Is It Real Or An Italian Job?
Renegade is defined as “one who deserts and betrays an organization.” That’s a definition that many Jeep faithful have pinned on the bargain-priced Jeep subcompact Renegade crossover SUV and for good reason. The little Renegade is built in—oh-my-goodness—Italy. That makes the Renegade the first U.S.-market Jeep built outside the country (well, except for a nine-year stint when the square-headlight Wranglers were made in Canada).
“Small-wide-4×4” is the descriptive name of the Renegade’s platform, and it’s shared with—gulp—Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Fiat 500X. It confers on the Renegade a transverse, front-mounted engine layout and is—oh no—predominantly front-wheel drive. That’s down right sacrilege!
However, the Renegade naysayers don’t have to worry, the little crossover isn’t targeted to the legions of Jeep aficionados. This is a vehicle aimed at the masses who are clamoring for small crossover SUVs. With the Jeep name affixed, it is the number one selling vehicle in its class through June of this year. It’s also doing quite well in Europe, China, Brazil and Argentina.
A Meaningful Badge
But Jeep doesn’t have to put its tail between its legs. Our 2017 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk test driver with its “Trail Rated” badge can follow a Wrangler Rubicon on any off-road trail you want to tackle, yet still feel at home on city streets or the daily freeway commute.
The lineup starts with the Renegade Sport with a base price of $17,995. It’s front-wheel drive and comes standard with a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 160 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque. It’s paired with a six-speed manual, which is the sole transmission for this engine. That’s followed by the $21,495 Renegade Latitude with the same powertrain and more features. Optional for both models is a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder making 180 horsepower and 175 pounds-feet of torque.
Next up is the Renegade Limited, priced starting at $25,195. That gets you the 2.4-liter engine connected to a nine-speed automatic transmission as standard and a load more of features than the Latitude. Want four-wheel drive? For $2,000, the Limited (as well as the Sport and Latitude models) can add off-road capability with Jeep’s Active Drive system.
At $26,895 to start, our Renegade Trailhawk was competitively priced with the larger engine, automatic transmission and an Active Drive-Low four-wheel drive system, which puts it in the same off-road league as the Wrangler Rubicon. Options that made on-road miles a little easier to take included a $1,245 navigation upgrade that put a 6.5-inch touchscreen on the dash with Chrysler’s user-friendly Uconnect Access infotainment system. It also had a $1,605 package that included leather-trimmed heated bucket seats, eight-way power driver’s seat, heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate controls and 40/20/40 split rear seats.
Additional options included the $1,495 My Sky retractable/removable roof panels plus a $395 tow package. Add passive entry ($295), remote start ($125), security alarm, blind spot warning and cross path detection ($645). The bottom line, including a $995 destination charge, totaled $33,125.
Fuel economy numbers for both engines are on the low end for the segment. The EPA estimates fuel consumption at 24-mpg city/31-mpg highway/26-mpg combined for both front- and all-wheel drive models, but the turbocharged engine requires premium gasoline. The 2.0-liter four is EPA rated at 22 city/31 highway for front-drive models and 21 city/29 mpg highway with all-wheel drive.
Unmistakable Jeep Look
The Renegade is all of the Jeep brand’s character distilled into its smallest SUV offering. Boxy wheel arches, squared-off dimensions, old school round headlights and the seven-slot grille that’s become a logo on its own make this small crossover unmistakable for any other vehicle brand.
This is a boxy, square-jawed, high-rise Jeep in the traditional Willys mold. It’s a tall, wide—and stubby—vehicle. It’s just 166.6-inches end-to-end, but 66.5-inches top to bottom You may either see that as a refreshing departure from the norm or something of a visual anachronism, but don’t be surprised if the car’s visual charm puts you in the former camp when you see it in the metal.
Just in case Jeep newbies aren’t familiar with Jeep’s history, there are countless Jeep-themed Easter eggs throughout the design, like the “Sarge” face in the headlights and “Jerry Can” shaped taillights.
Surprising Interior Quality
The 2017 Jeep Renegade may have a low starting cost for the class, but its cabin punches above its price. Upscale materials abound, and even the plastic trim pieces are of high quality. Whether you buy a model with the standard cloth upholstery or one with the optional leather, you’ll find firm, supportive seats to keep you comfortable. There’s ample headroom in both rows of seats, but legroom for tall adults is limited in the rear. Still, the back is wide enough to fit three people in a pinch, though it’s probably better to stick with only two for maximum comfort.
For those with a young family, the Renegade can fit two car seats in the second row and booster seats are easy to install, depending on the size and configuration. There are ample storage cubbies in the cabin, like large usable door pockets and a decent-sized glove box and center console. A 60/40 rear folding seat offers versatility for passengers and cargo space on the base model. Higher trims can be equipped with a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat for even more flexibility. The seatback is nearly flat when folded down, making it easy to load stuff in the back. Regardless of trim, a standard front-passenger seat gives space for long objects.
Most subcompact SUVs have just under 20 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats and around 50 cubic feet of overall room. The Jeep Renegade fits the mold, with 18.5-cubic feet and 50.8-cubic feet, respectively. The cargo floor behind the rear seats can be adjusted up or down and includes a compartment under the floor to discreetly stow items away. However, if you get a Trailhawk model, most of the space under the floor is consumed by a full-size spare tire—a necessity when off roading.
