2015 Jeep Renegade First Drive Review

29 Sep 2015 Car Reviews

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2015 Jeep Renegade First Drive Review

Jeep's compact SUV has a distinctive design, excellent dynamics and fair-dinkum off-road ability. Needs more grunt though; especially the base 1.6.

So, what is it?

Australia’s already crowded compact SUV segment is like an Alabama pie eating contest in full swing. Just when you think the final round table’s groaning towards its weight limit, another 12XL contender steps up to the plate, licking his lips, ready to dig in.

More than a dozen brands shove over 20 models into the small SUV market here, in an attempt to satisfy our voracious appetite for these tasty little soft-roaders.

Hyundai dominates, with the likes of the Mitsubishi ASX, Nissan Qashqai, and Subaru XV, not to mention Mazda’s CX-3, looking for a bigger slice of the action.

And this is Jeep’s Renegade. Set for sale in more than 100 countries, and due here in the second half of the year, it measures 4.2m long, 1.9m wide and 1.7m high, to sit under its Compass and Patriot siblings in size and (likely) price.

Final spec and pricing are yet to be confirmed, but there will be four model grades: Sport, Longitude, Limited and Trailhawk, with a choice of three four cylinder petrol engines (diesels are available in other markets, but unlikely for Oz initially), four transmissions and the option of front or four-wheel drive on all but the top-spec (4WD-only) Trailhawk.

Why should I care?

The small SUV segment is one of the world’s fastest growing. Last year global sales across all competitors reached one million, and Jeep’s predicting that number will triple by 2020.

Jeep claims the Renegade is the only “true” 4WD in the category, with the number one priority in its engineering development being superior off-highway capability.

Designed in America and built in Italy, it offers a fresh and unashamedly youthful personality that we think is super-cool but pleasantly unpretentious.

To absorb the Renegade’s core values (freedom, authenticity, adventure and passion), the design team got into a lot of outdoors lifestyle stuff, like snowboarding, mountain biking, paintball warfare and yep, four wheel-driving. That’s rubbed off in a distinctive, rugged look inside and out, combined with a bold colour palette.

There are lots of fun styling touches, too. Like a paintball splash to define the rev-counter’s end zone, a map of the 4WD trails the team drive outside Maob, Utah etched into the bottom of the front console bins, as well as a range of shapes and finishes reminiscent of rock-climbing equipment, crash helmets and ski goggles.

The cross element used in the rear lights, roof and other points around the car is a jerry can-inspired tip of the hat to Jeep’s WWII origins, as are the large headlights hooded ever-so-slightly by the bonnet’s leading edge, hinting at a metal helmet shielding a soldier’s eyes.

Models are defined by subtly different cosmetic treatments. For example, a front lip spoiler and bright grille surround on the Limited, or pronounced orange tow hooks and an all-black grille on the Trailhawk. The Sport and Longitude ride on 16 inch alloy rims, the Limited on 18s and the Trailhawk on unique 17s.

What's new about it?

Engine offerings kick off with the 82kW/152Nm 1.6-litre ‘E.TORQ’ four used in numerous Fiat models, including the Punto, matched with either a six-speed manual or nine-speed auto. That’s followed by the 119kW/250Nm 1.4-litre ‘MultiAir’ turbo, with a choice of six speed manual or six-speed dual clutch, with the 134kW/237Nm 2.4-litre ‘MultiAir2 Tigershark’, available with auto only.

The all-new platform underpinning the Renegade uses 70 per cent high-strength steel for light weight and maximum stiffness. Suspension is by struts all ‘round, and the shock absorbers are equipped with Frequency Selective Damping (FSD) to negate the post-bump bounciness often afflicting high-riding short-wheelbase cars.

That's all fine. What's it like to drive fast?

At the Renegade’s global launch, we had the opportunity to steer the Sport 1.6 in 2WD manual trim, as well as a Limited 1.4 Turbo 4WD auto on twisting Canyon roads, between San Jose and Santa Cruz near the California coast. We also scored some seat time in the 2.4-litre auto Trailhawk over the sweet rocky roads of the Hollister Hills ‘State Vehicular Recreation Area’; an approximately six hectare off-road fun park for grown-ups.

A kerb weight around 1.4 tonnes and 82kW is never going to add up to powerhouse performance for the Sport 4x2, but if it’s any consolation, none of the Renegade’s competitors are anything to write home about when it comes to acceleration.

Even gentle uphill grades demand regular cog-swapping, mainly because the relatively modest torque peak doesn’t come online until 4,500rpm. But the upside is the manual shift is smooth, the engine’s refined and the suspension is well above average for the class in terms of ride comfort and overall balance; helped in no small part by the FSD set-up. The steering’s light, but road feel is good.

With an extra 37kW/98Nm available it’s no surprise the 1.4-litre turbo Limited proved to be more urgent and responsive on the open road. Its nine-speed auto is able to change shift-mapping on the fly by constantly monitoring parameters such as engine-torque, number of kick-downs, longitudinal and lateral loads, as well as grade changes.

It also has a low first gear to help lift step-off acceleration, and the top four ratios are overdriven to optimise fuel economy. It greases through each shift with barely perceptible effort, but it’s worth noting even at 120km/h on the freeway, we struggled to engage the massively high (0.48:1) top gear.

Despite compact exterior dimensions, there’s plenty of room for five inside and generous load space. A choice of 60/40 or 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat is available.

And driving off the highway?

Trailhawk is Jeep code for goes alright off-road, and we can confirm the toughest Renegade does exactly that. And as its name implies Hollister Hills threw up some steep climbs and downhill crawls with water, mud, rocks and sand thrown in just to mix things up.

The nine-speed’s 20:1 crawl ratio comes into its own, as does the ‘Selec-Terrain’ system, driver-selectable through five modes (Auto, Snow, Sand, Mud, and Rock), as well as speed and hill-descent control.

The Trailhawk picked its way up and down boulder-infused tracks that looked like non-snowy mogul runs with ease. The low range setting, hill-descent, and 4WD lock-up are available at the touch of a button, plus hugely accommodating approach, breakover and departure angles put the Renegade in the 4WD big leagues.

Is there anything bad about it?

More grunt on all models please. And the rear seat cushion is flat as a pancake; probably to facilitate a flat cargo floor.

How much would I have to pay for one? And is it worth the coin?

We’re guesstimating a starting point of $24k for the Sport 4x2 manual, and a top of the pyramid sticker of around $35k for the Trailhawk. Without confirmation of exact spec by model it’s hard to make a call on value, but there’s no doubt the Renegade offers a genuine point of difference in a crowded segment.

The Jeep’s strong personality and dynamic competence capture our vote.

Click here to find out more about the Jeep Renegade.