Jeep's baby Renegade might have the traditionalists up in arms, but that's not going to stand in the way of some big sales, reckons Jonathan Crouch.
Ten Second Review
The Jeep Renegade is a genuinely smart piece of product design, distilling Jeep's brand values into a smaller package while leaning on the smartest technology the Fiat Group has to offer. If you eat squirrel, own a bowling ball and call your first cousin your spouse, chances are you're going to hate it. Otherwise, read on.
Every once in a while, a car is unveiled at a motor show that just completely hijacks the media agenda. At Geneva in 2014, that car was the Jeep Renegade. Yes, we had cars like the Lamborghini Huracan, the Audi TT, the Porsche Macan and the Mercedes S-Class Coupe to dribble over from a distance but this setsquare Jeep was the car that seemed to elicit the most column inches.
Look a little closer and it's easy to see why. It's a car that will have Jeep die-hards choking on their beer. For a start it's based on the underpinnings of the Fiat 500L, instantly opening it to criticisms that it's not a 'real' Jeep. File that one under 'who cares?'. It's a mere 4.2 metres long, so while the styling suggests that it looks much like a Wrangler, in the metal there's a dinky, toy-like quality to it. Don't underestimate it though. Under that metalwork is some proper engineering.
The Renegade offers a wide range of engines. For petrol people, there's an entry-level 110bhp 1.6 eTorq unit or, if you want petrol but need extra power, there's a 1.4-litre TMair powerplant with either 140 or 170bhp and the option of a DDCT auto gearbox. If you're looking at a diesel, there's a 120bhp 1.6-litre MJet unit or a 2.0-litre MJet option with either 140 or 170bhp. You'll need the 170bhp TMair petrol unit or the 2.0-litre MJet diesel if you want your car with 4WD.
The car's advanced 4x4 system incorporate a category-exclusive rear axle disconnect that switches seamlessly between two and four-wheel-drive for reduced energy loss when 4x4 capability isn't needed, improving fuel efficiency in the process. And the first-in-segment nine-speed automatic transmission ensures benchmark performance both on and off-road.
Design and Build
As much as I thought I'd dislike the Jeep Renegade, I couldn't help but love the styling. Yes, there are some angles where it looks a bit like a Kia Soul that's been on the hard stuff but it's well-resolved, features lovely tight overhangs and some very cool detailing. What is particularly interesting is the way the design features some very traditional Jeep design cues but isn't afraid to twist them a bit into something resolutely modern-looking. That aspect you will either love or hate.
Cover up the badges inside the car and, yes, you would probably think you were in a Fiat product, but if you've had a look at the latest Fiat range, that's no bad thing. There's a complexity to the fascia that's a long way from the cheap plastics and slab-sided architectures that many associate with Jeep. It's a bit pinched in the back, but then that comes with the territory when you've got this little length to play with.
Market and Model
In the UK, the Renegade is available in a range comprising four different trim levels - Sport, Longitude, Limited and Trailhawk - equipped with efficient turbo-diesel and petrol engines and available in four-wheel drive or front-wheel drive configurations. Prices sit in the £17,000 to £26,000 bracket. Standard equipment in the well-equipped entry-level Sport includes air conditioning, DAB radio with touchscreen and Bluetooth, electric parking brake, 16-inch alloy wheels, tyre pressure monitoring, and remote central locking. Longitude adds features including 17-inch aluminium wheels, six-speaker audio system, roof rails, body coloured door mirrors and handles, cruise control, and front fog lamps.
The Limited version further adds 18-inch aluminium wheels, chromed exhaust tip, Forward Collision Mitigation, heated front seats and steering wheel, leather upholstery, privacy glass and rear parking sensors. In case you were wondering where the Renegade is screwed together, yes, it's from the Deep South. Of Italy though; coming off the same Melfi production line as the Fiat 500X SUV.
Cost of Ownership
The Renegade can't afford to be an expensive car to run. There's just too much quality in its immediate group of rivals - cars like the Peugeot 2008 and the Renault Captur. It's likely that this car will cross over to buyers who want a car small enough that can be parked in the city but which has a certain style to it. They might have owned a Fiat 500, a MINI or a Citroen DS3 and want something fresh and new.
Day to day running costs look to have been kept in check too. The MultiAir engine has proved its mettle in a number of Fiat Group applications and the turbodiesels ought to prove a big draw in this country. Much will clearly hinge on how affordable Fiat can make the desirable all-wheel drive and diesel engine combo.
Jeep needed an entrant in the growing small crossover segment and the Renegade looks like a competitive entrant into this growing sector. Many wondered what would happen to Jeep when Fiat got involved. If the Cherokee and this Renegade is any form guide, we needn't have worried.
Land Rover figured out long ago that it couldn't sustain itself on just the old traditional customers. Jaguar and Jeep are working that out too. Lotus hasn't quite got there yet. It's a bold new frontier, but the rewards are there if you're prepared to tear up the rule book. That's what might be deemed a Renegade attitude.