The most capable baby off-roader money can buy, but does it make sense?
For a company that only makes SUVs, it’s surprising that Jeep took so long to create a properly small model for the fast-growing compact SUV segment, but as far as the Renegade goes, it’s better late than never.
Buying a Jeep is unlike buying a Japanese or Korean car. You make a conscious decision that you want something outside the norm, something different, something that has character and isn’t just another Mazda or Hyundai on the road.
Lets be fair, if reliability is your absolute number one criteria, go buy a Toyota and lets not get too carried away, but if you have a heart rate that occasionally exceeds 60 beats per minute, or if you want to feel as though life is worth living and occasionally worth going down the road less travelled, we can keep going.
That was our rationale for getting behind the wheel of the 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, the only proper off-road-capable Renegade in the range. It’s still a Fiat underneath, but it has respectable credentials to wear the Jeep badge with pride.
The Trailhawk is what Jeep labels as being Trail Rated, essentially a badge of honour for the cars that it says are capable of climbing some of the toughest terrain in the world, including the famous Rubicon trail.
To put some of that in perspective, the Trailhawk Renegade actually has the same ground clearance as the much larger Cherokee (221mm). Suprisingly, it has better approach (30.5), breakover (25.7) and departure angle (34.3) than its bigger brother. So don’t go discounting this baby Jeep as a sheep in wolf's clothing
Now it may seem ridiculous that a small city-friendly SUV needs to have that level of off-roading credential, but it’s essentially the only SUV (discounting the 100-year-old Suzuki Jimny) this size that can tackle anything even remotely serious. There’s no point arguing about the Renegade’s off-road credentials, it’s the best in class from a modern small SUV, but it comes at a cost.
Jeep Australia dropped the price of the Renegade Trailhawk from $41,500 to $40,000 early this year, but even at that price its relatively expensive for what it is.
Unlike the other models in the Renegade lineup, which make do with small capacity engines, the Trailhawk uses a 2.4-litre “Tigershark” four-cylinder producing 129kW and 230Nm. It’s not much, considering the car weighs 1583kg, but being teamed to a nine-speed automatic transmission helps extract the maximum potential from the engine at all times.
The Renegade Trailhawk doesn’t ‘feel’ underpowered and we had it joining 100km/h speed-posted country roads from a standstill comfortably. Even so, it’s not the sort of SUV that you would perform too many highway overtaking moves with.
The downside is that its lowering gearing for off-road purposes makes it hunt around for gears at times when driven around town. Fuel use is claimed at 7.5L/100km, we managed 9.6L with a mixture of city and highway driving.
There are other negatives to having a properly off-road capable baby Jeep. The suspension travel has been increased (170/211mm front/rear) which doesn’t really help its on-road handling characteristics and it also doesn’t rectify its relatively firm ride.
Jump inside and its hard not to love the youthful nature of the Renegade. From the paintball splat on the tacho to Jeep insignia and slogans throughout the dash, you certainly can’t fault it for trying to be characterful and in many ways it’s done surprisingly well.
There’s certainly a great deal of hard plastics inside and considering this is the top-spec model, it certainly doesn’t have the same cabin ambience (in terms of fit and finish) as say, the Mazda CX-3 or even the Honda HR-V.
The infotainment system is ok, but not all that fast and it tried to send us astray a few times when we tried the navigation. The sound system with Beats Audio is actually rather ordinary, with limited bass and a rather tinny sound to it. This was also the case with the same audio system in the sister car, the Fiat 500x. Our Renegade’s removable roof also rattled the entire week we were in it, which drove my wife mad.
We were genuinely surprised by the amount of the room in the second row of the Renegade. We managed to fit two bulky child seats and a 10 year old in the middle without complaints. This is certainly far roomier than cars in its class. The boot, though, struggled to take our pram, but that may not be an issue for the childless adventurers this car is meant to appeal to.
Around town the Jeep Renegade is an easy SUV to manoeuvre and park, it has sensors and a reversing camera to make the job easier and its boxy shape makes it less daunting for those nervous parkers. The steering is light, but sharp enough to make up for it.
What’s most annoying about the Renegade is its active safety features, notably the lane departure warning which mutes the music system to warn you if there’s something in your blind spot when you indicate.
To give you an example, if you’re in the left lane of a highway and looking to merge right, you would hesitate to indicate before you shoulder check, just to avoid the music stopping and a god-awful beep being pumped through the stereo speakers in case there happens to be someone sitting in the right lane.
Sure, it makes for good driving habits to shoulder check before indicating, but in reality, you get very annoyed at it very quickly. Other manufacturers do this much better by either using visual warnings (flashing lights on the mirrors) or an audible warning that is separate to the stereo system.
Furthermore, the system is also somewhat flawed if you’re indicating to turn right onto a main road from a two-lane road (both lanes turning right), as it constantly beeps thinking you’re trying to change lanes rather than turn right. The beeping forces you to turn the indicator off, which if you’re in the far left lane that also goes forward as well as right, is confusing for anyone following.
Overall though, if you want a small city-sized funky SUV that is also capable of climbing hills that will send anything else its size into apoplectic shock, there’s really no other choice.
For that reason, the Renegade Trailhawk is a solid 7.5 for us, while the other non-off-road-capable models in the range don’t necessarily stack up as nicely considering there are plenty of other (admittedly boring) choices that represent better value for money.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Alborz Fallah.