THREE years ago I packed up my life in Adelaide for an opportunity to take on the big smoke in Melbourne as a journalist at 4X4 Australia.
There was so much to love about that job: like Captain Jack Sparrow on the hunt for Davy Jones’ Locker, it brought the opportunity to breathe in the fresher air of Australia’s most far-flung locations and hunt for the ultimate hidden treasure of solitude.
There was one thing I just couldn’t get used to, though. Coming from wide-laned, traffic-rare Adelaide to congested, poorly urban-planned Melbourne was a daunting experience. Throw in oversized 4x4 press cars and endless bottleneck traffic and I felt like a rat in a sewer pipe.
You can therefore imagine my excitement when Fiat Chrysler Australia announced they’d be bringing a baby Jeep to Australia.
So when 4X4 Australia editor Matt Raudonikis showed me photos of the new pint-sized Renegade, I begged for a long-termer. Trailhawk model only, of course – a Jeep that can’t go off-road is no Jeep at all.
Fast-forward three years and I’m now the proud holder of the keys to a bright orange Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, which thanks to new Wheels staffer Cameron has already been dubbed Donald because it’s orange, obnoxious and American.
On first impressions, there’s a lot to like about the Renegade. I like its boxy design and rainbow colour palette, off-road ability in a segment that otherwise sticks to bitumen, and its stature – it’s compact enough for city streets, but tall enough to still feel like you’re sitting above other cars.
It’s as if Jeep designers took the Patriot, procreated it with a Cherokee and threw in a bit of Wrangler DNA for fun.
But it’s the design story of the Jeep Renegade that really caught my attention.
Styled in America and built in Italy, the Renegade is based on a similar body to the Fiat 500X, only cooler and less conceited. The designers at Jeep HQ in the US took the Renegade’s core values of freedom, authenticity, adventure and passion, instilled them in their day-to-day life through snowboarding, paintballing and, of course, off-roading, then used that adrenaline-fuelled lifestyle to shape the Jeep. And it has certainly rubbed off.
On the local launch of the new car, Jeep designer Vince Galante told us that the team had hidden a bunch of ‘Easter eggs’ in the Renegade’s design. There are said to be multiple hidden design cues drawn from the adventurous lifestyle of the designers, and more that hark back to Jeep’s heritage.
No one has yet put an exact number on how many of these hidden motifs are to be found, but I love as Easter egg hunt so I’ve made it my mission to find them.
I’ve only found 11 so far, but given that I’ve only had the keys to The Donald for a week, I don’t yet consider this a defeat.
Here’s what I’ve found so far:
- The Jeep brand’s iconic seven-slat grille is featured throughout the Renegade. First up, on the headlights and tail-lights.
- The oversize rear-view mirror has a grille motif on either side.
- Then there’s the grille on the speakers.
- And under the tailgate.
- The unusual X-shape on the tail-lights is a throwback to the X formed on US Army fuel cans during World War II.
- The X also features inside the cupholders.
- A silhouette of an old Willys Jeep on the lower edge of the windscreen, homage to the original Jeep used during the war.
- Don’t jump when you go to refuel… that’s not a real spider behind the fuel cap.
- There’s a map of Moab, Utah in the storage compartment below the 4WD system controls; this is homage to the spot where Jeep holds its annual Easter Jeep Safari.
- The redline area of the tacho is a splash-of-paint-like graphic. Apparently this pays homage to the design team’s favourite team-bonding exercise, paintballing.
- Above the infotainment screen is etched ‘Since 1941’, which is Jeep’s way of reminding you how long it has been around.
The mission continues…
By Anna Kantilaftas
CHAMELEONS can change to almost any colour in as little as 20 seconds. That’s not the case with our Jeep, which took three months. But this had less to do with skin pigmentation and everything to do with user error. For the record, I wasn’t to blame.
Donald, our flashy orange Jeep, was damaged while not in our care, so we welcome a replacement Renegade. This one wears a beige power suit (Mojave Sands), a slight rattle in her chest, and a few technological glitches. So of course we’ve called her Hillary.
We’ve spent the month bonding, as she arrived just in time for a country run. We’re pleased to report it’s been mostly positive.
The Renegade drives better than you’d expect. Where most Jeeps take to corners like cats to water, Hillary is more than willing to lock on to an apex and have a crack without scraping its side mirrors on the bitumen. Its Italian underpinnings – it’s a mechanical twin to the Fiat 500X – may have something to do with that.
