The Jeep Renegade is a car designed unashamedly to stand out. It’s Jeep’s offering in the fastest growing car segment in the world: the compact crossover class, dominated by the likes of the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur and Audi Q3. Like the quirky Nissan, the Renegade has a polarising look aimed to create the same sort of love/hate reaction, but unlike any of its immediate rivals, the Jeep promises true off-road ability, with best-in-class ground clearance, wading depth, and adaptive all-wheel drive modes. There’s even a special Trailhawk model designed to take on genuinely challenging off-road trails.
Don’t worry, though; if you’re a fan of the chunky looks but don’t need to climb mountains and ford streams on your way to work, you can just buy a regular front-wheel-drive Renegade instead. In total, Jeep will offer a staggering 16 different powertrain variants of the Renegade, including three different four-wheel drive systems, an automatic gearbox, a manual and a twin-clutch transmission, and in the UK, three engine choices.
Inside, the climate control dials and range-topping Limited model’s central 6.5-inch touchscreen are recognisable Fiat parts bin pieces, but that’s alleviated by a massive dose of Jeep ‘Easter eggs’. Logos of the Jeep grille, a bold ‘Since 1941’ motif and even a ‘mudsplat’ instead of a redline in the tachometer all inject – slightly clunkily – some quirky appeal.
Beneath the garnish, the cabin has a few foibles however, like the seat headrests which don’t adjust high enough causing them to dig uncomfortably into your shoulders. While the top of the dashboard you never touch is all squidgy plastic, the materials around the centre tunnel that you’ll feel every time you release the parking brake are hard and scratchy. And though the boxy shape and its wide-opening doors offer plenty of room front and rear for a medium-sized family, the thick pillars mean visibility is dreadful. Add in slow steering and you’ve got a little car than manages to feel rather cumbersome and unhelpful around tight urban streets.
Driving the Renegade out on the open road proves to be a mixed bag too. Though it doesn’t suffer anything like the body roll you might fear from such a tall car, its slow and vague steering means you can’t place it with any of the precision of say, a MINI Countryman. It rides acceptably, but long-distance credentials are hurt by lots of wind noise around the mirrors and A-pillars, while the diesel clatter of the 2.0-litre MultiJet engine only dies away at the national limit.
With 138bhp on tap (a 168bhp version is also available), the 2.0-litre has plenty adequate power reserves for a car of this class, but if you’re not planning to explore the Renegade’s off-road abilities, the cheaper 1.6-litre petrol MultiAir is likely to be the more refined all-rounder. On the plus side, the standard-fit six-speed manual gearbox is a much more positive and smooth-shifting affair than the baggy changes that we’re used to in Fiat Group cars – and the excellent nine-speed automatic is a welcome sight on the extensive options list.
Grip is in abundance too, but while the Renegade feels endlessly sure-footed, its light steering doesn’t inspire great confidence, so you’re left with a curiously dissatisfying overall driving experience. It’s fine, but for the money we’re expecting this to be priced at – Skoda Yeti and Nissan Qashqai cash – you can do better, if you’re not traversing swamps in your daily commute, where the Renegade does admittedly come into its own.
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