As such, their primary concerns aren’t fording streams, crawling over rocks, or climbing and descending steep, rugged hills. It is not the stuff they brag about. Their usual automotive boast, when it occurs at all, is about fuel economy.
At 29 miles per gallon on the highway, using regular-grade gasoline at a cost still below $2.50 a gallon in many U.S. communities, the stylish 2015 Jeep Renegade 4×4 Limited will provide much fodder for conversation.
Renegade buyers aren’t Jeep Heavy people. The Jeep Heavy crowd — devotees of models such as the Wrangler and the Rubicon — probably would not even consider a Renegade for their personal use. They know what Jeep’s U.S. and European marketers know — the Renegade is a code-named rebel against Jeep’s rugged, but fuel-consumptive, body-on-frame build tradition.
The Renegade is one of the latest children of a corporate marriage of convenience — between a bankrupt Chrysler Corp. and Italy’s seemingly always-struggling-to-expand Fiat. The merged company now operates under the name Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The Renegade — largely based on the Fiat 500X reviewed in this column last week and 62-percent sourced from Melfi, Italy — is far more Fiat than Jeep.
That is likely to be offensive to Jeep chauvinists, whose spiritual home for all things “real Jeep” — their term, not mine — remains in the bowels of the Toledo South Assembly Plant, the Ohio factory that built the original Jeep CJ, the workhorse that helped drive America to glory in World War II.
What happened to Jeep and Fiat in the interim is the stuff of novels. I will shorten the story here. Let us start with Emperor Lee A. Iacocca. Well, he wasn’t an emperor — just the chairman of Chrysler, which he used to buy American Motors in hot pursuit of the Jeep brand. I always regarded Iacocca as an imperious, bona fide marketing genius. The man knew how to build a brand. Much of what anyone associated with the car business learned about marketing, they learned from him.
But emperors don’t last long in the automotive industry or anywhere else. There is always someone scheming to topple them. Iacocca, largely with Jeep profits, built Chrysler into a salable cash cow. His underlings knew this, pushed him out in the late 1990s and sold the cow — to Germany’s Mercedes-Benz, of all companies.
The Germans wanted Jeep but not Chrysler, which it regarded as inferior to all things in German automotive engineering. That Mercedes-Benz/Chrysler marriage, horribly abusive based on the telling of several Chrysler employees, ended in an ugly divorce barely nine years after it was consummated — although there is a lingering rumor it never was actually consummated.
At any rate, Chrysler was sent out on its own into a cruel financial world corrupted by derivatives, phony real estate loans and other scams. World markets collapsed and automotive sales crumbled along with them. Chrysler went bankrupt. The U.S. government was only too happy to help Sergio Marchionne, Fiat liege and now chief executive officer of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, pick up the pieces at a bargain price.
Marchionne, one of the savviest people in the global automobile business, wanted Jeep . . . and Dodge Trucks, which now runs under the name Ram. He got what he wanted, along with a U.S. outlet for things Fiat, such as the 500X and the Jeep Renegade that is based on it.
From this viewpoint, it is a pretty good deal for everybody. Many U.S. Jeep employees got to keep their jobs. Lighter, more fuel-efficient Jeeps are an environmental and economic necessity. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles knows how to make them.
Bottom line: The Jeep Renegade Limited 4X4 has modest off-road capability. The Trailhawk version of this model is better in the rough. But if you are a serious off-roader, you should consider the Wrangler or Rubicon. The Renegade is a rebel only on paved roads.
Ride, acceleration and handling: The Renegade gets decent marks in all three. “Decent” means everyday city-suburban commuters should be happy with this one, especially in inclement weather.
Head-turning quotient: “Pretty” is an adjective usually not applied to things Jeep. It applies here. Be advised.
Body style/layout: The Jeep Renegade is new for 2015. It is based on the Fiat 500X crossover platform. Like the 500X, it is offered with front-wheel or four-wheel-drive. There are four trim levels—Sport, Latitude, Limited and Trailhawk.
Engine/transmission: The Renegade Limited 4X4 comes standard with a 2.4-liter, 16-valve inline four-cylinder gasoline engine with variable valve timing that delivers a maximum 180 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. The engine is linked to a nine-speed automatic transmission.
Capacities: Seating is for five people. Cargo capacity, with rear seats up, is enough for a week’s worth of provisions for a family of four. Put the rear seats down for a modest-haul run to your local big-box home goods store. The Renegade Limited 4X4 with the 2.4-liter engine can run on regular gasoline.
Mileage: I averaged 27 miles per gallon, mostly in uphill highway runs.
Safety: Standard equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front/solid rear); four-wheel antilock brake protection; emergency braking assistance; stability and traction control; dusk-sensing headlamps; tire pressure monitoring; side and head air bags.
Note: This column strongly recommends purchase of the Jeep Renegade’s Advanced Technology Group. It will cost you about $2,000 but could save you far more than that in the daily world in which most of us drive.
Price: The Jeep Renegade is on sale this summer. The Limited 4X4 starts at $26,795. Price as tested is $31,390, including $3,600 in options and a $995 factory-to-dealer shipment charge. Estimated dealer’s price as tested is $29,000.