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It seems Jeep’s stylists have taken a course in optical illusions because the Renegade looks like it’s taken a spin through a dryer, but once you get inside, it’s more plentiful than a magical dinner in the Great Hall (one for all you Harry Potter fans).
I’ve also been appreciative of the heated seats and steering wheel through a chilly Melbourne spring. The fact this got more of a workout than the optional sunroof doesn’t sit well with me.
Technology doesn’t seem to be Hillary’s strongest campaign weapon. The infotainment system suffers from irregular blackouts; it’s only for a moment, and very occasionally, but enough to put you off-balance mid-staccato. And the parking sensors are a worry, the merest provocation making them beep like Geiger counters in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
But the thing that has me baffled most is that, although it’s pint-sized, the Renegade loves a drink. Jeep claims 7.5L/100km combined, but we’ve racked up 12.8. Gulp. Granted, aside from a trip to spa country and a few stints on gravel roads in the Dandenongs, it has spent most of its time driving around South Yarra. And that’s enough to drive anyone to drink.
This Renegade is the top-of-the-line Trailhawk edition and we’re champing at the bit to hit some fire trails. After all, it has a world-class all-wheel-drive system and something tells us the little Jeep is hungry for mud. It might be twinned with a Fiat, but it has a Jeep badge – it might be able to change its colour, but not its stripes.
By Anna Kantilaftas
THERE are a few things that make my life whole. One of them is yoga; another is a sense of adventure. So with the Jeep Renegade’s return date looming and the key firmly grasped in my hand, it was time to test the Trailhawk-branded Jeep on rougher roads.
But not without a quick visit back to its maker. From the moment I collected ‘Hillary’, I noticed an occasional out-of-sorts noise from the engine bay. For a while, I hoped it would disappear, but when it became more prominent after a drive to Daylesford, I thought I should get it checked.
According to Fiat-Chrysler Australia, the noise was “an airflow resonance from the induction system”, mainly noticeable under part-throttle. Any unsavoury noises in a car are cause for alarm, but this was an NVH issue more than anything. Something for Jeep to look into at update time perhaps.
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Post-analysis, I went in search of some tracks not too far from Melbourne. I couldn’t farewell the Renegade without giving it a chance to kick up some dirt, so it was off to the Dandenong Ranges to test out the Trailhawk’s 4x4 Active Drive Low system.
Once you work out how the system works, it rewards with decent off-road ability, which you don’t get from any of the Renegade’s rivals. It features various terrain programs (Auto, Sport, Snow, Sand, Mud and Rock) and, while it doesn’t have low-range, there is a ‘4WD Low’ switch that turns off the ESC. And the nine-speed auto has a super-low first.
The Renegade soaked up the uneven, rocky terrain of the Dandenongs with an ease I didn’t expect. We didn’t push too far into the tree-lined greenery of the mountains, so we were playing a beginner’s game. But had we tackled the steep (dry) slopes of the Victorian High Country or the soft, marshmallow sands of Fraser Island, the Trailhawk would’ve been equally at home.
The baby Jeep offers something none of its competitors do – a capable off-road system – so I’d be up for the challenge. It not only looks tough, but it walks the walk with appropriate tyres, decent underbody protection and workable ground clearance.
Around the city, its boxy design and chunky 1555kg kerb weight mean it doesn’t feel quite as nippy as its best rivals. The enthusiastic ‘Tigershark’ 2.4-litre engine is hardly quiet, and in traffic it drinks like an Aussie at the races. But for the most part, the Renegade has been an enjoyable, reliable, stylish urban SUV, with more space than I knew what to do with, and it gave me no reason to question its competence ... except for that occasional induction resonance.
It’s a fun, effective medium-duty 4x4, and if FCA can improve the build quality and throw in a mightier, less-thirsty engine, then this Hillary may stand a chance.
Where to next?
There’s so much potential in the likeable Renegade, but not all of it has been realised. Recalibrated steering is definitely in order, seeing the Jeep’s electric assistance often feels sticky, and a more supple ride would be welcome. The nine-speed transmission isn’t faultless, either – it suffers the odd jolt, thump or pause as it juggles ratios – and why have a ninth gear that will only automatically select beyond 120km/h?