No end in sight to the near infinite variety of SUVs available these days … they just keep on coming. Jeep, who arguably started the whole SUV thing with the original Cherokee, now moves into the the fringe with a novel new compact – the Renegade. An interesting mix of traditional Jeep think and fresh engineering siphoned off from corporate sibling Fiat, the Renegade is truly all-new and really kind of cool, too.
Under the skin the chassis starts with the basics of the Fiat 500L compact sedan and then adds tougher suspension bits, a wider track and all the pieces needed to offer a capable off-road ready, all-wheel drive system. In typical Jeep fashion this off-roadiness is for real, not cosmetics, and the Renegade promises to be a rough road rambler when fitted out to the Trailhawk spec, the most capable version offered.
US sales are set to start around the end of 2014, but the made-in-Italy Renegade will also be marketed in Europe, where it is expected to be a big hit. To cover the whole market segment here in America the Renegade will be available in a basic 2-wheel drive version to compete with the likes of the Kia Soul and several steps up with a larger engine option, two all-drive systems, and climaxing with the Trailhawk, bulked up with a low range gearset, raised ground clearance and a full boondocks kit. Prices likely to start around $20K and top off over $30K. Curb weights start at around 3,000 lbs and max close to 3,500.
The base motor is the 160 hp, 1.6 liter turbo four from the 500L, available with a 6-speed manual. Given that the Renegade a few hundred pounds lighter than the 500, expect perky performance in the 2wd version. Getting that spunk will require lots of revs and shifting, but should be fun. The step up is to a 184 hp 2.4 liter Tigershark motor with a 9-speed automatic. This should all work just fine and be a much more relaxed powertrain. The 9-speed has been around for a while in other Jeep models and is generally regarded as offering little benefit over less speedy automatics, having a tendency to get confused as to the right ratio for any given moment, but not a real problem. It does help the Renegade deliver up to 30 mpg highway.
The all-wheel drive systems both offer selectable modes and sophisticated engineering, with the Trailhawk version featuring a stump puller low and a special rock mode that should get you anywhere remotely possible and clearly delivering more off-road capability than any of the competition. For the urban jungle it is likely big time overkill and hardly worth the trouble or expense.
Not yet ready for test drives, so actual assessments will have to wait, but having driven the 500L extensively we can make an educated guess. Expect a relatively smooth ride and reasonable performance, with a fairly soft suspension that loves to roll, but is not too happy when tossed about aggressively. The turbo 6-speed is definitely a kick, if you like that sort of hypertension, and the 2.4 liter 2WD should be a nice solid, EZ to enjoy powertrain. Given Jeep’s expertise in the 4WD area, I’d think this version would be ideal for those with a need for AWD, with little penalty in the MPG department.
Styling is quirky and cute, certainly ready to match the Soul for funky appeal. The interior is remarkably well done, sharp, modern and well detailed. The touchscreen infotainment system is simple to use, the seats are very comfortable and the tall greenhouse and upright seating provide a lot more passenger room than you might expect. Cargo space is about 12 cu. ft with the seats up and a handy 50 cu ft plus when the rears are folded. There a gimmicky glass sunroof option that opens up to the sky and all the usual modern conveniences. It has a true quality feel to the finish and design throughout, certainly upscale in impression.
So that’s it for the latest from Jeep and the Chrysler/Fiat team. A well done and appealing new entry into a niche corner of the market. Given the basic rightness and cuteness, I suspect the Renegade will be a sensation that catches on in a big way, just as the Soul did. It’s way more funk than rhythm and blues, and there should be a lot of people dancing to the music.
• dean seven