A tough marque’s contender in a tough segment.
Back in 1941, the Willys Jeep revolutionised the way people travelled across tough terrain. High off the ground, with no overhangs and a truly commanding driving position, the Jeep very quickly drove its way into the heart of the American military, as well as into the imaginations of off-road enthusiasts the world over. Fast forward several decades and you’ll find that alongside the Wrangler (the Willys’ spiritual successor), there was also a Compass, Cherokee, and Grand Cherokee to appease market demands. Jeep always has been, and always will be, an SUV marque. So you can imagine our surprise earlier in the decade that the company didn’t jump on the compact SUV boom as readily as everyone else did.
But in 2015, they fixed that. The Jeep Renegade, sits in a truly competitive and massively populated segment, and is positioned against cars like the Nissan Juke, Citroen C4 Cactus, and Honda HR-V. What differentiates it from the competition though is its genuine off-road ability, as expected from anything bearing the trademark 7-slat grille up front, right? But crucially, the question was raised, if it would actually be a competent compact SUV.
It would have to be able to be competent in town, on the open road, and in the mud. It would have to offer greater practicality than your average hatchback, and it would have to return similar fuel economy. Oh, and because buyers in this segment can sometimes be a bit shallow, it would also have to be rather stylish.
On the surface, the Renegade appears to tick all those boxes, but is it hiding anything? We take the Renegade out for a spin to find out.
“The styling is a high-point. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but we admire something so proud of not blending in.” — TopGear
When Jeep debuted the Renegade, it promised that it would be a distinctly different kind of Jeep, and that’s pretty much true. Where the larger models have been able to use the extra acreage to express themselves better, the Renegade’s position meant that there was rather limited bodywork to exude its funkiness.
That said, the designers at Jeep have really outdone themselves. In a segment where contenders tend to be rather generic, the Renegade stands out like a bright pink afro at an embassy cocktail party. The squared-off design, pronounced wheel arches and prominent body cladding speak volumes about how Jeep sees its smallest model: a part of the family.
The seven-slat grille up front is flanked by perfectly circular headlights, making for an immediately-recognisable fascia. The wheel arches are squared-off too, with the sides of the Renegade looking squat and almost immovable. The rear is dominated by square taillights designed to look like jerry cans, while a neatly-integrated roof spoiler essentially frames the rear window, making it look rather noticeably inset.
Trailhawk models gain larger alloy wheels and chunkier tyres (as befitting something bearing a ‘Trail Rated’ badge), as well as unique front and rear bumpers that reduce the overhang on either end, improving approach and departure angles.
Engine & Drivetrain
“The 1.4-litre turbo with the dual-clutch automatic is the pick for those looking for economy…” — Drive
All in all, the Jeep Renegade is offered with three engines and three gearboxes, all of them petrol. The range starts with a 1.6-litre atmo petrol motor, which can be had with either a five-speed manual or six-speed dual clutch automatic, with power going exclusively to the front wheels. This engine and drivetrain setup is only available on the most affordable Sport trim of the Renegade lineup, and is also the only variant to be offered with the manual.
Step up to the Longitude (or further up to a Limited) and you get a punchier and more economical 1.4-litre turbo-petrol mill, mated to a six-speed double clutch gearbox. Now before your mind starts wandering and imagining the sort of back-road hijinks you could get up to in a similarly-powered Volkswagen Golf, the Renegade’s dynamic ability will dampen that daydream (which we’ll talk about below). With power going to the front wheels, this is still to the Renegade to go for if you’re considering going off road, but it is the best urban pairing. And it’s also the most economical, with a claimed fuel consumption of just 5.9L/100km.
Reserved for real off-roaders, the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk is the only model in the range to offer proper all-wheel drive, as well as a bunch of addenda both mechanical and aesthetic to further enhance that ability. As such, the Trailhawk is available with a 129kW/230Nm 2.4-litre atmospheric petrol engine, mated to a variant-unique 9-speed automatic transmission. Fuel consumption is marginally higher than that in the lower models, but it does provide a more linear power delivery (over the turbo) which makes it easier to modulate when going off road.
“It’s not all bad news…” — WhatCar?
As the Renegade is on the smaller end of the lineup, Jeep saw it fit to festoon the cabin with as many “Easter Eggs” as possible. As such, there’s a mark on the infotainment screen bezel that reads ‘Since 1941,’ as well as little Jeep fascia marks on the speaker grilles. Attempts-at-being-cool aside, the Renegade’s cabin is a little lacklustre at first sight. The plastics are hard and unforgiving, and the ergonomics aren’t great, and the infotainment screen can be rather small depending on the variant. The steering wheel feels to meaty in the hand and the buttons must’ve been made for an ageing grandma in Florida to read, because with 20/20 vision, you can see them from Mars.
