The Jeep Renegade is capable and affordably priced. It’s also cute in the eyes of many, maybe excessively so in the eyes of some. For the latter group, there is the Renegade Trailhawk, with rugged looks and greater capability in rugged terrain.
More than a foot shorter than the recently launched Cherokee, the Jeep Renegade is the most compact Jeep wagon since the original 1941 Willys Jeep. It looks the part of a modern Jeep: tall and slab-sided, with oversized styling cues to accent its heritage. Flanking the familiar seven-bar Jeep grille are large, round headlights in an era when headlights no longer need to be large and round to be effective. Rubber-lipped trapezoidal wheel arches suggest strength. The taillights are stamped with X shapes, harkening to WWII-era jerry cans strapped on back.
Two engines are available: A turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine comes standard, making 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, and is paired with a 6-speed manual gearbox. Also available is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque that comes with a 9-speed automatic. Neither delivers extreme acceleration performance, and fuel economy is average for the class.
All-wheel drive (4×4) is available with either engine. Front-wheel drive (4×2) comes standard.
Renegade 4×4 models have settings for extreme conditions: Mud, Sand, or Snow, plus a hill-descent braking mode that’s welcome in steep terrain. The Renegade can be equipped with some of the latest safety features, bundled into a Technology Package that’s available for upper models.
The Renegade Trailhawk is the model for rugged terrain, with all-wheel drive, more ground clearance, special bumpers for improved approach and descent angles, big tow hooks and other features. Not to be confused with audio options, a Rock mode enables the Trailhawk to crawl over rugged terrain at very low speeds.
Still almost spanking new, the Renegade was launched as a 2015 and there are few changes for 2016. The 2016 Jeep Renegade offers a new 506-watt BeatsAudio setup with nine speakers.
Jeep Renegade Sport ($17,995) comes standard with cloth upholstery, power windows/locks/mirrors, four-speaker radio, and 16-inch steel wheels. Renegade Latitude ($21,345) adds satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity/streaming, 16-inch alloy wheels. (Prices are MSRP do not include the $995 destination charge.)
Renegade Limited ($24,895) upgrades with leather-trimmed power front seats, heated, a 115-volt outlet, 180-watt audio, and 18-inch alloy wheels. The MySky sunroof option consists of two removable glass panels, either fixed or power-operated. Removal demands a special-purpose wrench.
Renegade Trailhawk ($26,145) comes with all-wheel drive, a two-speed transfer case, the 2.4-liter engine, 9-speed automatic, and off-road equipment.
Safety features include seven airbags. Optional: rearview camera, forward-collision warning and automatic braking, blind-spot monitors, lane-departure warnings.
Mixing a healthy dose of tradition with an small body, Renegade slips into the midpoint between cute and rugged. Even though it looks more like an authentic Jeep than the bigger Cherokee, underneath, it’s an Italian-made hatchback.
Upright and square in profile, Renegade leads off with a blunt front end and mildly angled windshield, finishing with a vertical tailgate. Because of its tall, upright silhouette, only a glance is needed to determine that it’s a full-fledged Jeep. Round headlights add to the retro look, and the prominent seven-slat grille clinches its brand identity. Several unique touches identify the Trailhawk, including black aluminum wheels and red tow hooks.
Front occupants are likely to be pleased. Seats are comfortable and nicely bolstered. Renegade is wider than many small SUVs, and passenger shoulders are comfortably separated. Headroom is huge, front and rear. Upright seating helps visibility, but the view to rear quarters is limited by thick roof pillars.
Back-seat room may suffice for two adults, but it’s snug. Measuring 18.5 cubic feet, cargo room is sizable behind the rear seat, which folds flat.
Controls are slightly oversize. Large ventilation knobs are easy to decipher at a glance. Sizable surfaces may be hard plastic, but panels that invite contact are soft-touch vinyl. The refined interior isn’t especially Jeep-like, apart from military-inspired textures and Jeep cues. The console offers plentiful storage space.
Though surprisingly quiet on most paved surfaces, a Renegade can get noisy. Tire noise ranges from nearly nonexistent to substantial, but wind sounds appear only at high speeds. Drivetrain noise emerges when the turbocharged engine works hard.
Built on the same platform as a Fiat 500X, the Jeep Renegade does not offer the capability of a Wrangler, but it is impressively capable over rugged terrain. The Renegade has no trouble climbing steep inclines on dirt and gravel roads, and little difficulty coming down them. A Renegade can climb through boulders almost as large as its wheels, ford streams, and amble enthusiastically through mud.
As expected, a Trailhawk performs best over rugged terrain, helped by its 8.7-inch ground clearance. Standard Renegade 4×4 models offer 7.9 inches, while 4x2s have 6.7 inches.
Acceleration is not a strong point for the Renegade, and the ride is often rough. Among the models, the standard 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, with manual shift and front-wheel drive offers the most energetic experience. All-wheel drive slows it down.
Most Renegades come with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder and overall they feel more ponderous. Note that while the 2.4-liter engine offers more horsepower, it does not offer as much torque as the 1.4-liter turbo engine does, and the 2.4-liter has to rev higher to achieve its peak torque. Also, the 9-speed transmission is rough and hunts through gears.
Electric power steering provides only modest feedback, but many drivers won’t notice. The Renegade holds the road comfortably, coping with winding two-lanes better than expected, but passengers sit high and are conscious of the car leaning in sharp curves.
The Renegade is easy to park and its diminutive size helps it maneuver in tight quarters, be they crowded parking lots or small primitive trails.
All-wheel-drive Renegades start off on dry pavement with all four wheels powered for maximum traction. Then, the SelecTerrain system tapers the power away from the rear wheels and directs it more toward the front wheels. When slippage is detected, it varies torque between front and rear.
Fuel economy is only average. The 1.4-liter turbo engine is EPA-rated at 24/31 mpg City/Highway with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Upgrade to the 2.4-liter engine and Renegade estimates dip to 22/31 mpg City/Highway with front-wheel drive, or 21/29 mpg with AWD.
As the entry-level Jeep, the Renegade is sufficiently refined as well as pleasantly capable. For urban driving, we prefer the base engine with manual shift and front-wheel drive, which feels lighter than other models. Snow and ice call for a 4×4 model. The Trailhawk feels the most ponderous due to its heavier weight and two-speed transfer case, but it’s the best model for rugged terrain.
Driving impressions by John Voelcker, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.