If you buy a Renegade that comes with either the five-inch or 6.5-inch touch screen Uconnect infotainment system, you’ll find it easy to use. Uconnect’s intuitive menu structure and quick responses to inputs help make it one of the most user-friendly infotainment systems you can get. You can also access internet apps like Yelp using Uconnect. When you need to adjust climate or audio settings, you can use the large physical controls on the center stack.
Jeep does offer optional navigation and 3G Wi-Fi (unfortunately not 4G) in the Renegade. Also, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not yet available for UConnect, and a backup camera is only available on touchscreen units.
What’s That “Trail Rated” Badge All About?
In 2004 Jeep started using a special “Trail Rated” badge on certain Jeep vehicles to mark that the vehicle was trail-worthy according to Jeep’s specifications. It signifies that the vehicles have passed off-road testing for traction, ground clearance, off road articulation, maneuverability, and water fording.
The Renegade offers two off road systems, Active Drive and Active Drive Low, which is only available with the Trailhawk trim. Both systems feature full-time four-wheel drive, and Active Drive Low adds low-range gearing that mimics the “4WD” low range of conventional systems. Active Drive includes Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system, which provides four settings to adjust driving dynamics for different trail types: Auto, Snow, Sand, and Mud. Trailhawk models add a fifth setting for Rocks.
Almost nine inches of ground clearance, beefier suspension pieces, skid plates, knobby all-terrain tires on 17-inch rims and tow hooks complete the Renegade’s Trailhawk rating. To top things off, a Trailhawk can tow 2,000 lbs.—the highest tow rating in the class.
Driving The Renegade Trailhawk, On- and Off-Road
The 2017 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk is an off-roader, and folks who regularly leave the pavement know there are compromises involved. The short wheelbase and all-terrain Goodyear Wranglers that serve so well in the boonies make for a jarring ride quality. It’s a Jeep thing, right?
On the highway, body movements were more pronounced than those of most crossovers and weren’t dealt with subtly, but they reined in well enough to keep the car on-line
and under control, even when pushing on. Unfortunately, the tall stance made for lots of body roll, and its heavier curb weight contributed to understeer in the corners. That said, the ride wasn’t Jeep Wrangler Rubicon-jarring. After a couple of hours of highway driving, what had been noticeable just faded away.
The ride was more livable at reduced speeds on city streets. This is where the Renegade rides and acts pretty much like any other subcompact crossover. Its small size slips easily into and out of small parking spaces, yet there is enough room to load a Costco-sized grocery run. However, it’s not capable of darting through traffic like some others can.
The Engine—More & Less
Powering our 2017 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk was an engine with more horsepower, but less torque, than the base engine. That fact became apparent when stepping on the accelerator, as it takes nearly nine seconds for the Renegade to get up to 60 mph. That meant adjusting my driving style to deal with this.
The Trailhawk had no reserve power to call upon when it came to passing—like another car cresting a rise in the opposite lane—while I was still trying to finish my slow-motion pass. I had to become adroit at estimating time/distance relationships, and learned to get the drop on those I planned to pass. I may not have passed many cars or SUVs on the road, but when the road ended, not many SUVs could pass—or even be able to follow me.
When I needed to scratch an itch to go off highway, the rugged, rock strewn, abandoned logging roads southwest of Mt. Rainer was a good off-road test for the littlest Jeep. With its 8.9-inch ground clearance and 60.6-inch wide track, it handled deep ruts, crawled over medium-size boulders and handled extremely rough trails with nary a hitch. The overall length and short turning radius were a definite advantage in tight narrow turns.
The Renegade’s four-wheel drive system found strong traction and conserved forward momentum quite well. With both the torque vectoring and hill descent control systems relying on the brakes to work, tougher tracks likely will set a test that the brakes can’t live up to indefinitely.
Still, the Renegade Trailhawk will go farther and harder into the rough than many would believe—and more than most owners are ever likely require.
Our 363 miles of driving was around 60 percent highway/30 percent city/10 percent off-road, with a combined fuel economy of 26.2 mpg.
In The Marketplace
There are plenty of competing two- and all-wheel drive crossovers facing the 2017 Jeep Renegade—Honda’s HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Juke and the Toyota C-HR to name a few—but the Renegade Trailhawk is in a space of its own. While many of the competitors can accomplish light off-roading, none can follow in the tracks of the Renegade Trailhawk. That leaves Jeep Wrangler Rubicon as the only competitive model.
One of the only areas that the Wrangler Rubicon one ups the Renegade Trailhawk is its legendary off-roading ability. A larger engine, bigger tires, and greater ground clearance, as well as optional rear locking differentials, make the Wrangler more capable off-road, but the Renegade Trailhawk handily outperforms it on regular pavement with better driving dynamics and a smoother ride. The Renegade provides more passenger room, especially in the second row, and has a better overall interior quality. In short, if you’re a Jeep fanatic who does a lot of off-roading, and you’re willing to sacrifice day-to-day comfort, then the Wrangler is for you. If you want most of the same off-road capabilities, but in a better overall daily driver package, then the Renegade Trailhawk is the clear choice.
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