HOLLISTER CALIFORNIA — Jeep. It’s one of the strongest brands in the automobile industry — in any industry.
From the go-anywhere World War 2 U.S. Army GP (pronounced “jeep,” meaning “General Purpose”) vehicle through the luxurification of the SUV business with the original Wagoneer, Jeep has established an image that even people who know nothing nor could care less about off-roading can understand.
The new 2015 Renegade, on sale later this spring starting at $19,995, aims to bring those characteristics to a new segment, at a new price point.
Four trim levels are offered. Sport is the base model, and for that $19,995 price, you have to forego things like air conditioning (which is an option). Jeep brand director Jim Morrison acknowledged it was a number they hoped would help bring younger prospects into the showroom.
Next up is North, which the Americans are calling Latitude (well, ‘north’ is a ‘latitude’) at $25,995, which is expected to be the biggest seller, followed by the all-singing all-dancing Limited at $31,995.
The fourth is Trailhawk at $30,995, especially designed for off-roading.
When Jeep decided that small SUVs was where they wanted to be, they scouted the Fiat-Chrysler-Jeep parts bin, but couldn’t find what they wanted. So an all-new platform was developed, which will also underpin the Fiat 500X, arriving later this year.
While designed and engineered in the U.S., Renegade will be built in a Fiat factory in Italy.
Head of Jeep design Mark Allen noted that Renegade had to look the part. The seven vertical slot grille is a given, as are big round headlamps, trapezoidal wheel wells, and almost-vertical windshield.
Jeep’s Morrison added that Renegade had to have off-road capability equivalent to other Jeep products, even if its customers might never use it.
But to succeed in this largely urban market, it also had to provide on-road comfort, easy handling, good fuel consumption and all the amenities these customers expect.
Striking this balance was critical.
Two four-cylinder powertrains are offered, a 1.4 litre turbo producing 170 horsepower with a six-speed manual transmission bolted on, and a 180-horse 2.4 litre non-turbo with a nine-speed automatic.
Front- or four-wheel drive is available with either engine, depending on trim level—Trailhawk and Limited come only with the 2.4 and 4×4.
Trailhawk also gets a revised front end allowing approach to at steeper angles, more ground clearance, skid plates under the car, special tires, and bright red tow hooks (two front, one rear, almost an admission that despite all this, you still might get stuck!)
It’s not some pantywaist click-in-the-rear-wheels-when-you-start-to-skid-in-your-driveway thing either, but a serious system with multiple programs (Auto, Mud, Snow, Sand, plus Rock and Hill Descent Control for Trailhawk) which adjust throttle response, transmission shift schedule and even steering response to help tackle conditions the vast majority of owners would never dare contemplate.
Yes, it will disconnect the rear wheels when extra traction is not called for, in the interest of fuel economy.
The on-road side of the equation is covered with independent strut suspension at both ends, featuring Koni dampers designed to be ‘frequency-sensitive’, with enough travel to soak up the big bumps, and rapid-fire response to handle the niggly bits.
All the modern safety features are on hand, including lane keeping, blind spot warning, etc. Regular readers will know these are mostly pointless, but they’re there if you need/want them.
Seven air bags too, but far more important are reactive front headrests to reduce the incidence of whiplash, the gift that keeps on giving.
The interior was designed under the direction of Klaus Busse who remained in the US when Mercedes sold its stake in Chrysler, and who gives lie to the stereotype of ‘unfunny German’.
He noted that some of the inspirations for the interior were sports you don’t want your children to play, like sand-surfing”.
The guy’s prescient too, because I did just that trying to get some of these pics…
The splotch on the tachometer, officially supposed to represent a ‘mud splatter’, was in fact inspired by a paintball hit Busse took in his goggles when he had his team participate in some of the ‘lifestyle’ activities the marketing people like to think their customers actually do.
Bright colours and intriguing designs do make Renegade’s insides a pleasant place to be. The high roofline leaves lots of space for people and stuff. A big cargo hold has a two-level floor to separate the dirty gear from the, well, less-dirty gear.
I’ve never been a sunroof fan, but Jeep is very proud of the ones available in Renegade. Yes, ‘ones’ plural, front and rear. In lower trim levels both can be removed and stowed in special bags in the cargo area. When power is added to the front one, you can still remove and stash the back one to more fully commune with nature.
