Also see second opinion (below) by Larry Edsall
You might call Jeep Renegade the cute Jeep. Or the city Jeep, designed for urban drivers who want a compact SUV with a bit more style and panache than the common run of popular little crossovers.
It is a Jeep, after all, which Larry notes below is emblazoned everywhere lest you forget that this Italian wagon boasts a direct lineage from your grandfather’s World War II workhorse. Or not. It really is a stretch.
Built in southern Italy and based on the new Fiat 500X, the Renegade is the latest way that Fiat is leveraging its partnership with Chrysler, and therefore, Jeep. The Renegade is a global product, after all, and Jeep is a beloved and highly successful worldwide brand. So the reasoning seems to be, why not create a compact Jeep crossover that suits not just American tastes but those of people around the globe?
The latest Jeep has proven its chops in the back country, according to any number of recent reviews of such models as the four-wheel-drive Trailhawk off-road version, although nothing as rugged as the Wrangler could traverse. But the Renegade provided to us by Jeep for testing was a mild front-wheel-drive model with the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and passenger-car tires – hardly what you would call Trail Rated.
Not a bad way to drive around town, though. The Renegade handles nicely on its Fiat underpinnings and with enough spunk to perform reasonably well. But there is no way it was going to do any sort of Jeep-like trail riding, especially not in rocky Arizona. This Renegade was not going anywhere wilder than the freeway.
A big plus, though, was the rare appearance of stickshift, an actual six speed with a clutch and all, which is almost never encountered in any kind of SUV. It made the Renegade so much more enjoyable to drive, and speaks well of the brand that it makes manual available, and not just on a stripped-down model.
Stickshift is only available, though, for Renegades equipped with the 160-horsepower 1.4-liter engine, which come only with manual for both the two- or four-wheel-drive models. Models with the naturally aspirated 2.4-liter inline-4 come only with automatic. There’s not a big difference in horsepower, with the 2.4 rated at 180. The smaller turbo engine actually has more available torque, 184 pound-feet compared with 175 for the bigger engine. So my choice would be the 1.4 with stick and power to all fours.
Another plus is the price point, which seems fairly modest for the most-basic but still well-equipped Renegade that features an attractive and comfortable interior, and stylish (maybe too stylish) body design. There are five models, topping out with the full-on Trailhawk at $26,000.
The name Renegade once denoted a rugged off-road CJ model (now Wrangler), so it seems misused in bringing it back for this mild-mannered guy.
And the word Renegade does not have the best connotation either, if you consider its actual meaning. I did a Google search for synonyms, which came down to such words as “traitor,” “rebel,” “deserter,” “turncoat” and “mutineer.” Hardly what you’d want to call such a cute little Jeep.
Second opinion by Larry Edsall
More than a dozen times — on the hood, tailgate, steering wheel, on all four wheels, on both exterior mirrors, in the cloth covering the four primary seats, even on the sub-floor beneath the cargo area — FCA reminds you that this vehicle is, indeed, a Jeep.
But wait, there’s more: You know the Jeep symbol — seven bars between two large circles, meant to represent Jeep’s iconic seven-slot grille and big round headlamps? Well, it’s incorporated into both the headlights and tail lamps, as well as being molded into the speakers in all four interior door panels, even into the interior trim panel on the rear liftgate and at the base of the center stack.
Oh, and atop the center stack are the words, “Since 1941,” harkening to the launch of the original Jeep, the one created for the U.S. military.
And we’re not done yet: Reach down to the bottom of the storage compartment beneath the arm rest between the front seats and you’ll find a little rubber mat that has a typographic map imprinted into it in yet another reminder of Jeep’s ability to take you into any terrain.
Speaking of which, midway through my week I noticed what I thought was either a rock fracture or a really ugly bug splatter at the lower-right corner of the windshield. Upon closer inspection, it turns out it’s the silhouette of one of those WW2 Jeeps that’s part of the matrix that surrounds the windshield. It’s designed to show how Jeeps — at least real Jeeps — can climb rocky trails.
On the front doors are the name of this particular Jeep, Renegade, which back in the early 1990s meant your Jeep was a top-of-the-line Wrangler, equipped not only with the optional inline six-cylinder engine but with a special wheels, tires, fender flares, bumpers, seats, off-road shocks, power steering, fog lamps, a larger fuel tank, vinyl soft top, and more.
But that was then. This is now. Jeep Renegade? It’s more like Jeep Retrograde.
This 2015 Jeep Renegade Sport I’ve been driving for the past week is neither the one that carried your grandfather through the war nor your father down the Rubicon Trail. This 2015 Jeep Renegade is fraternal twin with the new Fiat 500X.
Not only is the new Renegade built in Italy (so much for imported from Toledo), but it is powered by Fiat’s 1.4-liter turbocharged Multiair engine. And the 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque that engine produces goes to the road not through a Trail-Rated 4×4 setup but through the front wheels. (Fiat calls the 500X a crossover, not a sport utility.)
Yes, this is a front-wheel-drive Jeep. It carries all those Jeep emblems and icons. Perhaps instead it should wear a Pavement-Rated badge. And while we’re on the subject of pavement, the new Renegade does a fine job of going, turning and stopping, just like any of the compact crossovers that have become so popular in the automotive marketplace.
The most redeeming feature I’ve experienced in my week at the wheel is the six-speed manual gearbox that at least allows the driver to make use of all that the four-banger can provide.
The most frustrating feature I’ve experienced in my week at the wheel is the driver information display that I find anything but intuitive. I’ve punched all the buttons and have gotten back to the digital speedometer display, but have yet been able to figure out how to display a clock so I know what time it is.
I know, I’ll open the glove box and check the owner’s manual. Except there is none. Seems to me I remember Chrysler deciding several years ago it could save money by not printing manuals and by simply offering them online.
Guess what? There is a clock, on the small screen that displays the radio station, but if you wear Polarized sunglasses, that clock is only visible after dark, when the lights are on and your sunglasses are put away. In other words, the clock is useless for those of us who drive in daylight hours.
Yes, I admit it. I’m old-fashioned. I like owner’s manuals, and I believe that to wear even one Jeep badge, a vehicle should be Trail-Rated.
What’s that? You can get a Renegade with your choice of two 4×4 systems, and even one with Trailhawk badges with a 20:1 crawl ratio, adjustable terrain settings, skid plates, 8.7 inches of ground clearance, 8.1 inches of wheel articulation and more?
What’s that? There’s also a “My Sky” roof with either a manually removable or power sliding roof panel so you can drive with only the sky above your head?
And there’s a larger, more powerful Tigershark engine as well?
Well, that’s more like it. So much more like it that you wouldn’t need all those badges and icons to remind you that you’re driving a Jeep.
2015 Jeep Renegade Sport
Vehicle type: 5-passenger sport-utility, front-wheel drive
Base price: $17,995 Price as tested: $20,485
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, 160 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm, 184 pound-feet of torque at 2,500-4,000 rpm Transmission: 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches Overall length/width: 166.6 inches / 79.6 inches (including mirrors)
Curb weight: 3,044 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 22 city / 31 highway / 25 combined
Assembled in: Melfi, Italy