With the small SUV market booming, Jeep has released its more serious-looking Renegade, and the 4x4 Trailhawk version, which rides higher and looks tougher than most small SUVs might even go up hills, thanks to a 2.4-litre powerplant, Wheels Magazine reports.
Jeep is marketing it as the ‘most capable small SUV ever’, with ‘best-in-class’ 4x4 capability, while the manual-only base model Renagade is powered by a measly 1.6-litre naturally aspirated engine, or a 1.4-litre turbo with a dual-clutch transmission.
The vehicle is a big new player in this hugely popular section of the market, and it will be a potential volume booster for the already hugely successful Jeep brand. It’s already been a hit in Europe and Japan and is rolling out in America, where it will be seen more as a novelty car to buy your teenage daughter, because they don’t drive “trucks” this small.
Mazda’s CX-3 is the class leader in the small SUV market and Honda’s slightly offbeat-looking HR-V are the two benchmarks, but neither of them really compete directly with the Jeep’s styling, or its mysteriously earned brand values. The people who will line up to buy the Jeep Renegade will see it as having no rivals at all (okay, maybe a Mini Countryman, but seriously, no one buys those).
Concerns about build quality, product recalls and the fact that bits of trim and some roof panels were already buzzing and vibrating on the launch drive should be enough to put off buyers, but you can bet they won’t be.
The Renegade looks funky, pseudo-tough and cool, inside and out, comes in bright colours and is, by the brand’s own description, a gateway drug to buying a Wrangler, something a lot of Kardashian fans want to do when they ‘money up’. It’s also spacious inside. No matter which engine you go with, however, you’ll be underwhelmed. It’s a guaranteed sales success, almost in spite of itself, with its slightly ambitious pricing.
The interior room is excellent for the segment, as is the design, and the interior quality and steering have improved from Jeeps of old.
Theboot, however, barely holds two overnight bags; interior buzzes and rattles indicate quality issues; it has asthmatic, possibly emphysemic engines; and the Trailhawk model is only for the self-delusional.
If you marketed a watch as being able to keep perfect time on Mars, or inside a volcano, there are some credulous fools who would buy it, just as there are people who will snap up the Trailhawk version of the new, dinky-toy Jeep variant, the Renegade.
The idea of a shopping-cart-sized SUV that can tackle any trail (although not the famous Jeep-testing Rubicon, apparently) is patently absurd, like sending a toddler to climb Everest, but there are people who will buy the rugged Jeep Renegade, just so they can point out to friends what it’s capable of.
And, to be fair, they’ll buy it because they like its tougher looks, higher ride height, bonnet stripes and shiny red tow hook. Fortunately, even by Jeep’s own estimations, only 10 to 15 per cent of Renegaders will opt for this $41,500 not-oft roader, despite the fact that it’s the only variant that comes with actual four-wheel drive, and an almost passable 2.4-litre “Tigershark” engine making 129kW and 230Nm. Yes, we did say $41,500. Jeep’s ‘sell ’em cheap’ pricing policy seems to have gone west with Renegade.
The other Renegade that almost no one will buy (less than 10 percent, which is probably an optimistic claim) is the $29,500 1.6-litre showroom-bait base model, with a manual gearbox, which is the equivalent of a camel toe for this car’s young, hip customer.
Most buyers, then − and there will be multitudes of them because this car looks and feels both tough and trendy and is backed by the advertising fairy dust that has made Jeep so popular − will opt for the $32,500 dual-clutch auto Sport, which comes with a 1.4-litre turbo engine that makes 103kW and 230Nm, which goes up hills about as breezily as a cyclist with his feet tied together (0-100km/h times are, perhaps unsurprisingly, “untested”).
It is a unique experience, though, to be able to drive along and tap your right foot in time with whatever music you’re listening to, without making any difference to your acceleration. You might be tempted to call this 1.4 underpowered, except that the 1.6 offers even less, at just 81kW and 152Nm.
The Renegade is not exciting to drive, then, and it does favour body roll and understeer, but its steering is at least better than traditional Jeep offerings.
Also on the plus side, it looks fabulous and feels much better fitted out inside, although the fact that we found buzzing and rattling noises from both the optional removable roof panels − known as My Sky − and the dash in the launch cars suggests quality control might still be a foreign concept, perhaps a Japanese one, to this most American of brands.
While it looks small and cute, it’s surprisingly roomy inside (the roofline is higher than a Cherokee), with excellent rear leg room, but the boot space is barely big enough for the tool kit you’ll need to carry, just in case.
The new Jeep Renegade is very much a city SUV − although the Trail Hawk version can hack some ‘off-roading’ (I still managed to bog it in a cane field) − and the fact that 90 per cent of sales will not even have 4WD will not bother the market for this car at all. They’re buying an image, and the idea of off-road toughness, and they’ll buy it in droves, at any price.