The Renegade makes perfect sense for Jeep at this juncture. Not only are compact SUVs and crossovers the current hot market, but the Wrangler has gotten huge in its iconic old age, and a large percentage of the Jeep true believers don’t take the compact Compass and Patriot seriously. With a powerful need to reinforce the Jeep badge, the company needs a vehicle that embodies its strengths.
In that mission, the Renegade is not subtle. In addition to resurrecting a nameplate from a 2008 concept truck and the Jeep CJ-7 before that, the smallest Jeep is a cheeky, boxy little thing that’s practically overflowing with classic Jeep styling hallmarks and designer Easter eggs. Though it’s a humble unibodied crossover, the Renegade sports off-road friendly dimensions and a Trailhawk model that, like its Cherokee Trailhawk counterpart, is capable of following its big brothers on the toughest Jeep Jamboree courses. The Renegade arrives with a healthy dose of attitude and real capability that set it apart from the rest of the rapidly growing compact-crossover herd.
n spite of its square-rigged styling, the Renegade is one of the best-looking Jeep products to date. The tiny box has been trimmed and smoothed at the corners, and the round headlights and seven-slot grille seem to emerge naturally from the shape. The hood is contoured to resemble the classic tapered Jeep hood, and the large, square taillights are patterned like the fuel-toting jerry cans that were strapped to the back of many a military Jeep back in the day.
In spite of its square-rigged styling, the Renegade is one of the best-looking Jeep products to date.
A range of bright colors (including Omaha Orange and Solar Yellow) announces the Renegade’s presence cheerfully—but on the Trailhawk, shallower front and rear fascias, unique 17-inch wheels and bright red tow hooks are reminders that there’s some seriousness beneath the happy-commuter sheet metal. The wheels can be had in bright chrome or imposing black to further personalize the Renegade. Removable “MySky” roof panels are available to open up the Renegade to the sky.
Jeep Renegade Review
The Renegade’s interior quickly inspires games of Spot the Jeep Face: it’s embossed on the seats, displayed on the door speakers and rear-view mirror surround, and even inside the tailgate. Just in case you hadn’t forgotten, “SINCE 1941” is emblazoned on top of the center stack. The materials and design take inspiration from the Wrangler, with sports-equipment style fittings. Jeep calls the look “Tek-tonic,” and it adds to the rugged atmosphere that the tiniest Jeep exudes.
Style and attitude aside, the Renegade’s cozy interior is very comfortable, with seats just the right height and plenty of headroom. The thick A-pillars may take some getting used to, but don’t block as much visibility as they seem to at first. The controls are easy to use and feel pickup truck-durable. As nice as the Renegade is, it resolutely feels like the sort of vehicle one wouldn’t be too upset about getting dirty, which is of course the point. A choice of five or six and a half-inch touchscreens provides information in the center stack as well as video from the reverse-assist camera. Options include heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. For 2016, Jeep has added rain-sensing wipers and the Beats Audio system upgrade to the options list. The nine-speaker Beats sound system adds a subwoofer and a 506-watt amp to the compact vehicle.
Two engine and drivetrain choices are offered. The 1.4 liter MultiAir turbocharged four-cylinder is standard, and produces 160 horsepower. Higher-spec Renegades get the 2.4 liter “Tiger Tiger shark” 16-valve four-cylinder with variable valve lift timing. The bigger engine bumps horsepower to 180 and adds a standard nine-speed automatic transmission. A six-speed manual is available with the smaller MultiAir engine, and can’t be had with the towing package.
The Renegade Trailhawk upgrades the powertrain with added suspension articulation and Jeep’s Active Drive Low four-wheel drive system
The nine-speed gearbox comes off as a gimmick at first, but the wide selection of gear ratios does good things for fuel economy, and both Renegade powertrains can get over 30mpg. This requires a careful foot on the throttle: over the course of my week with the Renegade, my fuel economy rarely went much over 22mpg. The complicated transmission is not the greatest for performance; when pressed for quick downshifts, it responds with the rubbery feeling more reminiscent of a CVT. For steady-state freeway travel and most driving situations, the Renegade is delightfully civilized and it seems to combine many of the classic Wrangler’s abilities with day-to-day livability. It’ll even tow up to 2000 pounds, which is enough for a small utility or camping trailer.
Frequency-damping Koni struts are used front and rear and result in surprising road holding. The Renegade has none of the tippy feeling that many small crossovers exhibit during cornering.
The Renegade Trailhawk upgrades the powertrain with added suspension articulation and Jeep’s Active Drive Low four-wheel drive system, which offers the Jeep Selec-Terrain system that adapts the four-wheel drive to multiple surfaces, including sand, snow, rocks and mud. The Renegade’s four-wheel drive system is adapted from the Cherokee. It’s able to put nearly all of the engine’s power through one wheel, if needed to crawl out of a tight situation. To improve fuel economy, the rear axle can disengage completely when it’s not needed.
Jeep Renegade Review
The Renegade lives up to Jeep’s reputation for toughness, and the tiny sport-ute was awarded a four-star overall rating by NHTSA, with only a three-star rating in rollover crashes bringing the average down. The IIHS rates it “Average” to “Good” in all categories. Available safety equipment includes a rear park assist, a backup camera and the UConnect 9-1-1 Call assistance button. A lane departure warning system, forward collision warning and blind spot monitor are available. Jeep Jeep ’s also got the UConnect Access infotainment system, which offers emergency services at the touch of a button.
The Renegade lineup starts with the Sport, moves up through Latitude and Limited models, and tops out with the Trailhawk. The Renegade Sport starts at $17,995 for two-wheel drive and $19,995 for four-wheel drive and includes the 1.4 liter engine. The $21,395 Latitude adds 4wd for $23,395. The Limited and Trailhawk are equipped with the 2.4 liter engine and nine-speed automatic. Pricing for the Limited is $25,120 for 2wd and $26,745 for 4wd, and the 4×4-only Trailhawk starts at $27,120.
Effectively a Chevy Sonic on stilts, the Trax is a suburban-bred, pavement-friendly compact do-all. A multi-configurable interior’s combined with available all-wheel drive and a frugal 1.4 liter turbocharged engine to create an affordable jack-of-all-trades.
MINI Countryman: The stylish Countryman looks like another of MINI’s fashion-first products, but if the brand’s recent desert rallying adventures are any indicator, there’s some real ability hiding beneath the skin. Though it’s a bit expensive, the Countryman features MINI’s signature styling, high safety ratings and even the nimble handling that the brand is known for.
The HR-V will never be able to follow the Jeep Renegade off-road, but acquits itself on pavement quite well, thanks to extremely attractive pricing and a chassis shared with the Honda Honda Fit. All-wheel drive, a five-star crash rating and up to 35mpg on the freeway are pretty attractive qualities as well.
Jeep Renegade Review
The Renegade fulfils the promises made by the disappointing Compass and Patriot. This diminutive off-roader is a true Jeep in spite of its shared platform, showing off considerably more off-road ability than any of the compact SUVs it competes with while exuding giggle-inducing levels of Jeep attitude. Attractive pricing and pleasing road manners don’t hurt, either. Call this one a win.