The 2017 Jeep Renegade is the smallest crossover available and it offers genuine offroad capability with a two-speed transfer case, like a Jeep.
Renegade is large enough for people who don’t need a vehicle the size of the Patriot, Compass or Cherokee, and don’t want to burn the fuel it takes to run those bigger cars. The Renegade is hugely successful in countries where gas can’t afford to be guzzled. The Jeep Wrangler is shorter and even more capable, but it’s a highly focused vehicle and it isn’t a crossover. The Range Rover Evoque is slightly longer and more capable, but it’s much more expensive.
The Renegade comes with two powertrains, with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The base engine is a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder making 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 6-speed manual transmission.
The more powerful option is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder making 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 9-speed automatic. It comes standard on the Trailhawk and Desert Hawk models.
Changes for 2017 are minor, with keyless ignition and HID headlamps added to the top model. Two limited-edition models are offered: the Renegade Altitude and Renegade Desert Hawk.
The 1.4-liter turbo gets an EPA-rated 27 miles per gallon Combined, while the 2.4-liter rates 25 mpg Combined city and highway.
The federal NHTSA gives the Renegade four stars for crash worthiness, while the insurance industry’s IIHS gives it top scores in all but the small-overlap front crash test on which few vehicles can earn a Good rating. Optional active-safety features include forward-collision warnings and automatic braking, lane-departure warning, and blind-spot monitors.
The 2017 Jeep Renegade comes in Sport ($17,995), Latitude ($21,495), Altitude ($22,190), Trailhawk ($26,645), Desert Hawk ($28,140) models.
The Renegade is tall for its length, with flat, upright sides. It’s spunky and distinctive. Details are oversized to make it clear that its roots go back to the vehicles you see on re-runs of the TV show “Mash.” Big round headlamps flank the trademark seven-bar grille. The trapezoidal fender flares are black and rubbery, oversized to make this little SUV look tough. The taillamps have an X shape in them, intended to suggest jerry cans strapped to the rear, as a reminder of Jeep’s WWII heritage.
Imagine a subcompact car that’s spent a couple months training to be a cage fighter, and you might have the Renegade interior. Big round knobs and center vents in a pod on the dash.
Front seats are well bolstered and comfortable, with good shoulder room. But you can’t get away from the reality that the Renegade is a subcompact vehicle, so there isn’t much legroom in rear; for passengers in the back to have enough legroom, the front seats have to be slid forward.
The good news is there’s a lot of cargo room, as not only do the rear seats fold flat, but the front passenger seat does as well.
The Renegade is refined enough on paved roads. We prefer the 1.4-liter turbo engine with front-wheel drive in the city, even with its manual gearbox. It’s lighter and more direct than the 2.4-liter.
The Trailhawk feels ponderous around town where handling is tight, because of its additional weight.
Off road, the Renegade is no Wrangler, but with its modes for Mud, Sand, and Snow, it’s quite remarkable. We drove it up steep and rutty hills, nearly 45 degrees, and back down again using the hill descent control to control the speed, and grip at each wheel. The little Jeep will cross streams and climb boulders almost as tall as its wheels. No worries about getting it muddy, or getting to the other side of the bog.
The Trailhawk has one inch more ground clearance and bumpers that allow steeper approach and descent angles. There’s also a Rock mode, which enables the Trailhawk to crawl along at less-than-walking speed, a great feature.
The Jeep Renegade is a solid small utility vehicle, with a suspension and two-speed transfer case that add capability over rugged terrain. Excellent powertrains, especially the fuel-efficient 1.4-liter turbo, make the Renegade compelling. The manual transmission keeps the Jeep real. Comfortable front seats. Big cargo room for the tiny size, thanks to rear and front passenger seats that fold flat.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.