Believe it or not, the Jeep Renegade and Nissan Juke are in the same category of small SUVs. But they could hardly be more different. The Renegade is Jeep's littlest SUV, with square-cut styling and genuine off-road prowess. The Juke, on the other hand, is a style-first urban warrior whose all-wheel-drive option is more for on-road traction than anything even in the neighborhood of rocky trails or mountain climbing.
New in 2015, the Renegade is the first vehicle developed from the ground up for global sale by the combined Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. While it'll likely sell well in North America, its minimal dimensions make it best-suited to bring the Jeep brand to more crowded and less affluent markets in Europe, Asia, and South America. Its design is every inch classic SUV, with oversize lights and other details for visual interest.
The interior is straightforward, modern, and contains a number of Jeep-brand reminders in the form of "Easter Egg" design elements. The Renegade's front seats are comfortable, but there's not that much room in the rear unless rear-seat riders bargain aggressively with those in the front. The seats are comfortable and nicely bolstered, and the Renegade is clearly wider than other AWD entries, meaning the shoulders of the two front-seat riders are suitably separated.
The Juke, on the other hand, has been with us since the 2011 model year. Its wild-style design is polarizing: You either love for it for its in-your-face, tall, haunched, bug-eyed appearance or hate it for the same reasons. A light restyle for 2015 has made it, if anything, even more mean-looking. The Juke's layout and switchgear are straightforward even if the motorcycle-inspired gauges, shiny nylon upholstery, and colorful inserts give it far more design edge.
Interior space is adequate in the front, with a somewhat upright seating position, but quite cramped in the rear--and the Juke has less cargo space to boot, just 36 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down (which is how we expect most Jukes will be driven), against 51 cubic feet for the Renegade. In the end, the Jeep is simply far better at the utility jobs that many people need: hauling people and stuff.
The Jeep Renegade comes with two powertrain options. The base model is propelled by a 160-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a six-speed manual gearbox. If you don't want to shift for yourself, you'll move up to the 180-hp 2.4-liter four, which uses the new nine-speed automatic transmission that's increasingly common in new Chrysler, Jeep, and Fiat products. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive optional for both engines.
The Nissan Juke is powered by a 188-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with either front- or all-wheel drive, and a continuously variable (CVT) transmission. The CVT makes it somewhat sluggish around town unless you drive it hard, when it tightens up and offers more fun. Performance fans, however, will go for the Juke NISMO or NISMO RS—both offering a manual gearbox. The NISMO RS gets a top-performance version of the same engine, boosted to 215 hp. The NISMO versions also get more than 100 upgrades to suit their hot-hatch personae.
While the NISMOs are in a separate category--they're smaller competitors to cars like the Subaru WRX and VW Golf GTI--the conventional Juke powertrain just isn't as direct or enjoyable to drive as the Jeep's pair. Not to mention that the AWD Juke gave us truly atrocious fuel economy during a test several years ago--only slightly more than 20 mpg.
The Juke's safety ratings are mixed--not unexpected for an older design--while the Renegade hasn't yet been rated for crash safety by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
The 2015 Renegade comes in four trim levels: the base Sport (starting at $18,990 for the base 2WD version), the mid-level Latitude ($22,290), and the top-of-the-line Limited ($25,790). All-wheel drive is a $2,000 option. Then there's the Trailhawk model ($26,990) with its greater off-road capability, which only comes with all-wheel drive and the larger 2.4-liter engine with the nine-speed automatic. All prices above include the mandatory $995 delivery fee.
The 2015 Juke starts at $21,705 and rises to more than $30,000 for a top-spec NISMO model. Even the base Juke S includes Intelligent Key with push-button start, a backup camera, and the NissanConnect system with Mobile Apps and a text message assistant. The mid-range Juke SV adds a moonroof; a rearview camera system; push-button start; satellite radio; the I-CON system; automatic temperature control; and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The top-trim Juke (other than NISMO models) is the SL, which layers on navigation; leather-trimmed seats; and an 8-inch Rockford Fosgate subwoofer with six upgraded speakers.
Overall, the Jeep Renegade easily gets the nod here. When the Juke was the sole hot-hatch SUV on the market, it was a new and interesting way to get that capability in a smaller size than the usual compact crossover. But now that we have entries from not only Jeep but also Chevy, Fiat, and even Buick, the Juke comes up short: It's too small and cramped, and doesn't offer the sturdy off-roading ability of the littlest Jeep.
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