Car reviews - Jeep - Renegade - range
Distinctive and confident in the metal, quiet, comfortable and roomy
Room for improvement
1.4 turbo too soft down low, spec sheets are sparse, prices above the line across the board
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15 Oct 2015
By TIM ROBSON
TO CUT to the chase, the little Jeep Renegade can actually go off-road, but not all of them can.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia has brought in a four-vehicle range that leans more towards buyers who will be attracted to the tiny yet tough vibe the Renegade has purposefully gone after, but won’t necessarily get them dirty.
“Just don’t call it cute,” Renegade designer Dave Allen says with a smile.
A Jeep veteran and qualified-off road instructor, Mr Allen adds: “We reckon this car has a lot of character. It’s friendly and do-all. Kind of like a Labrador retriever.”
He also insists that the Jeep design team become skilled off-roaders in their own right. “It quickly shows them why things like 22-inch wheels aren’t practical,” he laughs.
With a young team in charge of the design, the Renegade takes many of the styles cues from its grandparents and packages them into something that, up close, is bold, interesting and funky.
The company claims it’s not chasing the established players in the compact SUV space rather, it wants to stand it on its ear and give people a choice that’s truly unusual. We’d give them a tick for achieving that goal.
Mr Allen said his team had no preconceptions about what the car should look like, and the resultant ‘up and front’ look, as he put it, gives the Renegade amazing amounts of internal space, particularly in headroom.
It also gives the Renegade a distinctly classic Jeep tone, thanks to the hooded round lights, the ‘disassociated’ (Jeep’s word) tail-lamps and the upright windscreen.
It’s a confident little critter at first glance, with a myriad of unusual colours on the spec sheet. Aussies tend to plump for white or grey, so it’ll be interesting to see how the blues, oranges and camo greens play in the market.
No 1.6-litre manual Sports were on hand to test, so we sampled the dual-clutch-transmission-equipped 1.4-litre turbocharged MultiAir petrol engine that features widely across the range. Making 103kW and 230Nm, it’s a common fixture in the Fiat line-up, and there are few surprises here.
As is evident in other examples of the powertrain, the 1.4 lacks low-down punch, especially when getting away from standstill. It’s a combination of a tall first gear in the dual dry-clutch gearbox as well as a soft torque curve down low, and it makes for the occasional anxious moment when pulling into an intersection.
The platform itself is a good one, with excellent noise suppression for a small SUV immediately evident. The electric steering is light and vague, but with its wheels out at all four corners, the Renegade is well planted on the road.
Its suspension tune is well sorted, too, with a decent amount of compliance in everyday terrain and good resistance to pitch and roll. The stock tyres are not biased towards handling, though, which means the Renegade isn’t fond of being pushed through corners too hard.
The interior is amazingly roomy, with oodles of headroom front and back.
Despite its diminutive size, there are plenty of spots to stash the detritus of day-to-day life – though the cloth-trimmed models miss out on a lidded storage bin/armrest that features on the leather-trimmed versions.
The front pews are comfy enough, though maybe a tiny bit short in the base. The cloth trim looks the business, though none of the cars offer a ‘hose-out’ style of floor treatment that the rugged exterior might lead you to expect. If you’re looking for something like a Suzuki Jimny clone, this isn’t it.
There’s a single USB port and a single 12V charger, while the Uconnect infotainment system is easy enough to use. Bottles and cups can be hidden all over, too, thanks to neatly designed receptacles in the doors and centre console. The rear seat is a 40/40/20 split-fold design, and the front passenger seat can fold forwards completely flat to accommodate odd items.
Cargo space equates to 523 litres with the seats up and 1438 litres maximum.
Compare that to the segment-leading Mazda CX-3 (264/1174L) and Honda’s cleverly designed HR-V (437/1032L), and the Renegade comes up pretty well.
A simple top-hinged tailgate makes access easy, though narrow back door apertures make it a squeeze for adults to get in and out. The beltline of the car is high, too, making the rear space a bit dark and enclosed.
We also briefly drove the range-topping Trailhawk in on- and off-road conditions, and while its tarmac performance varies little from the lower-range cars, the toughest Renegade surprised us with its off-road ability.
Of course, it’s not going to out-do a Wrangler, and in reality it’s only a handful of millimetres higher than most other cars on the road, but its clever four-wheel-drive system, hill descent electronics and redesigned bumpers give the Trailhawk some teeth off the beaten track.
Its larger engine is smoother and quieter than the 1.4-litre turbo, but with no more torque and drawing from only a 48-litre fuel tank, there are obvious limitations to how far out bush you can go.
The Renegade line-up is, it’s fair to say, priced at the premium end of the segment, starting from $29,500 plus on-roads for the very basic Sport manual.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a polyurethane steering wheel in a car at this price point, that’s for sure.
The range goes all the way to $42,500 – just $500 shy of an entry-level Audi Q3, for example, and almost four grand clear of the most expensive CX-3. Or, to put it another way, you can get Jeep’s 4WD Cherokee Longitude for $39,000 plus on-roads.
Jeep will tell you it’s not about price, though – it’s about buying something that breaks away from the everyday.
If the price ticket isn’t an issue, you’ll get a cool compact SUV that does a lot of things very well.
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