The Renegade is Jeep's new baby SUV, set to go on sale this month with a variety of trim levels and a choice of powertrains. Designed to attract new buyers to the Jeep brand, the Renegade is also attempting to appeal to the core Jeep audience with its mix of off-road skills and everyday commuting comfort. (Just don't expect it to be a rock-crawler ready to take on Moab's most brutal, boulder-strewn trails.)
The Renegade is also Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' first new vehicle to make use of the new Small-Wide 4x4 architecture, which will be shared with the Fiat 500X once that mini-ute arrives in stores. Offered in 4x2 and 4x4 forms, the Renegade is designed to offer off-road versatility with the range-topping Trailhawk version. Base trim levels are meant to provide a mix of fun on-road performance and greater versatility when the terrain or weather calls for it.
The Renegade will be offered with a choice of two engines, each one paired with its own transmission. The junior engine in the range will be the 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo unit producing 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, to be paired with a six-speed manual transmission. The senior engine will be a 2.4-liter Tigershark producing 180 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque. The latter engine will be paired exclusively with a nine-speed automatic that has already made appearances in the Chrysler and Jeep range. Unlike in a handful of other FCA vehicles, it won't be controlled by a rotary knob, but rather by a traditional gear shifter located on the transmission tunnel.
Even though it'll be the smallest offering from Jeep, that doesn't mean the Renegade skimps on technology: It's composed of 70 percent high-strength steel for greater structural stiffness, and its Koni frequency-selective damping front and rear strut system allows the Renegade to handle more nimbly in the corners while shrugging off imperfections in the road surface.
The Trailhawk model is paired with a 2.4-liter Tigershark engine and a nine-speed automatic transmission.PHOTO BY JAY RAMEY
The Renegade's interior has been designed to maximize volume, and even though the baby SUV has a wheelbase of 101.2 inches and an overall length of 166.inches -- more than 2 feet shorter than the Chrysler 200 sedan -- owners won't be shortchanged on useable space. Jeep's new "Tek-Tonic" design language makes its first appearance on the Renegade, with squared-off design details meeting soft-touch surfaces meant to preserve creature comfort. And there are plenty of nods to Jeeps of decades past, with the X-shape design of the taillights meant to evoke the stampings of gasoline jerrycans, while the visage of vintage Jeeps pops up in the designs of door cards. There are plenty of Easter eggs to be found throughout the interior, which will also offer two large removable transparent roof panels that can be stored in a special "pizza box" bag in the trunk.
The Renegade will offer Jeep's UConnect touchscreen infotainment system, which has already appeared in the newCherokee and a variety of other Chrysler, Dodge and Ram models. The Renegade's version will be available in 5-inch and 6.5-inch screen sizes. In addition, the center of the gauge cluster will offer a 3.5-inch monochrome display or an optional 7-inch TFT color display screen. The UConnect infortainment system will also offer an audio text-messaging system and Bluetooth connectivity, plus several other familiar features.
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When the Renegade goes on sale later this month, it will be offered in four distinct trim levels starting with the Sport trim at $18,990. The higher Latitude trim levels will offer leather-wrapped steering wheel, roof rails, ambient LED interior accents, a backup camera, a six-speaker audio system and 16-inch aluminum wheels. The Latitude trim level will start at $22,990. The next trim level, Limited, will offer a bit more in the way of luxury features like heated seats, exterior chrome accents and 18-inch aluminum wheels, in addition to other details. The Limited trim level will start at $25,790.
The range-topping Trailhawk version will be the most distinct flavor inside and out, with redesigned front and rear fascias for more versatile departure and approach angles, functional tow-hooks, a higher ride height, and front and rear scuff plates. The Trailhawk trim will be paired exclusively with the 2.4-liter Tigershark engine and a nine-speed automatic transmission, and will start at $26,990.
All versions of the Renegade listed above will be available in 4x2 and 4x4 forms except for the Trailhawk, where 4x4 is standard; 4x4 Renegades add a $2,000 premium to the MSRPs listed above.
With the snow mode dialed in and with studless winter tires on, the Renegade can run circles around larger SUVs.PHOTO BY JAY RAMEY
What's it like to drive?
Jeep brought us to a winter driving couse just north of Montreal (and just south of Santa's toy production facilities staffed by a non-union elf labor force) to try out the Renegade Trailhawk, which was equipped with studless winter tires. Our previous experiences with the Renegade were in sunny Malibu, Calif., but like ourselves, Jeep suspected that the Renegade was more likely to be pushed to the limit in the parts of North America that tend to be frozen solid during the winter months.
And the Renegade doesn't mind the sort of weather when everything is frozen solid. Even before we got going on the course itself, complete with a skid pad, slalom couse and a circuit with a variety of sharp corners, the Renegade negotiated winter rush-hour traffic with ease. The steering is responsive without being overly light, and the chassis still has that nimble feel that we remember from our first meeting with the Renegade last November. In Trailhawk trim, the pint-sized SUV still feels comfortable enough to be a long-distance highway cruiser, with very little road noise intruding into the cabin even with winter tires on. Wind noise is minimal as well, and there is no grinding or whirring sound from the 4x4 chassis even north of 65 mph. For a four-wheel-drive system, this one is pretty low-key, almost to the point of us forgetting it's there on normal roads.
But there's no forgetting four-wheel drive when it's time to hit the figure-eight skid pad. The Renegade stayed impressively flat as we threw it sideways on the icy course, never really letting us lose control. ESC was minimally intrusive as we kept the Renegade sideways through the figure-eights; it didn't cut power after the first powerslide, letting us recover with a nice helping of throttle. The Renegade stayed equally flat through the short slalom, rounding the cones with minimal body lean.
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On the icy circuit, the Renegade stayed well-controlled at speeds approaching 70 mph across several inches of powder above 8 inches of ice. Its short wheelbase made course corrections easy to dial in, and it also helped the SUV get through the hairpin turns without going too wide.
Next up was the off-road course, with several steep hills to attempt. We'd taken the Renegade on an off-road course before, and it had proven itself easy to drive -- but that was when the temperature was well above freezing. Out in the frozen tundra, the Trailhawk was just as sure-footed as it climbs a few mounds, and with the short approach and departure angles we were easily able to scale 33 percent grades of frozen dirt. The Renegade's hill-descent control did all the work as the mini-SUV descended from the 20-foot-tall mounds of dirt and ice, with ABS brakes letting us down easily.
The interior is a bit snug, but there is just enough room for four people to sit comfortably.PHOTO BY JAY RAMEY
Do I want it?
The Renegade Trailhawk can do more than simply keep up with Jeep's larger offerings, including the Wrangler and theCherokee, when it comes to maneuvering in the white stuff. After a couple hours of sliding the Renegade around and making it sprint through the snow at highway speeds, we came away impressed with its road manners. However, some of the interior plastics are a little too hard for their own good, and rear-seat passengers will complain of snugness in the back.
At the top of the range there will be some overlap with the starting price of the Cherokee, which starts at $29,495 for the Trailhawk model, though if the extra room and plushness of the Cherokee is not a priority then the Renegade will do just as well. Though once you're approaching the low-$30,000 range, there will inevitably be some inclination to upgrade to the Cherokee as the two are only about $2,500 apart when it comes to the range-topping Trailhawk.
In a segment flooded with premium-priced small SUVs that can barely scurry up a slick driveway with their all-season tires mounted on manhole cover-sized wheels, the unpretentious, funky-styled Renegade is a breath of fresh arctic air.
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