Driven: 2015 Jeep Renegade Sport

The front-wheel-drive Renegade seemed more of a city slicker than a trail runner | Jeep
The front-wheel-drive Renegade seemed more of a city slicker than a trail runner | Jeep

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?

Renegade rides on Fiat 500X underpinnings | Jeep
Renegade rides on Fiat 500X underpinnings | Jeep

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.

The well-furnished interior is festooned with Jeep insignias lest you forget | Jeep
The well-furnished interior is festooned with Jeep insignias lest you forget | Jeep

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.

2015 Jeep Renegade Sport: Pavement-rated performance | Larry Edsall
2015 Jeep Renegade Sport: Pavement-rated performance | Larry Edsall

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.

Is a Jeep without 4X4 still a real Jeep?
Is a Jeep without 4X4 still a real Jeep? | Larry Edsall

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.

Rear wheels just trail along on Sport version
Rear wheels just trail along on Sport version | Larry Edsall

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

3 thoughts on “Driven: 2015 Jeep Renegade Sport”

  1. With all due respect to the author – this article is ignorance and traditionalist prejudice in print. Why didn’t the author test the Rubicon trail-rated version if that’s what he likes? Why spend the whole article talking about how many logos there are on the car and only talk about the trail-rated version in the last paragraph – also – talking with the local dealership, I have been told that if one buys a 2015 Jeep Renegade, they come “with keys and books.”

    A quick look at the company website will tell anyone that this vehicle is being produced in about (20) configurations and sold globally – IMO this author needs to do some real research and then write an article worth reading – not just gripe about his refusal to familiarize himself with the display technology, and, further, to blame it on something he “seems to remember.”

  2. Larry, If you say you have driven it, why only report on what you saw whilst being stationary at the pavement?

    You do need the clock though, because time is up for you, time to ask your ten year old grandson to show you how the trip computer works, to tell you there are people who believe that a bicycle for e.g. can be fun and that the true ‘trail rating’ should be the mountain bike trail. You in and not versus nature.

    To truly get to the great outdoors, you have to drive there – a huge percentage of lovers of the great outdoors unfortunately live in the city so you have to pack your Renegade, drive a couple of hours on tarred roads and then some dirt, sometimes more, sometimes a lot more but no highway ends at a camping site: – unload your bike, or hangglider, your tent and hiking boots or your kiteboard and go do it yourself – you do not need to have massive tires destroying the ‘trail’ that you want to rate whilst bumping around on a leaf sprung, solid axle suspensions that will probably kill you the first time you take it around a bend in rainy weather. The ‘healthy burble of a big V8′ will chase away any form of wildlife and at the end of the day you will park your vehicle (without any buttons to confuse you) right next to the fire for which you have used half a forest’s 50 year’s of growth to get a manly bonfire, crack a ‘beverage’ whilst regaling similar minded trail raters with yarns about axle wind-up, scorning any vehicle ‘that your wife can also drive (never mind loving to drive)’, toasting the F150 and again and again, lamenting Ford’s ‘going soft’ on the latest generation.

    (Editing postscript on the above: ‘possibly drives better than you do’)

    Being unfair? Obviously, yes! But if you give yourself out to be a toffee, be prepared to be chewed.

    I love Jeep! Great vehicles, exceptionally capable off-road and lately quite decent on-road too. I just do not want one – well, maybe the Renegade. While Chrysler’s (and mind you: Fiat’s as well) teeth are still chattering after their near death experience, dear Larry, there is also a wake-up call: remember Honda, American arrogance vs jap-scrap?! (Honda can do well by going back and read those history books again).

    If you are single, or a couple, or a young family, you probably do not have the luxury (or the need) for an extra, ‘trail rated’ vehicle. The Renegade will do most of it’s life on the school run, the ‘urban cycle’. And yes, then it is weekend and we want to, but we have to.., and finally, yes: we can – at last! Less than 10% of this vehicle’s life will be spent on dirt roads and it will be more than capable with high ground clearance, stability control, traction control, etc.. Occasionally there will be a trail rated section because the big V8’s have churned up the normally passable and usually scenic river crossing with tire smoke and burt out clutches. Carefully negotiated the Renegade should be able to cope, finesse sometimes even triumphing over brute force…

    I do not expect a Nobel prize – this is common (relatively so) sense, at least not fresh.

    You do not have to do the original thinking – just apply it!

    Sigh!!

    Telling this to the country that sells 3x F150’s to every Mc Donald’s burger.

    (PS! If there is a F150 Velociraptor, a yellow one with black mags that nobody wants – well…)

  3. @ Malan – Larry’s underlying point (after you get past the male menopause), is that EVERY Heep should be ‘Rubicon Trail rated’ – well, I really don’t know how the pre-Fiat-owned Jeep Grand Cherokee stacks up in that regard, so, maybe as a traditionalist, he has a point – maybe not.

    For myself, I remember when Detroit started coming out “chrome-icized” plastic trim, which we all roundly derided – “It’s not even real metal!” etc., Now, people don’t even think about things like that any more, so, in a way, I feel his pain – BUT – I still think he wrote a very lazy article, and, given his credentials, well, all I can say is that, IMHO, guys like him need to remember that credentials don’t write articles, and neither do laurels. I also notice that he hasn’t bothered to respond – which shows how little he cares about what he wrote. In his mind, he’s probably scoffing, “For what they paid me – who cares?”

    However, after reading and commenting on Larry’s idiotic grousing (I’ll bet you $100 he’s got a Lazy Boy recliner in the family room), I came across the following article, which addresses a few “Peri-Larry” issues, here –

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-05-19/the-adorable-jeep-renegade-is-fiat-chrysler-s-lovechild

    So, take a look at that, but, in the meantime, remember that, if you live long enough, you will get old and cranky (and maybe smug and lazy) too, and yearn for the days when you could hear and feel the rumble of an actual, honest-to-God internal combustion engine, or, if not that, exactly, something else that “young people” won’t understand. Don’t laugh – it will happen.

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