Lots of connectivity too, with the available Uconnect media system with seven-inch touch screen, one of the better of such systems (admittedly, a very slow field…).
We had a Sport manual on the couple hundred kilometer run on a combination of freeways and twisty back roads to an off-road park south-east of San Jose, where we spent several hours.
The little engine doesn’t feel the least bit ‘turbo-ish’ — no perceptible lag, just smooth, even torque flow. The six-speed is very slick.
Jeep’s Morrison expects this powertrain to constitute about 15 per cent of Renegade sales, maybe three times the usual stick-shift take rate in this segment. He feels it will appeal to a younger crowd who might prefer a little more involvement with their vehicle.
Despite the trick Koni dampers, the ride felt a bit fidgetty on rough pavement. And I guess you can’t expect sports-car-sharp steering on a tall crossover, but it’s fine for what it is. Effort level is commendably light.
A former PR guy for Land Rover used to say you can’t win when setting up an off-road course. If the vehicle can’t do it, the vehicle is no good; if it can, the course wasn’t tough enough.
The key is to set something up that you wouldn’t think a Sherman tank could handle; if your vehicle survives, you win.
It’s always hard to see from mere pictures how steep these trails we drove on were—I sure found out when I got out to take the pics and started sand-surfing—or how big those rocks were. But the stiff body, supple suspension, and off-roading technology on the Trailhawk models we tested here handled it all with aplomb. You won’t be taking your Buick Encore down these trails.
Our drive home was in a ‘Latitude’ (‘North’ to us) with the 2.4 litre engine and nine-speed autobox. This transmission has felt a bit over-busy in other Chrysler products I’ve tested it in, sometimes not seeming to know which of the ratios is right for the moment. It felt more composed in this application, although our drive was mostly straight freeway driving, so not very demanding.
The larger engine actually has less peak torque than the 1.4 turbo, but it moves the vehicle along in a most appropriate manner.
In its segment, Renegade doesn’t really have a direct competitor.
Similar-sized, -priced and -specced vehicles like Buick Encore, Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Juke and Mini Countryman just don’t have the off-road cred, not that they necessarily want it.
What all of those would kill to have is the crystal-clear brand image that Renegade gains from its Jeep heritage. If that is also what you want at this price point, Renegade is your truck.
When Jeep’s current product roll-out is completed, Renegade will be the entry-level vehicle. The current Compass and Patriot will be replaced next year by a single model which will bracket Renegade price-wise, but will be slightly less off-road-biased. Cherokee and Grand Cherokee are both quite new, and an even bigger luxury SUV has been rumoured for a couple years down the road.
Wrangler—well, it will always be the Wrangler.
It all seems to be working. As recently as five years ago, Jeep sold about 300,000 vehicles world-wide. In 2014, they shoved over one million out the doors.
By anyone’s measure, that is success.
2015 JEEP RENEGADE
Jeep Renegade: Four-door five-passenger small SUV. Front-wheel / four-wheel drive.
PRICE: Sport 4×2—$19,995; Sport 4×4—$25,995; North 4×2—$25,995; North 4×4—$27,495; Trailhawk 4×4—$30,995; Limited 4×4—$31,995.
ENGINE: standard Sport/North—1.4 litre inline four, single overhead camshaft, four valves per cylinder, turbocharged; standard Trailhawk/Limited, optional Sport/North—2.4 litre inline four, single overhead camshaft, four valves per cylinder.
POWER/TORQUE, horsepower / lb.-ft: 1.4 litre Turbo four—160 @ 6,500 r.p.m. / 184 @ 2,500—4,000 r.p.m.; 2.4 litre four—180 @ 6,400 r.p.m. / 175 @ 4,400 r.p.m.
FUEL CONSUMPTION, Transport Canada City/Highway, l/100 km: Data not yet available. 1.4 litre Turbo—regular unleaded fuel acceptable, premium recommended; 2.4 litre—regular unleaded fuel.
COMPETITION: Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Mini Countryman, Nissan Juke.
WHAT’S BEST: Unbeatable off-road credentials, previously unavailable in the price segment; not to mention unbeatable off-road capability; handsome styling, inside and out; useful storage capacity; advanced technology.
WHAT’S WORST: Ride a bit gnarly on rough patchy pavement; sun visors a bit too small—OK, so I am being picky, but when driving west into a sunset…
WHAT’S INTERESTING: Might this be the vehicle that gets young people interested in cars again?