Thankfully, the central info display for the driver, nestled between the dials, is bright and legible and it’s pretty easy to scroll through the various screens and get the info you need. The central infotainment display is also on the nice side, though it doesn’t get Jeep’s UConnect system, instead going for an interface out of the FCA parts bin, so it loses out on some of the more direct functionality you’d get from a plusher model.
You sit up high in the Renegade, and you get a commanding view out from all angles… except towards the rear. The rear windscreen is rather small and the D-pillars are enormous, meaning it’s a bit challenging when you’re reversing out of a space.
Behind The Wheel
“The Renegade is excellent off-road, but not very entertaining on it…” — AutoExpress
Crossovers are perhaps the most difficult kind of vehicle to get right when it comes to the driving experience, because of the myriad of expectations it has to meet. On one hand, it should be good off road, but also excellent on road. It should be as easy to drive as a hatchback, but have the proportions of an SUV. And oh, it should also be as fun to drive spiritedly as a warm hatch, but also have enough space to bring a dog.
There are some (but not many) cars in this category that can do everything that’s asked of it, and the Renegade’s inability to meet all expectations isn’t really a demerit, in all fairness. It’s easy to drive, with light controls, and it feels plenty planted on the motorway (especially in the turbo-petrol). In town, visibility is great all round, and it’s easy to judge gaps from the high perch the Renegade affords. But it’s far from being fun and fizzy, instead opting to just be a trusty companion willing (and able) to do precisely what it should, and not much more.
But the Renegade’s ace up its sleeve is its off-road prowess, limited to the Trailhawk model (due to the all-terrain system). The Renegade Trailhawk is properly commendable off-road, with an uncanny ability to get itself in-to and out-of some pretty hairy situations that would leave lesser vehicles stumped. The 2.4-litre engine, while not really that gutsy nor economical, is a perfect companion on the rough stuff, able to deliver power in a linear and predictable fashion with plenty of throttle travel to allow you to get exactly as much power as you need, and never more, in a particular situation.
Safety & Technology
“The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) gas rated the Renegade at 5-stars for safety, its maximum, applied to front-drive models.” — WhichCar
As a family runabout, the Renegade actually has pretty decent safety kit aboard as standard. All cars get seven airbags, including drivers’ knee airbags and curtain airbags. A reversing camera and vehicle stability management are also standard, while going for anything but a base model will also net automatic headlights.
Autonomous emergency braking, a feature you’ll find standard across the board for a lot of cars in a segment below, is not standard here. You can add it at extra cost, but only on the Renegade Limited. Lane departure warning is also an option, available on Limited and Trailhawk models, along with rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring.
Tech-wise, all Renegades get a multifunction steering wheel, a touchscreen infotainment control, voice control, bluetooth connectivity, and a USB input, with media played through at least six speakers.
The Jeep Renegade isn’t the best in the class, but it’s certainly far from the worst. In a segment that is dominated by cars that offer greater style than practicality, the Renegade perhaps bucks the trend by offering both in a shape that marries contemporary demands with a strong dose of yesterday. Get a Limited or a Longitude with the punchy turbo engine and you’ll find yourself surging past traffic rather happily on both the motorway and in town, and you’ll be able to pack quite a bit of stuff in the back. And all the while you’ll be turning heads, with people wondering who shrunk a Wrangler.
Of course, the Renegade is far from fault. As is common with the marque, interior quality is far from premium (like, really far), and reliability will always be a bit of a questionmark. Further, it’s a bit embarrassing when you tell your friends that your Jeep can’t actually go off-road (unless you bought a Trailhawk), or that it doesn’t have AEB. And those Jeep Easter eggs get old faster than you think.
Still though, if you’re sold on the upright, boxy look of the Renegade, nothing we say can sway you. Be realistic with your expectations and avoid the Trailhawk unless you’re really very serious about off-roading, and the Renegade will be the head-turning, stylish companion that you’ve always dreamed of having.
WhichCar — 4.0/5.0 — “An energetic yet frugal turbocharged engine, a tall and space-efficient cabin and a long list of luxury and convenience features are highlights of the Jeep Renegade small SUV. The four-wheel drive Renegade Trailhawk brings genuine off-road capability and protection.”
TopGear UK — 6.0/10 — “There are better all-rounders, but idiosyncrasy and charm mark it out.”
WhatCar? — 3.0/5.0 — “The Jeep Renegade offers distinctive styling and decent practicality, but most rivals make it feel agricultural.”
Autocar — 4.5/5.0 — “Charmingly authentic, but also price, and rather rough & ready.”
AutoExpress — 3.0/5.0 — “Unique looks, genuine off-road ability, and decently practical. But rivals better on road, and less expensive.”
4x4 Australia — 4.0/5.0 — “It’s a shame it doesn’t come with a diesel, but the Renegade is fun and reasonably effective as a light-duty 4x4.”