Car reviews - Jeep - Renegade - Longitude
Design, solidity, deep side windows, high driving position, freeway performance, cabin styling flourishes, roomy cabin
Room for improvement
Jerky drivetrain, laggy powertrain, unyielding ride, high prices, rubbery feel, slow idle-stop, limited rear-seat storage, vision-blocking A-pillar bases, huge turning circle, cabin squeaks
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1 Mar 2016
Price and equipment
AND then even Jeep jumped on the bandwagon.
Yep, the brand you’d think would have deemed B-segment crossovers as just too small has joined the mini compact SUV party with the BU-series Renegade, a supermini-based high-riding hatch designed primarily for on-road commuting.
While still espousing the brand’s typical design cues, the company’s smallest ever vehicle is related to the new Fiat 500X that it shares much of the front-drive hardware underneath. In fact, like the 500X, it’s built in Italy.
But – and with apologies to John Travolta’s ‘70s anti-hero – herein lies Mini Barbarino’s biggest issue… pricing. While the Jeep is sized and packaged to take on the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V, it’s positioned against the CX-5 and CR-V, presenting a particularly challenging situation for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia.
Indeed, the company has already slashed between $1500 and $2500 off the range released just last October, but has it gone far enough?We are testing the second least-expensive automatic version, the $33,000 (plus on-road costs) Longitude (known as Latitude elsewhere but Renault has registered that name in Australia).
It’s powered by a 103kW/230Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder MultiAir turbo-petrol engine, mated to a six-speed DDCT dual-clutch transmission.
The entry-level Renegade – the $28,000 Sport – uses an 81kW/152Nm 1.6-litre atmo/five-speed manual powertrain combo, but for the auto the $31,000 Sport upgrades to the MultiAir DDCT.
Standard features include seven airbags, reversing camera, stability control with roll-over mitigation tech, Jeep’s Uconnect 5.0-inch infotainment screen, Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, air-conditioning, and cruise control.
Going Longitude scores you climate control, better audio sound, a leather-clad steering wheel, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and wipers, two-way powered driver’s seat, and 17-inch alloys.
Chunky, hard-wearing, and very on-brand, the Renegade’s interior attempts to butch up the urban compact-SUV cabin. And it works for the most part, with obvious 4x4 motifs dotting the interior including an army-era ‘Since 1941’ script below the airvents, military Jeep on the corner of the windscreen, front passenger dashboard grab handle, seven-bar grille emblem on the door speakers and lower console, and mud-like graphics on the tachometer. And they’re just the ones we can see.
But beyond the superficial brand baubles, the basics are fundamentally present and correct – easy entry/egress, a good driving position with a reach/height adjustable steering column, excellent instrumentation (aided by a large digital auxiliary speedo), supportive front seats, plenty of space for taller adults, sufficient storage space up front, and adequate ventilation. Jeep’s clearly carried out its cabin due diligence.
The rear, too, is remarkable for its abundance of space (especially headroom), with serviceable seat comfort. Further back, the cargo area’s floor – while quite high up – is at least flat and accessible. The spare wheel is a space-saver on the Sport.
We’re less keen on the vision-blocking lower A-pillar bases, where you can lose an entire vehicle looking through a roundabout and for a $33,000 vehicle, the second row’s ambience is a little on the cheap side, plastic trim wise. It also rattled occasionally.
Otherwise, if you’re after a quirky and roomy compact crossover with a masculine-skewed adventure-promising cabin aura, the Renegade will oblige. We’re sure you’re out there.
Engine and transmission
On paper, the 1.4-litre FIRE four-pot turbo-petrol looks to be an enticing proposition, particularly as it’s mated to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. Fiat knows how to make rorty powertrains.
And so it is in the Renegade, but things don’t gel so swimmingly on the move.
Even at less than 1400kg, the engine seems to struggle with the weight of the vehicle, or is it the laggy and delayed responses from the DDCT gearbox? There is a long wait before the Longitude moves off the line. As you’re probably flooring the throttle to overcome the hesitation, the power then comes on too strongly, corrupting front wheel traction, for a jerky forward lunge.
Tiring to the point of fatiguing in heavy traffic, the powertrain tune is just all wrong for our urban driving. And this is meant to be a city SUV.
Only on the freeway or highway, during consistent throttle openings, does the 1.4 FIRE/DDCT pairing shine, but even then, during, say, an overtaking manoeuvre, response times are too slow.
So, by the way, is the idle-stop system’s reactivation it caught us out so many times in heavy traffic, we felt compelled to turn it off. Poor form.
Averaging around 9.5 litres per 100km in mostly congested inner-suburban runs is at least some compensation.
All in all, then, even if the Longitude was priced where the spec suggests it should be – let’s put it at $29,000 alongside the better-equipped CX-3 sTouring FWD auto – the drivetrain is, ultimately, a let-down.
Ride and handling
The steering in the Renegade is well-weighted, nicely measured in its inputs, and quite insulating, but also dull in terms of feedback and feel.
Turn up the wick, and that vagueness is only exacerbated, with the Jeep feeling heavy and unwieldy in corners that an CX-3 would carve up. The dynamics aren’t dangerous at all, because the chassis does ultimately stick to the road, but there is no joy in trying to hustle the Renegade along.
At the other end of the spectrum, we’re also displeased with the large turning circle. Again, this is an urban SUV. Every U-turn is a three-point chore.
However, the most irksome aspect is the inner-city ride. On most regular surfaces all is AOK, but speed humps and rougher edges just have the suspension seeming like it has reached the limit of its bump stops. There just isn’t enough pliancy in the ride, resulting in an eternally unsettled bobble motion.
Yet out on the open road, the system copes much better, with a far-better damping action and a solid, four-square feel from the 215/60R17 tyres.
Safety and servicing
In Europe the Renegade has scored a five-star Euro NCAP rating, but it is yet to be tested in Australia. While it scores for offering as options augmented forward collision and lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitors and rear cross-path detection, its pedestrian performance was average.
Service scheduling falls every 12 months or 15,000km – whichever comes first.
Online pricing info is available. A three-year/100,000km kilometre warranty applies.
Disappointments abound with this mid-range Jeep Renegade – it’s far too expensive, too jerky around town, and the ride is too firm.
On the other hand, nothing looks like it. If you’re undemanding in terms of comfort and dynamics, the Longitude will certainly do everything expected of it, and there is an underlying charm to the design and presentation inside and out that shouts non-conformity.
We wanted to love the Renegade, but until the aforementioned issues are resolved, Jeep fans would be better moving up to the Cherokee. Or a rival compact SUV such as the Mazda CX-3.
Mazda CX-3 sTouring FWD 2.0i auto from $28,990 plus on-road costs
Sporty, dynamic, and very stylish, the CX-3 sells like gangbusters in Australia for a reason, and then backs this up with excellent packaging. But the powertrain is raucous, there’s too much road noise, and side vision is not good.
Honda HR-V VTi-S CVT from $28,990 plus on-road costs
Spacious, smooth and exceptionally easy to drive and live with, the HR-V is the most convincing Honda in years, and something of a comeback. Niggles are minor and the breadth of talent significant, with the VTi-S also scoring with excellent safety credentials.
Renault Captur Dynamique TCe 120 DCT from $29,190 plus on-road costs
Handsome, roomy, surprisingly practical and very comfortable, the Captur is a smash-hit globally, underlining the exceptional engineering and design levels undertaken. Only dual-clutch-initiated initial lag spoils an otherwise punchy 1.2-litre four-pot turbo.
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