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The 2015 Jeep Renegade isn’t the budget-friendly baby model we thought it would be. Indeed, this small Jeep is not cheap.
With pricing starting at $29,500 plus on-road costs, the Renegade easily eclipses the base model asking prices of many of its key rivals in the booming small SUV segment. And that base manual won’t arrive until later this year.
The model range is, in a seemingly very un-Jeep way, mostly front-wheel drive. In fact, only the flagship Renegade Trailhawk is off-road capable with its 4x4 drivetrain, but we’ll get to that later...
We started our Renegade drive in the three front-drive automatic models: the Sport, Longitude and Limited.
These three auto models come powered by a Fiat-sourced 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 103kW of power and 240Nm of torque, with shifts taken care of by a six-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT).
Now, we’ve experienced small-capacity turbo engines paired to DCTs in the past from Alfa Romeo, but there’s never been a Jeep with such a drivetrain. On the whole, though, it is quite a good little mover.
The engine is quiet and refined, it revs smoothly and has enough gusto for most buyers’ needs, and the DCT generally manages to swap between gears in an unobtrusive manner, particularly on the open road.
We did notice some slight hesitation around town under hard throttle during our limited urban exploring on the launch, but we look forward to getting the vehicle through the CarAdvice garage to see if that’s a true bugbear or not.
The ride of the Renegade is commendable, with excellent compliance and comfort over rough surfaces. Big bumps are done away with comfortably, too.
As for cornering, this isn’t in the same league as the corner-hugging Mazda CX-3. Instead, the front of the Jeep can start to push straight on through hard bends rather than following the driver’s inputs.
The electric power steering system is adequate in other situations, offering reasonable response on the highway, but not excellent – there’s an element of twitchiness at the on-centre position. We only had limited time in the car around town, though, so we’ll have to see just how easy it is to manoeuvre in the urban environment.
One thing the Jeep manages to smash many of its rivals for is character. It’s a boxy, brutish looking little thing with bluff front and rear ends, and more than enough road presence.
Then there are the excellent little “easter eggs”, such as the jerrycan-inspired tail-lights with tiny little Jeep silhouettes, and the MySky twin-panel roof that can be removed, which the brand claims is a nod to the pull-apart Wrangler. There’s a “pizza bag” that you can store the panels in, which can be hidden under the two-stage floor in the boot.
The interior, too, offers plenty to talk about.
There are more easter eggs including a Jeep silhouette on the windscreen, the seven-slot grille embossed on the centre console and plenty more, like the mud splatter red-line on the tachometer (which was apparently inspired by a paintball hitting one of the designer’s goggles on a team building exercise).
As well as that, there are different interior trim finishes to choose which further push the cabin character, and this reviewer’s personal favourite was the “When the sky isn’t the limit” theme, which includes a brown dashboard finish, and brown/light grey leather with orange highlights on the seats. That's available as a no-cost option on the Limited specification.
No matter the trim (cloth or leather) those seats are comfortable and offer excellent adjustment for the driver, though there’s no height adjustment for the passenger front seat in the models without power adjustment.
Everything is logically laid out, and at first glance it appears to be probably the most contemporary, youthful and high-quality Jeep cabin in recent memory.
However, there’s no hiding the evidence of some cost-cutting. The plastic steering wheel in the Sport model is one thing, but all Renegades have flimsy-feeling steering column stalks, and more than one vehicle on test had evidence of poor fit and finish around the glovebox, gearshift surround and the top of the dashboard.
It makes up for those minor blemishes with excellent interior space. This is a little SUV that feels bigger than its exterior dimensions – 4.23 metres in length, 1.88m wide and 1.68m tall – suggest it should.
The cabin height is the biggest advantage, because it allows an airy feel to the cabin and excellent headroom throughout. Indeed, Jeep says the Renegade is better for cabin space than the larger Cherokee. We tend to agree.
There is very good rear seat space, and with the driver’s seat set to my own position (I’m no midget) there was easily enough space behind for me to sit. Knee-room and head-room is exceptional for outboard passengers, though three across the back could be a bit of a squeeze in terms of shoulder-room.
As for boot space, the Renegade's luggage hold is good for the class, at 351 litres (and the company claims the load hold allows for taller items than the Cherokee). It has a dual floor system that allows for extra stowage, and there's a space-saver spare in all models except the Trailhawk.
While the vast majority of our time was spent on the road, we did sample the Trailhawk model off-road, too.
This version is designed for the rough stuff. It has different front and rear bumpers to improve the approach and departure angles of the Renegade, and they are certainly impressive: approach – 30.5 degrees; departure – 34.3deg; break-over – 25.7deg. It also gets 17-inch wheels with Goodyear Vector 4Seasons rubber (215 aspect/60 profile). These are rated for mud and sand, but we didn’t experience much of either of those elements, unfortunately.
Instead, our time was spent exploring the hill descent control system, which engaged quickly, and managed to guide the vehicle down some pretty steep, craggy hills with ease.
Up hill was also dealt with effectively, and the Trailhawk’s simple push-button 4WD lock system and quick-to-engage low-range meant there was little time fussing about. We even left the Selec-Terrain system (which has settings for sand, mud, rocks and a silly sport mode) in auto for the duration.
And while we drove through a creek that had barely 100mm of moving water in it, Jeep claims the Renegade Trailhawk can wade through up to 428mm.
We spent virtually no time on the road in the Trailhawk, so it wouldn't be prudent to comment on the competency of the 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine (with 129kW/230Nm), nor the behaviour of the nine-speed automatic gearbox.
Earlier this year we gave the Renegade a score of 8/10 overall, but we didn't know what it would be priced at. It's fair to say that score can't be justified, now, given the position of this model. Hence the lower overall score you see here.
Indeed, the Jeep Renegade is a likeable little SUV that is let down by an overly ambitious pricing strategy.
Yes, it is roomier than some rival small soft-roaders, but, for this price, buyers will need to decide for themselves as to whether that space couldn’t be better served in a slightly larger SUV.