exterior design teams, no set plan or list of hidden details to add—the designers just add them in as they feel compelled to do so.
The Jeep 'face' is also on the rear-view mirror.
None of the Easter eggs are particularly obvious, in part because that’s the only way the designers can sneak them through the car’s creation. “We try to be zero-impact to the cost,” Allen says—a touch of ink here, a slight change in the shape of a plastic moulding there, nothing obvious or expensive.
Look below the 4WD system’s control dial, and you’ll see a topographic map—as well as another Jeep-face.
But keeping them subtle is largely the point. “They’re for the owner to find when they’re washing the car, or detailing it,” Allen says. And so far, he says, customers are responding very positively to the hidden design treats—something backed up by the posts celebrating the Easter eggs on Jeep forums.
That X-like shape in each cupholder is inspired by the external gasoline cans WW2 Jeeps carried, and it also shows up frequently on the Renegade.
Asked about his favorite Easter egg on the car, Allen mentions the aforementioned gas-cap spider, and the tiny silhouette of a strolling yeti on the rear window.
And “ciao!” to you, tiny spider that’ll most likely scare the pants off more than a couple owners.
The latter, he says, is an example of one of the Easter eggs the team felt they could get away with because of the Renegade’s lighthearted nature; the team wouldn’t put a mythical ape on the back window of, say, a Grand Cherokee.
And of course, who could forget Mr. Sasquatch?
“The more of these we do, the level of scrutiny goes up,” Allen says. “It does feel a little bit like we’re getting away with something.”
Jeep UK is also introducing the special series Renegade Dawn of Justice in a bid to attract fans of the brand and of the approaching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie. The new addition to the Jeep UK line-up is only temporary and the Renegade has been developed based off the midrange Longitude trim and will be packing the 110-hp 1.6-liter E-torQ gasoline engine or the 120-hp 1.6-liter MultiJet II diesel. Both versions have been mated to a six-speed manual gearbox and oddly enough will only be available on the 2WD versions. Customers will be asked to choose between the Granite Crystal, Colorado Red, and Carbon Black hues which can be combined with polished black accents and a custom set of 18-inch wheels. Some bespoke Dawn of Justice badging and a black look for the roof bars and the seven-slot front grille is also to be found while as an optional extra owners will be able to also add tinted windows, an electric panoramic sunroof, and a towing pack.
Inside the Jeep Renegade Dawn of Justice packs as standard amenities among others a leather-wrapped steering wheel, special black cloth seat upholstery, a six-speaker sound system, support for sat-nav, Bluetooth, and DAB digital radio. Extra optional include heated front seats and steering wheel, or a regular size spare wheel. Only 500 units will be offered and the Jeep Renegade Dawn of Justice can already be ordered from £19,495 OTR for the petrol and from £21,195 OTR if the diesel version is selected.